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Featured VR: Is it Really the Future?

Discussion in 'Sim Racing Hardware' started by Paul Jeffrey, Feb 12, 2017.

  1. Paul Jeffrey

    Paul Jeffrey
    RaceDepartment Editor-in-Chief Staff Premium

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    VR Article.jpg
    Virtual Reality is fast becoming a mainstream alternative to the traditional ways we view our gaming experiences, but is it a long term solution for sim racers? RaceDepartment has a think on the subject...

    In the not too distant past Virtual Reality (or VR for short) was the lone possession of a select few arcade machines simulating anything from first person shooters to Battle of Britain style fighter pilot games, yours for a few minutes of gaming pleasure in exchange for a healthy handful of loose change and presented in a strictly controlled environment. In fact I can clearly recall my first VR experience back in the mid to late 1990's at a local arcade in the north of England, strapping on a bulky headset and piloting the guns of a 'Red Barron' style double winged aircraft as enemy planes (actually more like pixelated dots at the time) flew above me and I gasped in awe at the realism of it all. Of course with the steady march of technological progression over the years that game would be laughed out of the door nowadays, but at the time the experience felt simply mind blowing.

    Step in to 2017 and Virtual Reality has progressed at such a rate that the first serious VR headsets are slowing beginning to feed into the general gaming population. Back in 2012 Oculus began a Kickstarter initiative to develop their own VR headset for PC gaming, very quickly exceeding their initial funding target and in the end raising a staggering $2,437,429 across 9,522 backers - putting the wheels in motion for what has turned into a technological arms race to establish a clear lead in the quest for mainstream VR access in modern gaming. As of February 2017 Oculus (now owned by Facebook) have been joined in the VR marketplace by such industry giants as Sony with their PlayStation VR headset for console users with the HTC Vive now a genuine alternative for PC players, albeit a little more expense at around £700 in comparison to the Rift which retails around the £500 mark and the PSVR which usually comes in at a reasonable £350.

    Project CARS VR.jpg

    Mainstream VR technology is still very much in it's infancy, with issues surrounding the pixel density one of the main concerns from members of the public perhaps looking to upgrade from their current viewing solutions. As of today, no current VR headset can hope to match the graphics quality one can achieve with a standard monitor setup, let alone come close to the Ultra HD / 4k screens some lucky gamers have access to within their own gaming rooms. Couple this with the need to pack some serious hardware into your gaming PC in order to run the vast majority of VR ready title's at a reasonable performance level, it quickly becomes clear that VR gaming has not quite reached the stage where everyone would be willing to take up the obvious advantages, despite the many remaining pitfalls of the technology.

    No doubt as the technology matures further in the coming years and more companies join the VR bandwagon these obstacles will be overcome in time, leaving open the original question posed by this post - is VR the future for racing simulations?

    In order to answer that question I feel we first need to ask ourselves a series of questions to determine exactly how VR might fit into our future gaming requirements. The first question many serious sim racing enthusiasts may ask is - does running VR increase the immersion of simulation racing? Or in other words, do I feel more like I am driving a real race car when viewing the action from a headset rather than on a monitor (or three). For me the simple answer is yes, considerably so.

    Using VR in a sim racing title is simply one of the most incredible things I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing during my many years playing racing games. The purity of the feeling of being strapped into a car is quite simply incomprehensible until you try it for yourself. With VR you are quite simply sitting in the car yourself, you are at one with the machinery around you and suddenly you find yourself transported from one who is playing an approximation of the real thing to someone who is physically part of the experience itself. It really is that good. Prior to trying VR myself for the first time I, like many others, watched a series of videos of people playing racing games with the headset on. I've seen countless videos of people looking around the environment inside the car, leaning forward to check the dials and generally making the most of the ability to completely experience the virtual world in which they are participating. That's all really cool. So cool in fact I decided that would be a great reason for purchasing VR and trying it out myself. This is where my mind was simply blown the first time I took the humble KTM X-Bow out around Spa in Assetto Corsa pretty much as soon as the headset arrived. It's not just the ability to look where you want in game that makes VR, after all you can achieve something similar with trackIR, it's the 3D aspect that really takes away the breath, an experience that simply cannot be captured watching YouTube videos of people playing in VR.

    HTC Vive.jpg

    I can't make this point enough... wearing a VR headset you are quite literally inside the cockpit of your car. The feeling and visuals you experience are simply breath taking. It really is amazing how the mind can be tricked into convincing your body you are sat inside the machine, so much so that even though at the time I'm running a big Fanatec BMW rim on my rig my brain see's the in game car wheel and convinces my body that I'm holding that specific size and shaped wheel. It's a spooky experience...

    So far so good. In order to try and remain objective and keep this piece balanced, let's turn our attention to some of the immediately obvious issues one encounters when first sampling a VR headset within a sim racing environment. Namely motion sickness.

