Four VR Racing Kits To Get You Started
VR fits naturally with sim racing games, and, in fact, if you’re a fan of this genre, you’re going to really love the visual immersion that virtual reality brings to gameplay. You’ll appreciate the realistic driving feeling – but there’s a caveat – if you’re using a keyboard or controller, you might as well not bother, you’ll just miss out on the full depth of immersion which the latest driving games provide!
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The best way to get started with VR racing is to invest in some of the latest VR racing hardware. This lets you really experience the driving physics that are so realistic and detailed. So, which of the many options out there should you buy?
Sim racing has been around for around three decades now, and over those long years, there has been a huge amount of hardware dedicated to making the experience even more interactive and engaging. The earliest wheels were pretty rudimentary with bungee cord attachments for self-centering. These were followed up by hydraulic pedals, motion cockpits, and motor-driven force feedback. Now, the market has a broad spectrum of impressive hardware designed specifically to improve your gameplay. From simple plastic peripherals right up to commercially focused, extreme gear, there’s no shortage of options to pick from.
Although virtually every driving sim is playable using a standard gamepad, you can truly transform your experience if you switch to a dedicated input device. This is especially important if you’re playing in VR since the sensation of being inside your car’s cockpit makes holding the gamepad feel totally inappropriate. If you switch to using a pedal and wheel to control your brakes, throttle, and steering, you can have a physical connection to your virtual car that just isn’t possible if you’re using a standard controller. With all this in mind, here, we bring you the top four kit recommendations to suit any budgets so you can start maximizing your VR driving experience.
Covering The Basics With VR Headsets
There are two VR headsets which are leading the way in terms of racing sims support. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are both excellent choices if you’re keen to get into sim racing, although if you’re only going to be using a VR headset for VR racing, you’ll find the Rift is the cheapest option since there are no motion controllers included in the bundle. You can add Touch controllers at a later date if you wish at an affordable price. Both of the headsets need external sensors in order to track movements, but the Rift has a simpler sensor setup than the Vive.
If you’re going to be using a VR headset to play racing games as well as other VR titles, you’ll need to consider the amount of room you have in which to play. Both the Rift and Vive are suitable for standing, roomscale, and seated gameplay, although it’s easier to scale the Vive to play in a bigger play space when compared to the Rift.
If you’ve decided to go for the HTC Vive, you might want to invest in the add-on of the Deluxe Audio strap. This makes your racing sessions much more comfortable if they’re going to be longer than around 30 minutes. On the other hand, if you’re opting for the Rift, you’ll find that the optional add-on Rift Earphones are a great way to really immerse yourself in the sim since they’ve got excellent noise isolation.
Setting Up A Foundation
You can only really immerse yourself in your racing environment if you have a solid and well-calibrated setup. If your chair and desk are weak and wobbly, you’re not going to have the best experience, even if you invest in the highest-end pedals and wheel.
The best experience comes with sitting in the most appropriate driving position for the car which you’ve selected in VR. Your virtual body should be lined up with your actual body, right down to your hands’ position on the steering wheel and your feet’s position on your pedals. While you could probably approximate this using a chair and table of a suitable height, you’ll find it easier and more effective to get the right driving position by using a sim rag. This is a special racing seat which is fixed onto a metal frame. There will be mounting points in place for pedals, wheels, and any other hardware you choose.
If you use a sim rig, you’ll find there are numerous benefits. Not only will your driving position be more comfortable, but you’ll find you’re all set to race with just a single click. Setting up your temporary pedal and wheel position every time means that you’ll have a different feel each time you drive, and this ruins your consistency. It’s especially annoying when you’re racing in VR since your headset will restrict your view around you.
If you have a rig which is familiar and fixed in position, you can easily navigate by touch even when you’re wearing your headset. When the units are bolted onto the chassis, you can confidently drive and brake hard if you need too without any worries of the pedals slipping away from your feet. Also, if you hard-mount your force feedback wheel onto a solid chassis, the feedback will have an enhanced output since less information will be lost through additional flex. This means that if you have even poorer-quality sim hardware, you can still boost its feeling when it’s fixed to your dedicated rig securely. Even more vitally, for VR, you will be able to avoid the gradual drift of your touchpoints and viewpoints since everything will be bolted down securely.
