Written by Vinodh Moodley
Most people play iRacing on a single screen mainly because it’s the cheapest option. One screen in front of you is fine for sim racing and combined with a steering wheel and pedals will give you an all-around good experience.
Why choose a VR headset?
A triple screen setup is usually considered a huge step up from a single screen system. It’s essentially like a single screen setup with the extra two screens angled to more or less represent the side windows of a car. This setup when it’s done right gives you the feeling of being in a real race car with the ability to see rival cars side by side with you as well as being able to see the apex of a corner that has a wide entry.
The main downsides of this setup are cost and space. Three screens are not cheap and having them on your sim rig can take up a huge amount of room. Lesser issues are the ugly bezels between the monitors that ruin the immersion factor and having a powerful graphics card that can run three screens at a decent framerate. If you need to know how to choose the best monitor for your sim rig, check out our Best Sim Racing Monitors Guide – it should help narrow down exactly what will work best for you.
Virtual Reality (VR) has come a long way in recent years and is probably the best way to improve immersion in sim racing. iRacing fully supports VR across a wide range of VR headsets. There are a lot of factors that must be considered when making the move to VR.
The advantages of VR in iRacing
The feeling of being in the car is amazing. You can run side by side with a competitor and still be able to turn your head and look across the track to scan for potential hazards. You can lean your head into a corner to spot the apex earlier especially when corners have a wide entry. The sensation of speed as well as being able to see the track elevation makes you really appreciate the high-quality laser scanned tracks in iRacing. Overall, you feel like you’re actually driving a racing car with the feeling of being in direct control without any sensation of delay or lag even when moving your head around.
VR only requires a small monitor to boot up your PC and launch your favourite sim. This means that it will take up a lot less floor space when compared to a single large monitor or a triple-screen setup.
The disadvantages of VR
A good VR headset is not cheap. Prices range from around $550 for the HP Reverb G2 to $1600 for a Pimax 8K. The problem with the cost of VR is not just the headset. The VR headset must be coupled to a graphics card with the raw power to drive two high-resolution screens at 90 frames per second (FPS) or higher. A typical VR headset will have two screens inside the headset that, despite their small size, will have a resolution of around 1440p. For VR to run smooth, an FPS of 90 or higher is recommended. This is very demanding for most graphics cards (GPU) and computers in general. If you need to know more about Graphics Cards, head here.
Entry-level VR headsets have high-resolution screens but since your eyes are so close to them, the resolution isn’t as sharp as a monitor that’s positioned at arm’s length or further away. Because of this, lower quality VR headsets can have what’s known as the screen door effect where it seems like you’re viewing the world through a fine mesh. What you’re actually seeing is gaps between the pixels in the screens. This can be quite jarring and spoils the feeling of being in the car. Moving to a higher quality headset means spending a lot more money on the headset and potentially a new GPU.
Things to consider when choosing a VR headset
Besides the display resolution, sound quality is an important factor in your VR experience. Some VR headsets have the speakers permanently fixed while others have removable speakers or even no speakers at all. Removable or no speakers can have the advantage of using your own headset that may have better sound quality than the built-in ones. This is really important because once you’ve bought a VR headset with permanently fixed speakers, then you’re stuck with them. Arguably, sound quality can be more important in sim racing than the outright visual quality which makes this decision far more important than you would initially assume.
Another option to consider is the field of view (FOV) of the headset. The wider the number, the more you can see in-game but this higher will come at a cost.
What about people that wear spectacles? Generally, it is possible to wear prescription spectacles with a VR headset. Contact lenses also work fine. However, there is also the option of purchasing custom made prescription lenses for your VR headset. VR Optician.com for example can make custom lenses for your unique prescription and have them shipped to your door in more or less one week.
These new lenses will then work exactly like your prescription spectacles giving you crystal clear in-game vision without worrying about your spectacles scratching the screens on your VR headset. VR Optician also sells plain lenses that can act as protective covers to prevent the screens on your VR headset from being scratched.
What’s VR like in iRacing?
iRacing has support for a variety of VR headsets but not every single headset available for purchase is supported. It’s therefore pointless buying a cheap VR headset only to find that it isn’t well supported in the sims you play. Also, only reputable manufacturers provide regular software and firmware updates to fix issues. Coach Dave Academy has an excellent writeup of VR headsets for sim racing that should make it easier to decide what will work for you.
How do you set up VR in iRacing?
Getting VR up and running in iRacing is quite easy. Once all the relevant drivers and software for your VR headset have been installed, launch iRacing like you normally would via your web browser. After that, join a race/practice session. This will then cause a window to pop up asking if the game must be rendered on the VR headset or on the computer’s flat screen. Choose the VR headset option and iRacing will then launch in VR mode. The VR interface is basically the same as in the regular iRacing menu. You can use your mouse to select menus while wearing the VR headset.
One of the first things to do once you’re in-game is to tweak the graphics settings to ensure that you get a constant 90 FPS or higher. If you’re unsure of what settings to adjust, visit the VR section on the iRacing forums. They have a detailed guide on how to fine-tune the graphics settings in iRacing to get a smooth VR experience.
Playing iRacing in VR is a massive difference when compared to using a flat-screen. It’s incredibly immersive and really gives the feeling of driving a real car. However, it can be costly and therefore not necessarily suitable for everyone. Nevertheless, those that can afford the upgrade will quickly realise that VR has taken their sim racing experience to a whole new level that cannot be realised when using a flat screen.