    Now I am not one who easily suffers from motion sickness and I appreciate that views on this topic are subjective to how each individual reacts to the experience of wearing a VR headset for prolonged periods of time. When my Oculus first arrived I found myself only able to really drive comfortably for around 15 minutes at a time without the need for a break. After the 15 minute mark I started to feel a little bit queasy and hot under the collar due to the visual sensations received from the headset. This was using Assetto Corsa. If playing something slightly more visually taxing like DiRT Rally, then trying to complete a stage without removing the headset was basically impossible for me. This quickly became a concern. However after reading some of the considerable amounts of information on the internet my concerns gradually faded away, it is commonly acknowledged that players new to VR have to establish their "VR legs" so to speak, giving the mind and body a chance to adapt to this new experience. For me personally after around a week or so spent with the Rift I quickly overcame the initial sickness feeling and can now use my headset without issues for as long as I wish, running multiple races in one session or completing endurance stints of several hours at a time. Just because I now feel comfortable is no guarantee that everyone will share the same experience however. This factor needs to be considered before making a purchase yourself. I've heard a few people simply couldn't get on with the experience and have sold off their headset because of it.

    VR In Game.jpg

    So, does using VR make you faster? This is a very difficult question to answer, and the response will be different for each individual person. Taking my own experience with the Oculus Rift I would argue that I'm a quicker driver with the headset than without, and for sure my positional awareness and ability to navigate traffic is greatly improved because of VR.

    The advantage of Virtual Reality over traditional monitors is most prominent when considering depth awareness. Because you are now firmly planted within a 3D environment, the curbs and track immediately in front of you are infinitely more prominent and "alive" than what is experienced on a tradition 2D screen setup. I feel using the headset I can pick out an apex much easier than before, and hit the apex on a considerably more consistent basis than was possible without the headset. The reason for this can be attributed to several factors in my opinion. Firstly the 3D environment is much closer aligned to the real world one is used to, and therefore the brain doesn't have to compensate for the lack of 3D images when picking out details of the track on a 2D screen. In a standard screen setup you have to apply a little bit of estimation between real and virtual when entering a corner as your eyes and brain are seeing something presented to you differently (i.e. in 2D) than you would experience in the real world. With VR you are in the car yourself and everything is as it would be in real life, the element of estimation has been removed. The track / corner / apex is presented to your eyes in 3D, as it would be in real life. Added to this you can see the depth of the apex and track much easier, it is quite simply a much more accurate representation of that particular piece of tarmac that you would find outside of a VR situation. For me at least this makes hitting the apex a much simpler and more natural experience, which obviously has a positive effect on overall laptimes.

    Conversely because of the current lack of high resolution graphic rendering capabilities using VR, one could find it more difficult to accurately judge far off braking points using the headset, in comparison to the standard one or three monitor setup. For example when playing Assetto Corsa in the rift, despite having high in game visual settings and making VR specific adjustments to the pixel density, far off objects still remain considerably less clear than they ideally could be. This impacts the ability of the player to look up the road and make an accurate judgement of a far off braking zone and can even cause the eye to miss potential track blockages that would otherwise have been obvious to a monitor user. Over time one develops the ability to shut out this issue and compensate subconsciously for the lack of long draw distance quality, but it must be taken into account when considering the laptime advantages offered by using the rift or not. Personally I find this distraction to be of secondary importance compared to the additional immersion offered by the headset and improvements in the ability to pick out an apex and better understand depth perception within a game. This may not be the same result for other users and should be taken into account when considering purchasing a virtual headset device.


    If truth be told it's still very early days in the world of Virtual Reality gaming and current VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have quite a way to go until they are capable of matching the visual fidelity of mid to high range monitor setups. Even with that taken into consideration I firmly believe (aside from the invention of FFB wheels) Virtual Reality is the single most impressive enhancement to a sim racers experience in the last dozen years. If you can afford to spend a not inconsequential amount of money on a device, and you are willing to overlook the drawbacks of the lower resolution produced by current units, then Virtual Reality isn't really the future of sim racing - it's the present day, right here, right now.

    Will the technology improve over time? Yes I expect it will get considerably better over the next five years or so, but to be perfectly honest what we have available right here today is an outstanding piece of kit that will help take many sim racers above and beyond the levels of immersion they ever thought possible. It's tomorrow's technology, available and working on today's simulations. I love it.

    Current racing / driving sims that support VR headsets include: American Truck Simulator, European Truck Simulator 2, Assetto Corsa, iRacing.com, Project CARS, RaceRoom Racing Experience, Live for Speed and DiRT Rally.