Thrustmaster T150 – Ideal For Beginners
You’re going to need a combo of pedals and wheel to get started with VR driving. If you’re not quite ready to invest in your first sim rig yet as a beginner, you need to make sure you’ve got a robust table or desk onto which you can fix your wheel clamp. You’ll also need a strong surface against which to prop up the pedals so they can’t be pushed away accidentally while you’re racing. You should avoid using swivel chairs on wheels, but you should try to find a chair which has a rapid height adjustment to improve your position for driving.
If you’re searching for an affordable entry-level pedal and wheel set, the Thrustmaster T150 ticks all the boxes. The wheel has full rotation as well as force feedback, which helps you to get more out of your driving experience.
You could upgrade the regular T150 set by adding on a better pedal unit. The T3PA set brings an impressive upgrade with it, being stronger and better quality with conical rubber bushes, which bolt behind your brake pedal for resistance, which is more progressive. If you can’t afford the upgrade, you could improve your basic T150 pedal set with some rubber or foam placed behind your brake pedal. This will increase resistance for a more realistic experience.
Looking For A Bargain?
If you’re on a budget, you might be considering buying some used sim racing hardware. You can often find a high-spec device at a more attractive price. If you’re using a PC as a VR racing platform, you’ll find that there’s plenty of hardware which has been discontinued but which is still fully supported within racing sims. It’s important to take care, however, before you buy – remember that devices like this have usually seen a lot of hard wear! Some popular brands of racing hardware you may wish to look for if you see a bargain include:
Fanatec GT3 V2
Fanatec CSW V1
Fanatec CSL Elite
Fanatec CSW V2
Fanatec CSW V2.5
You may even want to consider buying a pre-owned wheel that has a worn or broken pedal set if it’s available for sale at a low price. You can often still make a saving if you buy separate, brand new pedals to add onto the wheel. When you’re playing on a PC, even a low-end pedal unit is usable in a racing sim as a USB standalone device as long as you’ve got the correct adapter.
Kit Recommendation For Enthusiasts
If you’ve got a higher budget and are a VR racing enthusiast, we recommend that you invest in the following pieces of kit:
Fanatec CSL Elite Formula
Fanatec CSL Elite LC
GT Omega Pro
When you’re progressing to enthusiast level, it’s pretty important to invest in a dedicated racing rig. Your priority should definitely be to have a strong and solid chassis, and preferably a chassis which is capable of accepting an upgraded device should you want to add one later. The T3PA pedals and Thrustmaster T300 combo are an ideal choice since it works well on a simple table but could be moved onto a rig later. It also supports the complete range of add-ons from the T-Series.
If space is an issue, you can choose from one of the many collapsible stands, which give you an advantage when compared to using a desk or table. The Playseat Challenge, Wheelstand Pro, and GT Omega Wheel Stand are all suitable collapsible options. The latter comes with an added advantage since it’s available in two halves. You can buy a full chassis front section and then purchase the back half separately later if you prefer. On the other hand, if space-saving isn’t a problem for you, it’s more sensible to build or buy a complete rig for the best possible experience at this level.
If you can afford to splash out a little more on your rig setup, you might want to consider either the Fanatec CSL Elite Formula or Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer paired with the CSL Elite LC pedals. Both of these offer impressive amounts of feedback, and since the Fanatec pedals have a load cell brake, they need to be hard-mounted onto a rig in order to appreciate the full advantages of the advanced sensor type.
Bear in mind that high-quality pedals usually have load cells instead of rotary potentiometers for measuring inputs, which is vital for the brake axis, since the load cell better enables drivers to intuitively find the best braking pressure.
Making Your Own Solid Dedicated Rig
If you’re looking for the most affordable way of setting up a solid dedicated driving rig, you could consider making one yourself. Building a rig out of solid wood is a cost-effective solution if you’ve got the means and skill to do this. There are many plans out there for sale, which you can find on the Open Sim Rigs website, or you could try out Ricmotech’s DIY plan, which is very detailed and which includes a comprehensive instruction booklet along with full templates. If you’d rather avoid using wood to build your chassis, you could opt for slotted aluminium extruded beams, although this costs a lot more than wood.
If you’d rather go for an off-the-shelf solution, Playseat and RaceRoom have some very affordable rigs; however, you’ll find that the GT Omega Pro offers more solidity and stability, representing better value for money overall.
Kit Recommendations For Pro Racers
If you’re a racing pro who wants to really go to town with the very best setup of them all, here are some options you might want to consider:
Fanatec ClubSport Formula Black Rim & Wheel base V2.5
Although you could buy high performance wheels if you’ve got a large budget, you’ll probably find that the CSW V2.5 represents an excellent choice if you’re determined to have a properly-balanced hardware combination. You’ll also find the Fanatec flagship wheel an excellent device, and the top consumer model available for sale before venturing into a more niche direct drive sector.
