Sim racing in VR is likely the most immersive experience you can get in a virtual car. OverTake editor Yannik recently got to hit the digital track in Virtual Reality properly for the first time – here are his key takeaways.
Sim racing in VR – it hardly gets any better than this, if you believe the amount of “no VR, no buy” comments regarding certain titles. I never quite understood this notion – sure, VR is cool, but does it really add that much? Well, it took me a while to find out for myself after lacking the hardware to run VR properly for the longest time.
But as always in sim racing, your spending hand starts to itch sometimes. And in this case, it did so regarding a VR headset. The idea of basically sitting in a race car in 3D and being able to look around like you were actually there was just too intriguing. After all, basically all 10-year-old me ever dreamt of was to sit in a late 1990s, early 2000s F1 car.
Doing so in VR finally gave me an idea of what this must be like – namely unimaginably awesome! But we shall get to that again a bit later. After getting some serious run time with in VR under my belt, let’s dive into the list of key takeaways for sim racing in VR.
1 – Newer Does Not Always Mean Better
Many VR headsets these days come with standalone capabilities, meaning you can play games or use apps with them even when they are not connected to a PC. Having the option to do so is great, but many newer models also only feature connectivity via USB-C in addition to their wireless connection capabilities.
It may be worth looking at their predecessors as a result – if they feature a dedicated Display Port connection. This is due to a simple reason: Via a DP connection, the headset can directly use the signal coming from your GPU. Using the USB-C connection, the image needs to be compressed by your PC, then decompressed by the headset itself, using more resources. It is also possible that you get a nicer image out of the older tech that uses a DP connection.
Of course, this is not universal. Newer headsets that you hook up to your PC via USB-C get a lot of praise, too. So this is not be-all, end-all advice, but rather something to take into consideration. Every hardware setup is different, after all. DP connections also result in lower latencies, which can be beneficial for sim racing in VR.
2 – Settings Tinkering Is Time Well Spent
Getting things set up for sim racing can take a little while. VR is, of course, rather resource hungry. This means that on most systems, you will have to turn down some of your favorite graphics settings in order to have a smooth experience.
A smooth framerate – 90 fps seems to be the most common number to shoot for – is not only good for immersion, but also puts less of a strain on your eyes. Meanwhile, the other main element is clarity. Usually, this can be achieved by upscaling the resolution of your headset. You may need to turn down further graphics settings then, but your eyes will thank you.
To find the sweet spot where everything is running well and without fps dips, you will need some time. Once everything is running and you simply have to hop in your rig, strap on the VR headset and head to the track, you will be happy you went through this process.
3 – Prototype Cockpits Are Tiny
Remember the Big Boi M8 memes from a few years ago? The BMW M8 GTE was significantly bigger than all of its competitors and absolutely towered over the prototypes, which got taken to the extreme by racing fans in rather hilarious fashion.
It is no secret that prototype race cars are relatively small and look bigger on TV (until you see a GT car next to them, that is). Even knowing this and having seen a Porsche 919 LMP1 in person, I was very surprised just how little room a modern prototype’s cockpit offers.
Jumping in an LMDh car in VR for the first time was astonishing. The cockpit is extremely cramped, which becomes very apparent when you look around. Even the slightly roomier Group C Porsche 962C is not exactly big. Having the cars in front of you in the size they actually are will likely change your perception of them.
4 – Open Wheelers Are An Entirely Different Experience When Sim Racing In VR
Running an open-wheel car like an F1 racer or an IndyCar is good fun. On an ultrawide screen or a triple-screen setup, you can easily see the apex and position your car accordingly. Hopping into one of these rocketships in VR is an entirely different experience, though.
With the added depth perception, it feels much more natural to position your inside tire as close to the apex as possible. You can look around in the car and see what is going on around you much better – and being able to use the mirrors properly adds a lot to the experience.
Plus, there is the view you get when exiting the car. It feels like you are actually in one of these high-performance, carbon-fiber-tub based monoposti. 10-year-old me would probably have fainted with how impossible something like this seemed back in 2001.
5 – Sim Racing In VR Changes How You Drive
Admittedly, this only applies if you switch off certain HUD elements in VR. On a screen, I am used to using the virtual mirror due to the wing mirrors usually being out of sight. A quick glance upwards before a braking zone is usually enough to tell me what is happening around my car.
Using the actual mirrors when running in VR requires some adjustment, though. You need to look to either side of your car, check the mirror, then look at the corner you are trying to make again. For open wheelers, this is easy, as the mirrors are conveniently placed. But try running a race in a Porsche 962C that has its mirrors high up on the A-pillar – that will change how you approach a corner.
Also, not looking straight ahead all the time like you would on a screen makes a lot of difference as well. Looking to the left or right to see if your opponent is still there is a vastly different experience compared to simply relying on a spotter and radar – and very immersive. This capability also helps to see oncoming traffic when trying to rejoin after a spin. Not that I ever put that to the test…
6 – PC Hardware Has Some Catching-up To Do
Anyone who has heard of sim racing in VR will know that it is hardware hungry, as we touched upon earlier. What is remarkable, though, is the fact that even on a high-end GPU like an RTX 4080, it is impossible to crank up all the graphics settings and go like you probably would on a single-screen setup. That is even true in arguably the VR-friendliest recent sim, Automobilista 2.
It makes sense, of course. Say you are running a 21:9 screen at a resolution of 3440 by 1440 pixels and you switch to a decent, but not high-end VR headset. That means that all of a sudden, your GPU needs to handle two tiny 4K displays at once – that will take a toll on peformance.
With newer generations of GPUs arriving, this will likely become less and less of a problem in upcoming years. But until then, this also raises the bar for entry into the world of sim racing in VR considerably, as many middle-of-the-road setups might struggle to provide a great experience.
What are your thoughts on sim racing in VR? Got any tips and tricks up your sleeves? Let us know on Twitter @OverTake_gg or in the comments below!