Last updated: September 29th, 2023
Virtual reality (VR) is a big part of modern gaming, and possibly no other genre lends itself to VR as well as sim racing. With the arrival of some of the most powerful GPUs we’ve ever seen, particularly with NVIDIA’s new 40 series GPUs, never has there been a better time to enjoy the seamless immersion from racing in VR. In this newly updated guide, I’m going to share some tips on how to pick the best VR headsets for sim racing, to help you take your sim experience to the next level.What are the best VR headsets for sim racing?
- Pimax Crystal
- HP Reverb G2
- Varjo Aero
- Samsung HMD Odyssey+
- Meta Quest 2
- HTC Vive Pro 2
- Oculus Rift S
- Pimax 8KX
- Pimax 12k QLED (coming soon)
Currently, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to headsets, but some are far better than others, especially concerning how they handle racing games. Each VR headset comes with its advantages and disadvantages, so I’ve gone into some depth below on the features and functions you should pay special attention to when browsing for a new one.
When you’re considering a VR headset for your simulator
There are a lot of things to consider before you buy.
Every VR headset comes with its own pros and cons. Don’t fall for the old “which is better” trick when it comes to resolution and maximum refresh rate as there are many more things to take into account before you buy. Throughout this article, I’ll do my best to point out the best and in some cases, worst features of each VR headset.
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 3 headsets about to drop in the market before Christmas. In the early days, the Valve Index was, in my opinion among the easiest to set up (check out our graphics settings here) and among the best-performing headsets to use. Things change of course; I sold mine on eBay about a year ago.
Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room. Is VR actually 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.
So, why should you add VR to your sim racing setup?
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’re gridding up for a race start and look around you by turning your head, your competitors are all there, you’re surrounded. The immersion level is off the scale, especially when the headset has built-in speakers.
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 braking 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 makes you physically align yourself with the corner’s apex to the 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, practising 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:
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 ears to sense tyre slip and your eyes to sense rotation in the car. This is a little different to real-life motorsport, in circuit racing on a real track, you’ll sense rotation through 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. If 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 don’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 a problem solved in the newer headsets, where the fine lines separating pixels (or subpixels) become visible in the displayed image. Clarity remains an issue – where everything can sometimes feel a little bit out of focus. The Valve Index, as good as it was, came from a generation of headsets where the resolution wasn’t quite high enough.
You can go a long way to improving the clarity of the image in your headset by making sure it’s adjusted properly for your face.
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 for others, I don’t fancy them as much. On that note, if you suffer from visually triggered migraines, I would advise you to steer clear of VR.
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.
What makes a Great Sim Racing VR Headset?
There are plenty of options when it comes to picking a VR headset, but you can narrow it down quite substantially for sim racing in particular. Before I dive in and show you some of the best models available on the market, I’d like to address some of the issues and myths that are often brought up concerning VR and sim racing.
Will using VR in a racing simulator make you faster?
Decide for yourself, but as we’ve discussed above, you will have a better perception of depth and movement, which will improve your ability to judge the distance of cars and objects and make car control corrections far earlier. Plus, you’ll get a near 360° view of cars and the track in a 1:1 ratio which will enhance the realism of the game and help you feel like you’re actually in a real car.
VR headsets can make it nearly impossible to use button boxes, so if you use a button box regularly consider that before you decide to splash any cash on a new headset. Another thing is you will not be able to see your steering wheel or any of your rig setup for that matter, so if you’ve just invested in a fancy-looking piece of kit, you won’t be able to enjoy its aesthetically pleasing looks if you’re wearing a VR headset.
No matter how great or immersive VR is, current technology for headsets can’t match the graphic quality of a gaming monitor. But still, you’ll have the ability to turn your head and aim for the apex when cornering, so you’ll get more of a feel for driving.
So, what is the best VR headset for sim racing? While there’s no single answer, factors such as the items below really count. We’ll be looking at these in more detail:
- Display and sound quality
- Design and overall comfort
- Field of View (FOV)
- Position tracking and range of motion
Our VR Headset Recommendations
Here are some of what I consider to be the best picks for sim racers, in no particular order.