Even on a high budget, you might be tempted to stick to low-end pedal sets. You’ll find that the Fanatec CSL Elite LC compliments a V2.5 wheel base very well. If you’d rather go up a level, you’ll find the flagship Fanatec ClubSport V3 pedals are more strongly constructed, while the ProtoSimTech’s PT-1 pedals take you another step forward for around the same price tag.
Whatever price level you’re considering, you’ll find that the pedals you choose make a lot more difference when it comes to consistency and lap times compared with your chosen wheel. Therefore, it’s easier to justify spending more of your budget on your pedals. If you’re prepared to spend a decent sum on a high-quality pedal unit, you’ll find Heusinkveld’s Pro pedals a popular option.
When it comes down to rigs, you’ll find that the earlier mentioned GT Omega Pro rig is still a good option and works well with high-end pedals even though it has a fixed pedal plate, which isn’t ideal. If you’d rather take another step up, you’ll find that the RSeat RS1 is stronger, more adjustable, and, even better, features a design which is modular and capable of incorporating numerous upgrades, including the pro pedal plate which reduces flex.
If you’d prefer to take a DIY route, you could use aluminum to create your own DIY rig. This will be cheaper and stronger. Bear in mind, though, that an 80/20 ready-to-assemble kit may be equally costly as a prefab chassis design.
Kit Suggestions For Extreme VR Racers
If you’re ready to spend as much as it takes to get the very best kit for your VR racing experience, there are a number of kit components that we believe work well together for the most extreme players out there. These include:
All of the products which we’ve suggested here are well beyond a standard consumer level. All have durability and performance, which are designed to suit even the most demanding professional or commercial environment. Unlike regular force feedback wheels designed for the consumer market, which use belts or gears to supplement the small motor, a direct drive solution has a direct connection between the wheel and the industrial servo motor’s shaft.
Belts and gears will always cause dulling of the feedback at some level. If you opt for a direct drive steering wheel, you’ll experience superior torque, dynamic range and response. When you need the best possible VR racing haptic feedback, you’ll get it with a direct drive solution. Bear in mind, though, the torque these systems offer could be powerful enough to damage or break your wrist seriously – so let go before hitting the virtual barrier!
Not so long ago, direct drive technology wasn’t available for consumer purchases. Only commercial sector purchasers were able to get hold of it. However, due to the sim community’s resourcefulness, OpenSimWheel project became established. If you’d like to construct your own OSW, you’ll find that the tutorial from Martin Ascher is one of the best places to begin. There is also plenty of useful information on BoxThisLap. However, if you’d rather buy a kit, you can find one on a site like SimRacingBay or SimPlicity.
If money is no object to you, you’ll find that Leo Bodnar Electronics’ SimSteering2 system is possibly the very best system of this type for racing sims, although its price tag is exceptionally high. Developed for commercial consumers, this system can be described accurately as an industrial entry-level controller, similar to Cruden or Moog systems. The performance isn’t too dissimilar to that offered by an OSW, and the price is much higher, but you can avoid all the EMI issues which are associated with OSW builds when you opt for this route.
Fanatec and Thrustmaster are rumored to be developing their own direct drive solutions however, at the present time, the direct drive system which is most oriented towards the average consumer is SimXperience’s AccuForce.
Similar to the steering wheels, you’ll find that top-end pedals offer you the most realistic VR driving experience. They’re also very adjustable, allowing you to easily tune any pedal set to meet your own preferences and requirements. The HPP PRX, RealGear GTpro3, or Heusinkveld Ultimate are all good examples of devices which are industrial-strength and which use three separate hydraulic designs in order to replicate an accurate feel of using real driving pedals.
Again, you’ll find that the rigs we recommended above work well here too, however, there are a few more high-end extra options you might want to consider. FastTrackSims TC-R1, Vesaro or CXC Simulations all offer excellent options which won’t disappoint even the most dedicated racing enthusiast.
