To VR or not VR

The past couple of months, have been very intense for me, because i have been walking around with a growing urge to upgrade my monitor. For the past 3 years that i have been racing online, i have used an old LED TV, that run 1080p. It broke after a couple of years, and i replaced it with a second hand one, that also was 50″ and 1080p.

The quality was not ideal. The distance to my eyes was too far, because it had to be mounted on the wall. This resulted in a pretty bad Field of View. I also felt that it had a slight delay, that made it a bit difficult to react fast enough to the car. I had all excuses ready, and i was simply convincing my self that it was ok to spend the money. After a few month, it was ok and now i had to decide how i wanted to upgrade.

The options

It was pretty obvious from the start that i either could go with triple monitors or VR. Both options are very widely used, and generally the only two valid options for sim racing. Even though 3 monitors and a stand would actually be more expensive than an Oculus Rift setup, i was pretty sure that i still could consider them an option, as long as I chose cheaper or second hand monitors and maybe had to build a stand for them myself.

I was very hooked on an Oculus Rift. VR goggles, or HMDs as most people call these Head Mounted Devices. They are actually ideal for racing games, because they actually do what you would do while racing. You naturally turn your head towards the apex of a corner when you race. You also naturally turn your head to look at the side mirrors or to keep an eye on the car you are battling with when you’re side by side. This is all possible with HMDs and it all really feels very natural!

Even though i was pretty sure that HMDs was the right, and only way to go, I still wanted to explore what sounded like the old school alternative of triple screens and give that a change. So i didn’t just jump into a the purchase that sounded right.


Triple Monitors

Triple monitors is basically a work around for a screen that ideally should be curved at approximately 180 degrees around you, to cover your Field of View.

Source: Best-3dtvs.com

Humans basically have 120 degrees vision, so theoretically, it should be enough with a screen that only covered those 120 degrees. You still want to be able to turn you your head and look at certain parts of the screen though, and that would move your field of view further to the left or right. In theory, we just need a huge screen, that covers anything that we can possibly want to look at.

Even though screens like that might exist, they probably are quite expensive, or maybe not even good enough for racing simulators or even gaming. The most affordable and maybe also best work around, is to put 3 screens next to each other, at an angled position, to cover as much of your field of view as possible.

The Pros
  • Good graphics
  • Comfortable
  • Easier on PC requirements
The Cons
  • Limited and Static Field of View
  • Bezel between screens
  • Certain features can be tricky (etc screen capture)

Head Mounted Devices

Head Mounted Devices are basically two mini screens that are placed very close to your eyes. These two screens replicate the way you’d see the real world, as well as cover a very large area of your field of view. This makes them ideal for a huge display. Further more, they have inbuilt sensors, that will adjust what the screens show, based on the movements of your head. This translates to you turning your hear to the right, and it will show you what should be to the right (instead of still pointing the camera forward even if you turn your head).

This is genuinely ideal for racing, because you’d turn your head towards what you want to look at, and look at it. This is what HMDs basically do. That said, compared to real life eyes, they don’t focus on what your eyeballs look at, but at what your head looks at. This means that you need to point your head directly at what you want to look at, to bring it into focus. The focus is the main area of concern for me, as I was struggling to bring details into focus when i needed them. Furthermore, they can be pretty uncomfortable to wear for long hours, and they really will warm you up.

I was lucky to be able to book a test session at a center that specializes in VR games. VRGame is basically an computer café with racing rigs, and some fancy virtual gaming platform where you actually can walk in games, on a special mouse pad.
I bought a 50 minutes session to try out their setup with an Oculus Rift, with Project Cars 2. Their rig was a pretty comfortable Sparco seat, with Thrustmaster wheel and pedals on a Racing Cube motion simulator by Fasetech. The motion simulator was fun to try, but i had it turned off after a while, to really rate the Oculus Rift by itself.

I was very impressed by the HMD, and loved the feeling of being inside the car, getting a true sense of where the car was on the track and compared to other cars. It was an eye opener, and the three races i took part in were a lot of fun! That said, i got really really hot during those races. Very sweaty, both around my eyes, and on my back. It was quite uncomfortable, but no the less fun, and one could say that it imitates a helmet.

My main concern, and surprise, was how blurry the whole experience was. It was fairly sharp in the middle of my view, but i had to look at anything that i had to read. Even then, i still couldn’t read the dials inside the car (a BMW 2000s) and i had trouble seeing things in the distance. Especially corners after a long straight, and braking markers were hard to make out. The display was blurry, grainy and really less sharp than my old TV monitor that i already was using.

The Pros
  • Really deep immersion into the game
  • Better feeling of where the car is, compared to environment
  • You get to see the whole interior of the car not only the dash
  • You notice more details of the track
The Cons
  • The resolution is pretty bad and only sharp in the middle of FOV
  • Very hot especially in long races
  • Some can get seasick during use (test it before you buy it)
  • You can’t see/use your other peripherals (button boxes, dashboards etc)
  • Isolated from your environment (you could get robed while racing)

Conclusion!

My personal conclusion

One thing that i have noticed since i started upgrading my sim racing equipment, is that I have learned to like the process of evaluating my options. In the beginning i’d just buy anything that i could afford, that people mentioned to be good. Now i like to investigate my options, take my time and figure the best pick out, before i spend the money.

For this decision, i ended up buying a set of second hand screens, on a home made rig, with a seat and a few other parts, instead of the Oculus Rift, that would have cost me approximately the same price. Although i spend a long period deciding, it was eventually a very easy choice that i haven’t regretted. My arguments for convincing myself, were:

  • Very good price offer for the rig
  • I could sell off the extra wheel and get some money back
  • I could sell my old Wheel Stand pro
  • I got a more stable rig than what I had
  • I could not sacrifice the screen resolution to the one on the VR goggles
  • Less demanding on system resources
  • Would still be able to keep an eye on dogs, door knocks, phone calls etc
  • Can still use external button boxes and dashboards
  • Much more comfortable
  • Better graphics and details on screens

I am sure that this is a personal choice. In my quest to find the right pick, i have met people who can’t go back to screens after they have used their VR goggles. I have also met people who have returned, or consider returning to screens after using VR for some time. For me, the resolution was the key factor that pushed me towards the screens. The fact that I got a good offer on the screens & rig and that i still could use my buttons just made it a lot easier to decide.

What are your thoughts about this choice? Do you agree or really think it sounds silly? Let me (and the random visitors who come here) know, in the comments bellow!

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