The Pimax Crystal VR Headset emerges as a significant player in the 2023 VR landscape. Marrying the traditional PCVR experience with the autonomy of a standalone mode, this headset asserts itself in the premium segment. This guide aims to provide prospective buyers with key insights into the Pimax Crystal, comparing it to contemporaries like the Valve Index and HP G2.
Upon unboxing, the Pimax Crystal exudes that all too familiar Pimax minimalist aesthetic, with its packaging devoid of excessive labelling, simply adorned with the “Pimax” logo. The headset showcases a signature angular design, which serves more than just aesthetic purposes: it distributes weight evenly, enhancing user comfort. The design aims to offer an ergonomic experience, simulating a natural extension of the user’s face.
The setup process for the Pimax Crystal is user-friendly, with the Pimax Play software guiding users step by step. From charging the controllers to connecting the headset and initiating Steam VR, the entire process is intuitive and hassle-free, taking mere minutes.
The Pimax Crystal boasts an impressive 2880 x 2880 resolution per eye, ensuring crisp and immersive visuals. Combined with the advanced QLED+MINI LED panel, this headset delivers unparalleled clarity, with the graphics displaying detailed output across all distances. The Pimax Crystal further enhances the user experience with features like eye-tracking, auto IPD adjustment, and a choice between two lens options, offering varying degrees of FOV (the lens supplied with the Pimax offers 115° of FOV.
Compatibility: Windows 10/11 with Steam VR / WMR compatibility
Display: QLED+MINI LED panel combination
Resolution Per Eye: 2880 x 2880
Refresh Rate: 120 HZ (even at native resolution)
FOV: Two lens options available:
- 42 PPD lens with 140° Field of View (FOV)
- 35 PPD lens with a wider 140° FOV
HP Reverb G2
- Compatibility: Windows 10/11 with Steam VR / WMR compatibility
- Display: 2 x 2.89″ diagonal
- Resolution Per Eye: 2160×2160 (9.3 million pixels)
- Refresh Rate: 90 Hz
- FOV: 114°
The Reverb G2 is HP’s flagship VR headset, and while it’s been around for a few years now, technically, it’s still very impressive. It features inside-out tracking, meaning it’s easier to set up and pick up because you don’t need any external sensors, like most other PC VR headsets.
The compromise is that you do need a pretty powerful gaming PC. One of the biggest pros is that the G2 has an excellent audio, better than most because it uses the same off-ear style of audio speakers as the Valve Index.
There are now three versions of the G2. There’s the G2 Omnicept edition, the most expensive of the three at $1249 because it’s focused on the enterprise. The OMNIcept is aimed at the “prosumer” It has a few additional sensors that allow eye, face, and heart rate tracking. This is mainly aimed at businesses looking to take advantage of the extra data the headset can collect. The additional features aren’t really relevant to the sim racer.
Next, there’s a standard G2 which is a really solid gamer VR headset and is in use today by a lot of the sim racing community. At the time, despite the limitations, it might place on GPU power, it was (and still is) a great bit of kit. Later, a second version arrived with tweaks to improve on some of the earlier G2’s flaws. Those revisions include a new face pad that includes a spacer that you can remove. If you remove it, your face will be closer to the display, giving you a wider FOV. HP also made adjustments to the cameras to improve tracking coverage.
The compromise is that you do need a pretty powerful gaming PC, but one of the biggest pros is that the G2 has an excellent audio system, better than most because it uses the same off-ear style of audio speakers as the Valve Index. It’s also incredibly clear – that high resolution really sharpens things up.
- Compatibility: Windows 10 / 11 and Steam VR
- Display: 2 x 3.5″ diagonal
- Resolution Per Eye: 2880 x 2720 px
- Refresh Rate: 90 Hz
- FOV: 115° (134° at 12 mm eye relief)
The Varjo Aero is what I refer to as “Gen 3” VR. It’s a leap forward in every single way in comparison to the other headsets on this list. The only reason that might put most people off is the price. It’s expensive!