    If sim racing equipment is your thing or you just want some advice before making a purchase, head on over to our Sim Racing Hardware sub forum here at RaceDepartment and engage with the often knowledgeable, and always helpful community members on a wide range of sim racing related equipment.

    Do you think Virtual Reality is mature enough to become a "must have" piece of tech in sim racing? Do you expect the technology to improve in time? Have you tried VR yourself and what do you think? If you don't have a VR set, what is the main think that keeps you away? Let us know in the comments section below!
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
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  2. Andy Jackson

    Andy Jackson
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    Great article Paul. :thumbsup: Looking forward to VR myself. But will wait another 3 to 5 yrs for it to become stable, more affordable and less bulky and for my next PC mega build. Maybe an Occulus Rift CV10.5.

    ps, I also expect it to be able to be used on any console as well as PC. Not much to ask eh?;)
    ps, ps I also want it to have built in DTS surround sound.
    Ps, ps, ps I also expect it to be be butter lifelike smooth and very high definition with max graphics no matter what is put through it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
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  3. Riblo

    Riblo

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    considering the high cost of a machine capable to make the VR and the cost of a VR headset itself it is a big NO by my side...
    When VR will be available on the same hardware you can run a full detail game at 1080p on monitors and the headset will cost the same as a decent monitor then it will be a good alternative...
    Now IMHO it's just a toy for rich people...
     
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  4. MerrixSS

    MerrixSS

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    Personally my Oculus was bought as an alternative to triple screens. When looking at monitors, a single 1440p 144hz monitor was going to cost about the same as the rift so the thought of buying 3 felt like I was saving money. I do understand the concern over the machine cost to run it as I already find myself eager to see what benchmarks will be with a 1080ti since sli is really not a viable option for VR.
    I completely agree that what VR lacks in image quality the immersion makes up for and some titles don't look that bad at all. It would be nice to see what a sim specifically developed for VR was capable of considering we are mostly looking at betas and experiences that were tacked on to titles that were already finished products.
    I've not compared lap times between the two display options, but I do feel that I have a better sense of how the car is behaving in VR which has resulted in saving a lot more slides than when I was using a monitor. This could be a placebo, but it has been my observation so far.
     
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  5. Celestiale

    Celestiale
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    For me as a Flight-, Space- and Car-Simmer VR is a dream come true.
    Can't think of anything else that could enhance my gaming experience anywhere near what VR will do, this will be the biggest immersion-enhancer for gaming until the development of direct-neuron-stimulation (Matrix).
    Only reason i don't own one already is money, since i am on my thesis and not really working a lot currently, but as soon as i finished i'll buy one immediately, hopefully a second-gen 4k device then :)
    Thrill of anticipation is huuge :)
     
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  6. Andrew Harper

    Andrew Harper
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    Great article as always Paul. I've been toying with the idea of VR for the last few months. John Lewis have just dropped the Rift by £50 which is a bonus. It's a shame there isn't a Rift Rental service! Why? Only because I read constantly about the strain it puts on the hardware and it would be cool to test drive these devices sometimes before taking the plunge.

    I guess my only concern (as mentioned by Andy above in way) is the development of the technology and the always present danger of a sudden change of direction in hardware or game specifics requirements that would render the current generation obsolete. What if the next generation of headsets only worked with DX12 games?

    I know that's always the danger with tech and I accept that but these are costly pieces of kit.
     
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  7. Blimey

    Blimey
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    nope, maybe in 5 years if I'm still alive.
     
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  8. Triggerfish

    Triggerfish

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    Granted i had a single monitor .But now that i have VR i cannot use any sim games that does not have it. Immersion for me is that great. Waiting now for Automobilista and Rfactor2! Thanks for the article!
     
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  9. ttleon

    ttleon

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    Great article Paul ;) I too recently joined the VR crowd after snapping a great deal on a second hand oculus. Coming from triples, going to VR initially was a shock to me. I've seen many videos on youtube but never thought that VR resolution was that poor. I fired up Dirt Rally, went through a 8 minute plus stage, my initial impression was how well I could position my car, I was hitting apex more consistently, the spatial awareness just felt right.

    I was however struck with motion sickness and continued feeling nauseous for the rest of the evening. I believe nausea is one of the worst feelings a person could feel. I immediately felt like selling my Oculus as soon as possible as I thought that was no way I could do this again. The day after, I mustered some courage and fired up Assetto Corsa, which totally changed my view on VR. The cockpit detail that Kunos studios has taken the pain to produce made me feel that I was really in the cockpit of a real car. Bumping up the pixel resolution to 2.0 and disabling AA, I hit a constant 90fps on my 980Ti. It was sim racing bliss. Raceroom's VR implementation has been remarkable too. Let's put it this way, the benefit I felt was better than when I went from a Thrustmaster TX to a SimSteering 2 a month ago. However much I loved AMS and rFactor 2, I couldn't possibly play them again after being spoilt by VR.