If you’re interested in trying something a little different, you might be considering a motion rig. However, these are problematic which it comes to VR, and especially if you’re using the Vive headset since it has base stations which are mounted at a distance from your rig. Long-travel motion actuators mean that your head changes position to such an extent that within your virtual cockpit, it doesn’t feel like a realistic movement. If you’re using the Rift headset, you can attach your tracking camera onto your motion rig. In that case, you’ll find the positional tracking isn’t relative to the floor but rather the rig, which is an improvement, however because of the excess vibrations, and there can be other tracking problems. For these reasons, you usually find that short-travel actuations are more appropriate when playing in VR.
As an alternative, you could enhance your static rig with audio transducers instead of motion actuators. One of the most popular brands is Buttkicker. Audio actuators run either from the sim audio (in a similar way to a low-frequency subwoofer) or by direct connection to the physics output of the sum as supplied by the SimVibe software. The technology gets the transducer to act in a similar way to a force feedback device. It can work with just one unit, but if you mount transducers to every corner of your chassis, you’ll find this especially effective.
What About Formula Rigs?
Although rig such as the TC-R1 give players a position when driving which is a fair compromise between the lower formula position and the more upright position for GT driving, if you really want to have a full VR formula experience with an H-point lower than your feet, you can either create your own custom build rig or go for one of the prefab rigs such as the F1GT rig from Next Level Racing or the Playseat Grand Prix. There are also formula-style elaborate cockpits available, which can be bought from brands like FormulaVR or Evotek Engineering.
Your Guide To Optional Accessories
When you love cars, you’re already very familiar with the manual gearbox, and you’ll want to recreate that experience in your VR sim. Unless you’re lacking space because of your formula cockpit or you’re only planning on driving cars that have a paddle-shift, you’ll need to invest in a separate shift input device. This should be your next priority after you’ve chosen the right pedals and wheel for you, and it’ll make a huge difference in the connection you feel to your H-pattern manual vehicles.
One basic option is Logitech’s Driving Force Shifter. This directly connects onto the brand’s own G29/G920 wheels. You could, alternatively, use an adapter to turn it into a USB standalone device. While it does what it’s supposed to, it really needs some modification to get any benefit from it, and it’s only really suitable for use with an entry-level wheel.
A better option is the SHH Shifter 3D printed option or the Thrustmaster TH8A all-metal shifter. If you’re prepared to spend a little more, consider the Fanatec CS Shifter V1.5 or the Pro-Sim H Pattern Shifter if you’re going really high-end.
The Fanatec, Thrustmaster, and SHH shifters all have sequential modes, however, if you’re really serious, you might want to go for your own dedicated shifter. Manufacturers like Pro-Sim, Manu-Factory, Heusinkveld, and DSD can all supply these.
Another add-on you might want to consider is a new steering wheel rim. Steering wheels come in a raft of sizes and shapes; however, they all boil down into just a couple of categories. VR offers a host of advantages over other monitor-based racing in this respect since you’re actually able to see the right virtual wheel for each car physically. However, you’ll still find it beneficial holding an actual steering wheel, which is as similar to your virtual version as possible. Smaller formula-style rims, for example, feel very different to larger rally-style models. This is why some of the best-known wheelbases now feature rapid-release systems so you can switch out the steering wheel rims to suit the vehicle you’re driving.
The Thrustmaster T300/TX wheelbase is compatible with the complete T-series of wheel rims like the Ferrari F1 or 599XX Alcantara. Fanatec also offers several rim options such as the Universal Hub, which allows for a number of racing wheels like Sparco or MOMO to be connected. You can also find rapid-release Pro-Grade models for wheels which are direct drive, however, the rims from Fanatec are so effective that a lot of direct drive wheel users choose an adapter instead for their rapid-release system.
In VR, you have a restricted world view, so using wheel rims that have just a few buttons which are well-placed is fairly important since you’ll need to access specific functions rapidly while you’re racing, like adjusting your brake balancing, toggling through the different HUD menus or activating your pit limiter. You definitely don’t want to have to fumble about for your mouse or keyboard at a key moment in your race. As an added benefit, if you do have to access a pointed or keys, you’ll find the Logitech K400 Plus mouse and keyboard combination unit a useful addition to your sim rig.
A useful and practical accessory to consider for your set up is a button box. When you’re playing in VR, you need to operate each input through feel alone, and it’s all too easy for your wheel to become cluttered. It’s, therefore, a sensible idea to choose a layout which has several switches which can easily be told apart by touch. You can find these devices from popular manufacturers like Sim Racing Hard, Simracing Real Xperiene, or Derek Speare Designs.
Armed with this information, you can set up your perfect racing kit to get as much fun as possible out of your VR racing experience.