Aside from the seriously good optics (Dual Mini LED LCD; 2880 x 2720 px per eye) with “edge-to-edge” clarity and no reflections with no ghost rays. It has a 200hz eye tracking system, built-in fans to keep your face cool (active cooling) and built-in audio.
It comes supplied with a 5m cable and weighs just 487g plus the headband at 230g. It feels lightweight and offers very high detail indeed. It runs on SteamVR (my preferred choice).
It’s priced at €1,990.00 / $1,990.00 – so might be just out of reach for now. I recommend you upgrade your PC to get the most out of it, too.
Samsung HMD Odyssey+
- Compatibility: Windows 10 / 11
- Display: Dual 3.5″ AMOLED Displays
- Resolution Per Eye: 1440×1600
- Refresh Rate: 90 Hz
- FOV: 110°
The Samsung Odyssey+, while now discontinued, offers a 90hz refresh rate in comparison to its predecessor, the Quest, at 72hz.
Despite its age and the fact it is no longer available there are always opportunities to pick up a bargain on eBay, usually for around $200.
The Odyssey+, according to these Redditors, “is the best OLED HMD on the market, period.” So, if you’re tight on budget and you can find a good one of these on the second-hand market, grab yourself a bargain (just make sure it comes in good condition, boxed with controllers and working!)
Meta Quest 2
- Compatibility: Windows 10 / 11 / Steam VR
- Display: 1 x 5.46” diagonal
- Resolution Per Eye: 1832×1920
- Refresh Rate: 90 Hz
- FOV: 115°
The first thing that people fuss about with the Oculus (Meta) headsets is knowing whether you need a Facebook account to run one. You don’t need a Facebook account, after the V28 update. Though, you do need to sign up for a Meta account (which is free of any social media tethers. Oculus Quest and Oculus Quest 2 users can no longer use a Facebook account to log into their VR headsets. Instead, users will need to make a new Meta account that is separate from any social media presence. Thanks, Android Central!
The V29 update brought updates to all sorts of areas but critically, stability improvements to Air Link and also gives us 120 hz refresh rate support for Air Link.
Check you’re running V29 by heading to the settings > about tab and make sure you’re running the latest version. 120hz refresh is available in “experimental features”
The Oculus Quest 2 is very easy to set up and get racing, and feels light and very smooth during use.
HTC Vive Pro 2
- Compatibility: Windows 10/11 – Steam VR
- Display: 2 x 3.5” diagonal
- Resolution Per Eye: 2448 × 2448
- Refresh Rate: 90 – 120 Hz
- FOV: 120°
VIVE Pro 2 from HTC is the successor to the hugely popular HTC VIVE Pro, also an excellent VR headset. It’s a powerful, immersive headset with access to SteamVR base stations for content, and a high-end pair of AMOLED screens running at a combined 4896 x 2448px resolution..
The Pro 2 also comes with spatial audio and a comfortable ergonomic design to make sure you won’t start feeling it during an endurance race.
Some of the VIVE Pro 2 from HTC features include an ergonomic design with IPD adjustment and an optimised centre of gravity for headset weight management.
It features high-resolution spatial audio and a pair of 448 × 2448 pixels per eye AMOLED screens running at a 120 Hz refresh rate. Like the Meta Quest 2 it’s a wireless design, although it runs at a slightly lower resolution and refresh rate in wireless mode.
A standout feature is the 120-degree FOV. There’s no need for cables (provided the battery is charged it’ll run for around 4 hours), though you will need the SteamVR 2.0 base stations to access Steam and SteamVR content through VIVE. To access the full potential of this headset, however, you will need to use the supplied cable.
Oculus Rift S
- Compatibility: Windows 10 and 11
- Display: Fast-switch LCD
- Resolution Per Eye: 1280×1440
- Refresh Rate: 80 Hz
- FOV: 115°
The Oculus Rift S is a great budget VR headset for sim racers, priced at $300.