    My only hope for VR now is that a low cost VR device will be produced, along with some AAA titles, bringing VR to the mainstream. That would in turn lead to further development of VR, hopefully bringing us better graphics cards capable of ultrahigh resolution, better VR screens with much higher FOV. Only time can tell.

    I still haven't fired up Dirt Rally after my first experience. One day maybe... when I'm up for it again
     
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  10. Celestiale

    Celestiale
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    In German Amazon you have a 30day-return policy. Don't know how this works in other countries, but maybe it's worth a look.
     
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  11. Mantii

    Mantii
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    A bit pricey? Yes. Worth it? To me, absolutely.

    I have played on a smaller single monitor, big 40" TV, and triples, and nothing compares to VR. Nothing!
    Assetto is my racer of choice, and when it lost VR support for a while, I completely lost interest because I could not go back to a 2D screen. I hoped on Project Cars here and there, but when Assetto Corsa returned with VR support, wow! Now we have RaceRoom with VR as well. These are good times folks.
    For anyone fortunate enough to own the hardware, this is the best thing for Sim Racers for a very very long time. I hope everyone gets the chance to experience it. It will only get better and cheaper from here on out.
    I experienced slight sickness the first couple of days, but as the article states, my body and brain got used to it and no longer have any issues.
     
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  12. bigaustin

    bigaustin

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    that's why I can`t see why some whinge about some sims not having triple screen support.
    the cost of buying three huge screens vs a single VR unit is a no-brainer.
    the immersion you get is amazing, and well worth the price of admission.
    project cars is probably the easiest to use while wearing the headset, while assetto requires removal in between races. hope they sort that soon. (this is on the vive)
     
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  13. DucMan888

    DucMan888

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    First I will say I have not tried VR, although I would like to. Are the mirrors in VR visible in your line of vision without turning your head? I will assume that with experience and training you could adapt to VR and avoid the tendency that happens when you turn your head while driving in real life, which is to drift towards the direction you are turning your head. This works great for when you are looking at the apex but not so good if you are having to turn your head to look in your mirrors.
     
  14. ttleon

    ttleon

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    The FOV on VR isn't wide enough, on closed cockpit cars, you would have to turn your head to check side mirrors. This isn't hard to adapt to.
     
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  15. Joerg Baermann

    Joerg Baermann
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    I had a HTC Vive set for almost 2 weeks but had to return it since my eyes suffered from to much strain.
    Besides that, I did not enjoy it for racing games.
    1. Steering Wheel layout in games does not match what I use
    2. LCD display behind the wheel shows the info I in the way I want to see it (Z1 board), can't really do that in game
    3. Button boxes.....
    4. If you have a nice looking rig VR kinda defeats it's purpose (unless you only have it for showoff)
     
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  16. Andrew Harper

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    Actually that's a valid point and something I had read about. You can obviously suffer from eye strain if you spend long periods in front of a monitor. What are other's experiences with this? With the displays being so close to the eyes.

    Please don't think I'm being negative, I'm totally not. It's just this is an ideal forum subject to ask these questions. :)
     
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  17. Enzo Fazzi

    Enzo Fazzi
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    Don't be suprised if you wake up one day and it's gone. I know where you live, Paul.

    (Great article btw, sadly I'm saving up for a car, which is a bit more useful than VR ;) )
     
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  18. Joerg Baermann

    Joerg Baermann
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    I never had problems with regular monitors, using 3DVision gives me 1-2 hours before the strain gets to much, VR 3-4 hours, pupils get real tiny too.

    I found some of the Steam VR stuff really good though, lifelike almost, but the VR experience was not so good for racing since most of the racing games/sims look completely crap, resolution is far from on pair with the monitors most of us got.
    Not that I mind a tiny bit aliasing, I just can't take it when graphics look grainy, out of focus and worst when you can see the actual crystal squares that the LCD's are made out of, almost like getting giant pixels thrown at you.

    VR needs more work to become good, plus they need to reduce eyestrain, there are methods for such.
    Will be interesting to see what Microsoft's Hololense can do, cause I think something that can mix things in a room with VR is the way to go.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
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  19. Tim Meuris

    Tim Meuris

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    Bloody good review Paul. I had the privilege to test it out for a few hours and had the exact same initial experiences as you described. Going to give it a go in a year or two. When a new graphics card is on my shopping list as well, hopefully a next generation of vr machinery too and games are more adapted to this new style of gaming. My three monitors will have been a much better investment by then as well. :D
     
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  20. Epistolarius

    Epistolarius
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    "Is VR now good enough to offer a genuine alternative to monitors in sim racing?"

    If you ask me
    • no, not yet

    Hardware and software still has some ways to go in my view.
     
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