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What’s best – a VR headset for sim racing or monitors?

my valve index VR headset

Having just tested the Samsung Odyssey G9, I must admit, modern gaming monitor tech is extremely impressive. But, for sim racing I’m a committed VR headset user.

If you want more from your sim racing experience, A VR setup is, in my opinion, absolutely the way to go.

Virtual reality is a steadily growing market with some very late generation 2 headsets about to drop in the market before Christmas. The Valve Index is, in my opinion among the easiest to setup (check out our graphics settings here) and best performing headsets to use. And at the moment, we’re all waiting patiently at SRC HQ for our HP Reverb G2 to arrive to see if it knocks the Index off the top spot.

IS the HP Reverb G2 the best VR Headset?
HP’s Reverb G2 pre-orders are due to arrive in November 2020

But is VR better for sim racing, or should you just stick to monitors? Today, I’ll be looking at the pros and cons of VR headset use with your gaming PC.

Why should you add VR to your sim racing setup?

Realism

Firstly, and probably most obviously, racing in VR feels real. The accidents, especially!

In iRacing when you leave the pits you often drive straight through another pitted car before you exit. Not a big deal, as it’s not an incident until you’re on the track. But with a VR headset on, the first time you drive through another car, you’ll jump out of your skin. When you grid up for a race start and look around you by turning your head, your competitors are all there, you’re surrounded. Because the Valve has headphone speakers, you’re immersed.

Vision

The discipline of using vision to find the best racing line through a corner is exactly the same as driving a track car. As you approach the corner you’re setting a brake point in your peripheral vision because you’re focused on the apex. As you brake, all of your visual focus should be on the exit. In real racing, you’ll move your head which make you physically align yourself with the corner’s apex to exit line. Scott explains vision so much better than I do, suffice it to say, it’s exactly the same approach in VR. You are then, practicing the habits you need to drive on a real track successfully.

Sensitivity to track detail

VR enables you to “see” details in the circuit you might have missed on monitors. I realized this at Lime Rock Park in the Global Mazda Cup. In VR you can really see the camber on the inside of this corner:

Turn 2 at Lime Rock Park has camber on the tighter entry line (image source)

And of course, once you’re visually aware of a track detail, it’s probable that you can feel that detail, too. This brings me to the next benefit of VR.

Early warnings via extra sensory input

It’s easier to drive well with a VR headset because you get an earlier warning of what the car’s doing.

In sim racing, you rely on your eyes to sense rotation in the car whereas circuit racing on a real track, you’ll sense rotation though your body. There’s a delay in getting messages like this if you’re looking at monitors which makes catching an accident much more difficult. You start to learn to drive the car from memory, not from feel. This isn’t the case with VR – it seems I’m much more sensitive to smaller movements in the car at corner entry, so I’m already able to predict what the car is going to do. It’s not magic, you’re just getting the information earlier as your eyes sense your entire environment rotating.

You also get a feel for undulations in the circuit. Using the camber example at Lime Rock Park above, in VR you’re just more aware that the car has climbed over a small hump. It’s a useful sensation once you become aware of it.

That early warning system makes the car easier to control, so you’re driving more consistently.

You drive more accurately

You are fully immersed in an environment and your eyes are able to give your brain much more precise data about the way the car is moving. I think that the way you translate this back into driving inputs is critical. you know your line and the information you received is accurate, then your steering inputs will be correct. Have you ever approached a corner only to find you’re making last second adjustments to the line you’re taking? Monitors, especially triple setups are a nightmare for this.

Driving with a monitor is not immersive, so you’re adjusting to a way of seeing things that doesn’t happen on the track, especially as your line of sight switches from your outside monitor to the one in front of you. Bezel correction is a little annoyance that VR doesn’t suffer from.

But are there any cons to VR Headset use?

Screen door and clarity can be an issue. Screen door is less of a problem in the newer headsets, where the fine lines separating pixels (or subpixels) become visible in the displayed image. Clarity remains an issue – where everything just feels that little bit out of focus. You can go a long way to improving teh clarity of the image by making sure the headset is adjusted properly for your face. But even after a lot of fiddling around it still isn’t perfect.

Because of issues like screen door and clarity, VR can make your eyes feel tired after prolonged use. Some days, it’s fine and I’ll do several races. But others, I don’t fancy it as much.

Graphics settings are initially difficult to come to terms with, because what works on monitors might not be correct for your headset. I’ve written about settings for VR here, so take a look. Once you get a setup you like, this isn’t a problem.

Finally, some people feel motion sickness. But not for long! I found after 2 laps I’d become used to the sensation of moving without moving. These days I don’t notice it at all.

VR: The benefits far outweigh the problems

Despite the cons laid out for all to see, the benefits of using a VR headset for sim racing far, far outweigh any hurdles. When I bought my headset, I was a little reluctant and wasn’t sure it would work out for me.

But several months down the line from acquiring a Valve Index VR headset, I can honestly say VR has been one of the biggest contributors to improving my driving technique in the sim. Good luck!

10 thoughts on “What’s best – a VR headset for sim racing or monitors?

  1. I have the reverb g1 it’s like looking at the screen in 1080p. I’ve ordered the g2 bigger sweetspot and index headphones. Driving in vr without screendoor effect is amazing. I sometimes race on 4k flatscreen. It does not compare. The immersion is not there. Vr is the future and its only going to get better. I also race with motion 5dof. If you haven’t tried it its incredible.

  2. How would you tweak these settings for those of us cursed with the Samsung headset? Same except for refresh rate set to 90? I’m running a 1080ti for reference. I also spend a fair amount of time in assetto Corsa exploring the aftermarket tracks and worlds.

  3. Every VR headset I have tried as too narrow FOV for me, personally went ultra wide and love it far better than the HTC Vive & Oculus rift as have better FOV than them , but VR does make you almost feel like it’s real just far to much heading needed compared to real life Tunis it and makes my brain think it’s not real at all at times

  4. The one thing I wonder about is that with VR I can’t see my controls. If I want extra physical controls isn’t it difficult/impossible with VR?

  5. Yes that’s a really frustrating feature of VR. I want to make switches and add a dash but there’s absolutely no point. Same with the more complex formula wheels. I use the buttons on my GT wheel by feel…

  6. I race using Pimax 8kx and must say the clarity is quite amazing

  7. Thanks Brian, was it difficult to setup?

  8. I love VR but I just can’t get comfortable. Rift S is better than it’s predecessor, but I still get face ache quite a lot. Spend too much time adjusting the headset, trying to prevent this.
    If I do get it OK, I just get too hot. Rarely have I managed more than a couple of hours without headset fatigue.

  9. Headset fatigue is a good way to put it. I’ve found the index to be quite comfortable actually, but I get hot too. I’ve placed two fans either side of the pedals pointing towards me which keeps me from having a major sweat breakout!

  10. FOV isnt an issue with the pimax headsets, when I was playing project cars you can see the padding inside the virtual helmet! I’ve got the 5k+ and 2080, but thinking the 8k with a 3080 could be a killer combo. Waiting to see a few reviews before committing.

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