The Rift S is Oculus’s second iteration in the Rift Series with the Rift S taking the place of the original Rift the Rift S has an advantage over other VR headsets in that it doesn’t require any separate sensors. So, the only sensors you’ll use are the ones that are already located on the headset, no extra cables or power supplied!
There’s an array of five cameras on the headset: two on the front, one on either side and one on the top. These five cameras do an amazing job at tracking where you are in the room and where the controllers are which use a separate infrared array to keep their position up to date. Not that I use controllers for sim racing, but for gaming generally that’s a useful thing to know.
The Rift S has only one cable running from the headset to your pc which connects via DisplayPort and USB3. This cable can be detached and replaced if needed.
The Rift S doesn’t have any headphones and instead uses a small speaker located on the head strap. They still sound pretty well and might.
In terms of comfort, the Oculus has a crown head strap which can be tightened and loosened at the back with a rotary adjuster.
- Compatibility: Windows 10 and 11 with SteamVR 1.0/2.0 tracking supported
- Display: 4Kx2 UHD
- Resolution Per Eye: 4K UHD
- Refresh Rate: 75-114 Hz
- FOV: 200° Fresnel lenses
This is the Pimax 8KX from Pimax and, if you know Pimax headsets you know that these things run at resolutions and a FOV that no other headset can deliver.
Build quality-wise, the Pimax 8KX is part of Pimax’s new vision lineup of headsets. These headsets have been upgraded with new material and special damage-resilient coating. You can feel an almost rubber-like coating covering it.
The lenses are so huge that they take up most of the inside of the headset, so you won’t see any borders like you do the smaller units. Ergonomically, despite its size it’s really easy to get used to and, with a good head strap, it balances on your head properly. The Pimax 8kx comes with Pimax’s new KDMAS head strap which is also known as their modular audio strap. It is very sturdy and KDMAS is also incredibly comfortable.
Despite first impressions of size, the 8KX is actually very comfortable and you could wear it for hours. There’s a removable rear pad that you can wash, and the face pad is really comfortable too and comes supplied in 3 different thicknesses for adjustability.
Pimax’s new comfort kit comes with a nose guard that completely blocks the light from coming into the headset which works really well.
The 8KX has a FOV of 200 degrees (compare that to the FOV of the Oculus Quest 2 which is 90 degrees or the index which is 130 degrees)
While the claimed default refresh rate is 90hz, if you launch Pi Tool you’ll notice that if you switch into upscaling mode you get up to 114 Hz refresh. Upscaling mode runs the headset at a resolution of 2560 by 1440 at a 114 Hz refresh rate while maintaining FOV, so a small drop in resolution for a higher refresh or the maximum resolution for a slower refresh (either way, you won’t notice!).
The headset itself has two type-C USB ports, one at the bottom and one hidden behind the faceplate up at the top. There are also three buttons, a button to power the headset on and off and the other two volume buttons to bring the volume up or bring the volume down.
The built-in microphone and excellent DMAS and KDMAS speakers are attached on each side with a small screw under the Velcro strip. The mic and speaker systems mean you can chat on Discord while playing, too.
Pimax 12k QLED (coming soon)
- Compatibility: Windows 10 / 11
- Display: 12k at 5760 x 3240 (per eye)
- Resolution Per Eye: 5760 x 3240
- Refresh Rate: 75-200 Hz
- FOV: 240°
Though not officially released yet, the Pimax 12k QLED was announced back in October of 2021 when there were definitely fewer headset choices but in 2022, the Pimax 12k throws the kitchen sink at the VR headsets world.
This is definitely 3rd generation VR technology and a taste of what the future has to offer.
The Pimax display is 12k at 5760 x 3240 (per eye) with refresh rates ranging (depending on use) from the low end 75 hertz all the way to a high end of 200 hertz.
That’s even better than the Valve Index. The Field of View is a massive 240 degrees diagonal 200 degrees horizontal and 135 vertical making this a huge improvement over anything else available currently.
The headset includes tracking and it even has “full body tracking” with 11 onboard cameras. It hasn’t appeared on the Pimax store just yet but could drop any day now.