So I've been contemplating getting a virtual reality (VR) headset for some of the racing titles I enjoy, and as I do my research before making any sort of purchase I'm discovering that there's a surprising number of ways I could get this decision completely wrong.
Now that we're a number of years into the technology being commercially available, there's also quite a wide variety of options, both on the new and used markets. Adding further to that list is Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) being, for driving simulators at least, quite a viable and probably lower-cost option.
For driving sims and games on PC, chances are if it supports VR it will also support WMR, but check (and also find out how well it works; some sims are already far more demanding on processing power than others). Otherwise, just continue using one or three screens for most of the older titles.
There are several reasons for considering WMR or VR for the titles that do support it, as well as a few drawbacks no matter which headset is used. Some people switch to VR and like it so much they say they can't drive on a pancake (monitor or TV) afterwards. Others soon find the experience uncomfortable, or inconvenient, or even nauseating.
One of the main advantages beyond immersion (convincing your brain that you're really there in the car) is improved 3D depth perception. Triple screens (flat or curved) enhance your sense of speed in the sim rig by putting fast-moving scenery in your peripheral vision. WMR or VR however, completely surrounds you in the rendered environment.
When driving, real or simulated, you want to know where you are and where you're headed, and get the right driving lines. You also want to be aware of what is around you so you can share the space with other road users or racers (even if they are artificially generated). Even so, in a race car you also wouldn't be able to turn you neck far (if at all) once you're securely fastened to a race seat with head protection at the sides and a tether-style neck restraint to keep your brain attached to your spinal chord in a frontal impact. So you should be using your mirrors (real and virtual) all the time regardless.
When looking for a headset there are several important specifications to look at, and a few more that can be desirable.
First though, we should mention a difference between WMR and VR, and it's often the motion detection. WMR has two or four little cameras on the front of the headset, and it simply uses the room for motion detection (once you've calibrated it to your room).
VR on the other hand, may require the installation of sensors in the room. That makes VR a clearly better choice for games that use the hand controllers (because in WMR you need to constantly hold them up in the view of those cameras), but for sim racing it shouldn't be an issue.
By far the most important thing to note when considering a headset is whether the interpupillary distance (IPD; the distance between your pupils) is mechanically adjustable or a close enough match for your head. In short, we have stereo vision, and if the headset's screens are too far apart or too close together it will cause eye strain at best, and sickness at worst. Lower cost headsets will be software-adjustable, but that won't help if it's not a pretty close match to start with.
There are various ways to measure your IPD, such as asking your optometrist (who will have likely measured it already) or using a ruler and a mirror (or a friend), or even an app on an iPhoneX or newer.
Physical comfort is another important one. Again though, that may vary by head shape.
Other factors to consider include image quality. It's not just pixel count either. As with monitors, this can vary between models and brands even of the same resolution.
Another thing worth considering is what extra features it has. Some WMRs have a flip-up front making it easier to find the mouse and check the user interface on a monitor, but that may cause wear, and external light may leak in with some units. Meanwhile, many VR headsets have built-in headphones that you may or may not want to actually use.
You must also check what the hardware requirements will be (for any given headset and sim) to produce a solid and consistent 90 frames per second at a minimum.
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