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Virtual reality was destined to be the next game-changing technology within gaming and the workplace. But so far, it hasn’t quite had the impact that was promised. Despite this, sim racing in particular is one aspect where virtual reality can have a huge impact.
With titles such as iRacing, Assetto Corsa Competizione and the F1 games all supporting VR, I thought it was time to look at the pros and cons of VR in iRacing. I’ll also look at the costs and set up process involved to help you make a decision on whether iRacing in VR is for you.
Why choose VR for iRacing?
For many sim racers, the closest we’ll get to race a real race car is to increase the immersion while racing titles such as ACC and iRacing. Virtual reality helps increase the immersion while sim racing more than almost any other piece of sim racing gear you can buy.
While we can surround ourselves with triple screens, add a motion platform to our sim rig and buy the most realistic racing wheels. Virtual reality headsets are the one piece of technology that can transport us directly behind the wheel and into the cockpit of any race car.
It is this added immersion why virtual reality can have such a large impact on sim racing. iRacing is one of the most realistic driving simulators around, so adding a VR headset to your iRacing can result in one of the most immersive sim racing experiences available.
Benefits of virtual reality in iRacing
- Immersion: The added sense of immersion that using a VR headset with iRacing offers is hard to put into words. The first moment you don the headset and enter the seat of your chosen car can be quite amazing. You’ll be able to look around the entirety of your car interior as if you were actually there.
- Field of view: While triple screen monitors can help you see more of the track and cars around you, a VR headset will allow you to quickly glance to either side. You’ll be able to get a much better sense of awareness for cars around you, allowing you to make more informed decisions behind the wheel.
- No need for expensive monitors: When using a VR headset in iRacing, you don’t need to worry about maximising your monitor quality, as your monitor will rarely be used. All of the on track action now happens through the headset, making a monitor less of a requirement, other than launching iRacing.
Negatives of virtual reality in iRacing
- Cost of entry: Virtual reality headsets aren’t cheap. The most budget-friendly models such as the Oculus Quest cost £399/$399 thanks to a recent price increase, and higher-quality VR headsets cost up to £1,299/$1,399 for a model such as the HTC Vive Pro 2.
- PC requirements: Running iRacing on a VR headset is almost always more demanding than running on a single or triple screen monitor. All VR headsets require the game to be rendered twice, once for each eye. Headsets such as the HTC Vive Pro 2 can output 5K resolution on each eye. This can result in a huge performance load on your PC.
- Poor quality: Some budget-friendly VR headsets such as the Oculus Quest 2 may not be capable of outputting high resolutions across each eye. This can result in a low-quality, fuzzy or pixelated image. Headsets such as these can actually take away from the immersion by distorting the video quality.
- VR sickness: This is the term given for the sense of motion sickness that wearing a VR headset induces. This affects almost every VR user at some point but can be something that you work through. Initially, it may limit your play time or the time that you feel comfortable wearing a VR headset.
- Slower lap times: While you will certainly be able to have more awareness of what is around you while wearing a VR headset in iRacing. It may actually decrease your lap times. Racing using a 2D monitor gives you a sense of disconnect, allowing you to attack a track as hard as you want. Wearing a VR headset suddenly brings reality much closer, and this can lead to some sim racers driving slower to avoid incidents.
- Not being able to see your steering wheel: Many sim racers use steering wheels that feature screens, rev lights or other functions such as rotary encoders. Using these may become more difficult in VR as you won’t be able to physically see your own steering wheel. A good steering wheel will feature a usable layout, meaning you can learn where your buttons and inputs are, but you won’t be able to see switch positions in VR.
How does VR work in iRacing?
VR in iRacing is seamlessly integrated. You will require a monitor to launch the iRacing UI where you can choose your car, track or event. But as soon as you go to launch the session, you can switch entirely over to using your VR headset.
When launching a session you’ll have the option to do so in VR. If you select that, the in-game iRacing menu will be shown through your VR headset. You will be able to adjust various settings such as your field of view, and graphics settings directly through the iRacing menu. And then you’ll be able to go racing right away.
VR vs single or triple screens
The debate between VR and monitors is a big debate, especially among sim racers. There are plenty of sim racers who exclusively race in VR, and would never not race in VR, as the increased immersion adds a lot to the overall experience.
Then there is those who much prefer single or triple screen monitors for iRacing. This approach removes the variables of having to configure a VR headset and any shaking or movement that comes from a VR headset.
This is the preferred approach for those who stream or record videos as it can be tricky to record and broadcast VR, and in many cases, it is easier to watch a 2D stream.
Using monitors is also good for those who suffer from VR sickness, or like to race in longer endurance races. It can be much more comfortable to do this using a monitor to ensure you don’t feel sick during a race.
The decision on whether you race in VR or use monitors comes down to personal preference. And for those who have never tried VR, I would recommend giving it a go if possible to experience it. The immersion is incredible, and I can still remember the first time I raced in VR, as it was almost game-changing for me.
The best VR headsets for iRacing
There are a good number of VR headsets available now, including a range of different budgets. Headsets such as the Oculus Quest 2 offer decent performance at a lower price point, although the price of the Oculus Quest 2 has recently gone up by £100/$100.
Moving up towards the higher-performing VR headset range, you have offerings such as the HTC Vive Pro 2. That VR headset performs incredibly well but will set you back over £1,299/$1,399.
There are more balanced VR headsets available such as the HP Reverb and Valve Index. Those headsets sit between the Oculus Quest 2 and the Vive Pro 2 in terms of price and performance.
For a detailed guide on the best VR headsets for iRacing, I’d recommend reading our ultimate VR headset buyers guide. In that guide, I run through all of the best options for sim racing in VR, and provide recommendations across a range of budgets.
How to set up VR in iRacing
The set up process to get VR up and running in iRacing is relatively simple.
- Step 1: Connect your VR headsetThe first thing to do is connect your VR headset to your PC and ensure it is all connected, switched on and working. This process varies across different headsets but generally involves connecting the headset via a cable, powering it on and launching the required software such as the Oculus App.
- Step 2: Launch iRacingOnce your VR headset is up and running, open up the iRacing UI, and select the session you wish to start or join. Then go to launch the sim like you normally would. Before the session launches, you’ll be given a choice of whether to launch using your monitor or your VR headset. Select your VR headset.
- Step 3: Tweak your settingsIt is almost a certainty that you will need to adjust your VR graphics settings to ensure iRacing is running optimally in your headset. There are a lot of settings that you can tweak, but your priority should be to create a stable framerate of 60fps+.