Virtual reality (VR) is a big part of modern gaming, and possibly no other genre lends itself to VR as well as sim racing. In this 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.
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.
However, it’s not just as simple as which one has the highest resolution display; there’re a lot of things to consider before you buy. Take a look at Scott’s first drive in VR last year:
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.
First of all, the question that’s burning in every aspiring driver’s mind. Will using VR in a racing simulator make you faster?
Decide for yourself, but as we’ve discussed before, 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 near on 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.
Samsung HMD Odyssey+
Price: $629.70 (more info)
– High resolution 3K display (1440×1600 per eye)
– Wide 110° FOV
– High range of motion / quality sound
– No wireless option
– Tracking not as precise as those with external sensors
Oculus Quest 2
Price: $399 (more info)
– High resolution
– Small latency
– Limited battery life
– Standard FOV
– You need a Facebook account to run it
Oculus Rift S
Price: $399 (more info)
– Comfortable and easy to wear
– Relatively affordable
– Low refresh rate
– Standard FOV
– Getting dated
HP Reverb G2
Price: $840 (more info)
– High resolution (2160 x 2160px per eye)
– Great sound
– Wide FOV (114°)
– Standard refresh rate (90hz)
– Only on pre order with slipping release date
Price: £919 / $1200 (more info)
– High resolution (Dual 1440 x 1600px LCD)
– Great sound
– Good 110° FOV
– Very high refresh rate (144hz)
– Requires 2 SteamVR 2.0 Base Stations
Price: $799.00 (more info)
– High 120hz refresh rate
– Huge 200° FOV
– Dual 2560x1440px RGB LCD panels
– Compatible with Steam VR Lighthouse 1 and 2
– No sound
– Requires external sensor
As I mentioned above, when purchasing a VR headset explicitly for sim racing, there’re a few things to keep in mind. Sim racing offers a unique gaming experience, and so you need to make sure you pick an option that is adequately suited, and not any headset for gaming in general.
Let’s take a look in more detail.
Display and sound quality
The display is a significant factor to consider when switching to VR or upgrading your current model, and the most important, as this is what you will be looking at while you have the headset on!
The higher the resolution, the sharper the image will be, and thus the more realistic it will feel. This pairs with the refresh rate of the display. A high refresh rate makes for smoother visuals. In case you’re not too clued up on what these terms mean, then feel free to check out my gaming monitors guide which explains in everyday English what each of the display-related figures, jargon, and technical specifications mean; all of which is relevant to the display element of VR headsets.
Critically with VR, “screen door” is a negative factor (noticing the little black lines between pixels on the screen). This is much less of an issue with the latest VR headsets and really nothing to worry about now. More of an issue is “clarity” – the sense of focus on the image.
You can have a high resolution with poor clarity, so do be sure you’ve found a device that can deliver a sense of focus. Many headsets have quite a narrow tolerance for clarity, if the headset isn’t worn quite correctly, clarity can be much worse than the manufacturer intended. Simple adjustments to the fit can often improve the situation.
The sound system of the VR headset is also vital for sim racers, as the quality of this will dictate how realistic it feels. With constant engine sounds, tyre squeals, or maybe a loud crunching noise if you hit the barrier, you don’t want the sounds to be distorted or muffled. This will make for an unpleasant racing experience and can hurt your ears too. Plus, in simulations like rally where you have a co-driver, you want their voice to be crystal clear.
Therefore, it is essential to consider whether you want a headset with a built-in sound system or whether you would instead use an external sound system. Some VR headsets also include a built-in microphone, a critical consideration if you plan to race with your friends.
Design and overall comfort
With the size and shape, you need to pick something that isn’t excessively cumbersome or too small. Balance is everything. While the form of the headset will fluctuate from brand to brand, they are all somewhat alike. However, you may find that some headset shapes will suit the profile of your head better than others, so there’s no other way to know other than to try each of them on.
Some higher-end VR headsets have a lot of technology packed into them, so they can be quite heavy. This is something that you will have to take into account when buying. To get the most out of your VR headset, pick one that you can wear for long racing sessions without causing any discomfort. The Valve Index (pictured above) has a very comfortable fit (and happens to be the current SRC HQ headset!).
Field of View (FOV)
Next up, you should think about the field of view (FOV) of the headset. Usually, this falls around 100-110°, (the Valve Index has a 110° FOV) but some headsets offer more and some less.
A larger field of view will make things feel more realistic, while also meaning you don’t have to turn your head as much to check where other racers are.
Position tracking and range of motion
If you want to experience the full range of VR capabilities, you need to factor in how well the headset will track your movements in real life and map those movements in the game.
Some VR headsets use cameras to monitor the tracking process, while some use larger separate tracking towers. To experience the full immersion of a sim in VR, ensure your headset can emulate your movements in the game. If not, you may find yourself experiencing VR sickness, as your actions will feel lagged and less controlled.
The range of motion and degrees of freedom (DOF) are two other factors to consider. The range of motion will usually be 360°, meaning you can look all around you while you are playing. This will probably be less important in a sim, as you won’t often find yourself turning to look directly behind you when sitting in the car. The DOF essentially refers to the number of types of movements that you can make. Three DOF is relatively standard, and this allows you to look up and down, or left and right while standing or sitting in one location. If you move around the room, these movements won’t be tracked, and so they won’t affect your in-game experience.
Some high-end VR headsets offer six DOF (degrees of freedom), and this allows you to move around in physical space and have your movements tracked. This is less important in sim racing, as you will typically be seated in the cockpit. This means it is a crucial factor to consider in terms of price, as there’s no point in spending more money for three extra DOF that you can’t take full advantage of.
The next thing to think about is compatibility, and this relates to the platform you use for sim racing. Some headsets are only compatible with specific machines, so you need to make sure that the one you opt for works with your PC or console.
Compatibility also extends to the sim titles that you want to play. Not all racing sims support VR, so it’s essential to make sure that the games you want to play will allow you to make use of your VR headset. Always check beforehand, so that you don’t end up wasting your money on a headset you can’t fully utilize.
The Pimax headset is compatible with the VR towers supplied with the Valve Index which might make for a more economic upgrade path.
Finally, and perhaps the most crucial point to consider; the price. The best VR headsets for sim racing tend to be on the more expensive side, and so the price consideration is only there to ensure you don’t spend any extra money on features that you can’t use, such as additional degrees of freedom.
Premium VR headsets are much better for sim racing, with cheaper ones tending to take away from the experience. Therefore, you should not use price as your main criterion when picking a headset and should instead only consider it when you are struggling to choose between two that you want.
The Verdict: Side by Side comparison: all VR headsets
This side by side comparison might be useful if you’re still undecided on what to buy: