The Oculus Rift S is the latest and greatest product from one of the most recognizable names in VR, and it blows its predecessors out of the water. With dramatic improvements in most meaningful aspects, it blows the original Oculus Rift (aka the Rift CV1) out of the water and even the more-versatile Oculus Quest 2. Today we’ll be looking at the Oculus Rift S as it pertains to sim racing, in order to determine if it deserves a spot in your cockpit – or if it needs to make a few more pit stops.
What to Consider Before Buying a VR Headset for Sim Racing
Sim racing and VR are not quite synonymous just yet, which is surprising to some given that it is one of the few traditional gaming genres that translate well to virtual reality. There are a number of factors that could account for why, precisely this merger has yet to result in breakthrough experiences – but they’re outside of control and we’re highly confident that this will be changing in the very near future, anyway.
What concerns us today and for the near future is being prepared for all of the awesome VR racing experiences that are coming down the pipe; the following are the big considerations our readers will need to bear in mind when shopping for the best VR headset for sim racing now and in the future:
Transitioning from gaming on TVs and monitors to VR headsets can present a number of challenges for the user as well as the PC that’s pushing the graphics. The biggest hurdle that many will need to overcome is their GPU; after all, the illusion of virtual reality depends on being able to show you two nearly-identical images simultaneously in order to create the illusion of depth, and therefore requires double the computational power. Assuming all other aspects of your gaming rig is up to snuff, the next big consideration is the quality of the headset itself .
In addition to more obvious considerations such as refresh rate and resolution, VR headsets introduce a hurdle colloquially known as the “screen door effect” that can dramatically impact immersion and image quality. HMD manufacturers have been steadily improving their tech in order to minimize the perceived screen door effect and things are getting much better. For now, make sure to pay close attention to reviews and user comments before purchasing a VR headset in order to ensure you’re buying one with low SDE.
While there aren’t any especially noteworthy VR-exclusive racing experiences at present, it’s only a matter of time before they start hitting virtual shelves. For now, there are some extremely compelling VR modes in existing games and more are being implemented into our favorite and upcoming games as we speak. Some notable sim racers with current VR support are Assetto Corsa, Project Cars 2, Gran Turismo and iRacing – which will be more than enough to hold us over while we wait for that first transformative VR experience.
Sim racing enthusiasts commonly have a dedicated play area, as racing peripherals such as steering wheels, pedals and seats require a lot of space in order to use. It stands to reasons that this group of gamers should have an especially easy transition to adding an HMD (head mounted display) into the mix, but it’s worth noting that some VR sets require more space than others for optimal experiences.
Most common VR setup experiences entail mounting tracking equipment at strategic points in your play area for head and hand tracking then relaying that information to your sim rig via base stations – but some manufacturers are starting to integrate much more practical tracking solutions that don’t require outside sensors.
Different racing games utilize motion tracking in different ways, and most of them make such features optional or eschew them altogether. Some don’t use motion for gameplay functionality and instead use it to enhance immersion by, for example, 1:1 tracking your hands to give the illusion that you are actually holding the in-game steering wheel.
The Oculus Rift S
The Oculus Rift S is one of the best VR headsets on the market, which is quite surprising given its relatively affordable price tag relative to other HMDs that it competes with. Many skeptical consumers speculate that the price is subsidized by Facebook, offsetting some of the direct cost it would need to recoup from consumers by selling their data – more on this later – but it’s hard to really buy into such theories, and many consumers would be happy with this sort of trade off anyway.
Dystopian techno-paranoia notwithstanding, the Oculus Rift S is a stellar value proposition despite a couple more caveats that we’ll explain in great detail later in the article. We’re comfortable saying that it is in fact the best deal in VR should be the top pick for many sim racers who want to add VR to their cockpit without emptying their wallets.
What’s in the Box?
Aside from the Oculus Rift S headset, the standard package includes:
- pair of touch controllers
- two AA batteries for controllers
- connector cable (requires one open USB 3.0 port, in addition to either HDMI 1.3 or DisplayPort 1.2)
- DisplayPort adapter
As your gaming PC will need to work twice as hard to output visuals for VR, the specs needed to run games are going to be a bit higher than what you might be anticipating. The good news here is that most rigs capable of playing modern racing sims at high settings are capable of providing a good experience in VR – though you might need to turn down a few graphics settings to achieve a smooth framerate.
The key min/rec specs you’ll need to meet in order to get up to speed with the Rift S on your Windows 10 PC are as follows:
- GPU – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050Ti or Radeon RX 470 / Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon R9 480
- CPU – Intel Core i3-6100 or AMD Ryzen 3 1200, FX4350 / Intel i5 4590 / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
- RAM – 8GB / 8GB+
Features & Benefits
While the Rift S isn’t the absolute best VR headset on the market and can’t top the overall feature set and quality found in the newest HTC Vive models or Valve Index, the cost-to-performance ratio of the Rift S is pretty hard to argue with! Let’s take a look at some of the things that make the Rift S such a great value:
The Oculus Rift S’s display tech is dramatically better than what was featured in the CV1, and is better that what you get with most VR headsets for that matter. The 5.5″ screens displays 2560 by 1440 pixels (1440p) with at 115º at 80Hz refresh rate. None of those specs really stand out as particularly, impressive, but they’re all well above average for the industry and combine to present an image that is of exceptional quality without caveats.
Screen door effect is marginal, and can be further minimized by adjusting the HMDs inter-pupillary distance (IPD). Few headsets match or exceed the overall image quality of the Rift S, a fact that is especially noteworthy given the budget price.
The biggest quality of life consideration for many prospective VR headset owners in tracking. With all of the different external sensor systems that come standard with so many HMDs and additional accessories meant to further entrench users into one solution or another, it is a great source of relief – and positive omen for the future of VR – that many manufacturers are abandoning those needlessly complicated systems in favor of inside-out tracking.
While we obviously are huge fans of inside-out tracking – and very happy that Oculus decided to outfit the Rift S with their implementation of the tech – they did leave something to be desired here. In fact, the number one complaint you’ll see users levy against the Rift S is that the systems tracking doesn’t do a good job of hand tracking. Though we were optimistic regarding a potential firmware patch or workaround, nothing has surfaced to this point and likely will not materialize in the future.
This key misstep is an absolute deal breaker for gamers who intend to use their Rift S for fast action games, or really any experiences that require consistent, reliable hand tracking in order to play properly. Luckily for us, Oculus Rift sim racing has little use for effective hand tracking as of now – and the system does a great job of tracking head movement which is much more important for us. Still, we would advise our readers to look toward some of the Rift S’s competitors for their VR racing needs if they’re uncomfortable leaving an such an integral aspect of the VR experience on the table.
TL; DR: Gamers who plan on playing games that need accurate hand-tracking are strongly advised to skip the Oculus Rift S. If you’re purely interested in adding VR sim racing and/or more passive experiences, the Rift S will do a fine job of meeting your needs.
The built-in headphones of the Oculus Rift S leave much to be desired and do little more than serve as placeholders until you can swap them out for your own headphones or speakers. Many sim racers will be adding VR headsets to a cockpit that’s already rocking a great audio solution, and your system is going to mesh together famously with VR. In fact, pretty much any positional or sound-isolating system you might have is going to do a great job of enhancing your VR experience.
The Rift S does have a 3.5mm headphone jack thankfully, so those who prefer to use their own headset will be able to do so with little effort. All-in-all, the Oculus Rift S’s audio experience is another aspect that is on-par with the best VR headsets out there right now.
As was the case with tracking, early VR offerings painted a bleak picture of the future gaming landscape as being a place wherein every HMD manufacturer was going to have a proprietary shop for games and require their own proprietary controller solution. Mercifully, this is a dying dream – but Oculus is having a hard time of letting go, indeed.
The Rift S is fully compatible with Steam – the biggest and (arguably) best gaming storefront with the biggest selection of VR games. Despite this, Facebook/Oculus would prefer that you use their own Oculus Shop instead. Frankly, there are a number of good reasons to use both shops and we’re not going to take a side on this one. We will however reiterate that Facebook will eventually require login with your verified account in order to use your Rift S with any platform.
As for input, the Rift S includes a pair of Oculus Touch controllers that do a good enough job of controlling many games – but you’re better off using a standard Xbox or PlayStation controller for most VR games. The huge exception to that rule is of course racing games! Regardless of what wheel or pedals you’re working with, they’re going to greatly contribute to the immersion that can only be facilitated by a great VR headset.
Pointing out competitors to the Rift S can be quite a challenge as there’s nothing out there that does what it does as well as it does it – at least not at a similar price point. Nonetheless, a couple of headsets do stand out as being decidedly better for gamers who are willing to shell out considerably more cash in pursuit of VR racing bliss:
Despite lacking the one big feature many users were hoping for, the Valve Index did not include inside out tracking and instead relies on external lighthouses for tracking. Aside from this one (arguably unforgivable) transgression, the Valve Index is a nearly perfect HMD. The gorgeous display features a blistering 144Hz refresh rate for the smoothest graphics of any VR headset to date. This headset is considerably more expensive than Oculus’ offering, but it is definitely worth the price if you can swing it!
Samsung HMD Odyssey+
This one has what is probably the prettiest display in all of VR – which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen the views provided by Samsung’s other AMOLED displays. The Odyssey+ doesn’t refresh as fast as the Valve Index but it does have inside-out tracking which – unlike the Rift S – works like a charm. If that sounds like a fair trade off to you, we don’t think you’ll regret dropping the dough on this headset.
The Oculus Rift S is the best mainstream VR headset to date.
Despite the aforementioned flaws, the Oculus Rift S offers a great display, amazing versatility and nigh-impossible value that is hard to pass up.
If you want great sim racing in virtual reality for a reasonable price, the Oculus Rift S is a great choice.
Last Updated on April 16, 2021