One Expensive Headache

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Downtime at work occasionally sends me straight to Wikipedia as a way to indulge in documentary-length encyclopedia entries without subjecting myself to the ridiculous data rates that come with watching videos on your smartphone without a WiFi connection. As a result, I’ve gone through the Nintendo Virtual Boy section two or three different times, dumbfounded through every read at how Nintendo of all companies could have released a video game console to consumers that caused widespread motion sickness, and was abandoned as quickly as it was introduced to the market.

The Oculus Rift will be no different. I honestly don’t believe people are prepared for the monumental letdown that will occur once this gadget is in the hands of the people who shelled out big bucks to pre-order it.

Now, what inspired me to write this short opinion piece today is sim racing’s own EmptyBox, who was promptly called out by r/SimRacing for praising virtual reality technology without even trying the headgear himself. Reddit tore the guy apart more so than usual, quickly pointing out the fact that Matt basically didn’t say anything of value throughout the fifteen minute video aside from pure speculation, and noting he began the video by stating he’d never actually tried any virtual reality technology himself. With Matt being sim racing’s biggest and most knowledgeable YouTuber, this kind of slip-up is uncharacteristic, and a whole bunch of people noticed. However, people agreed that VR technology is the next logical step for sim racing, and the final product will blow people away because it’s tailor-made for these types of games.

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I’m here to rain on everybody’s parade. Fellow Edmontonian/Sim Racer/ Spec Miata Driver/Reddit User fugudacat invited me over just as the snow was starting to melt in 2015 to test out the Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 on iRacing. Despite the fact that the technology works exactly as advertised, and is every bit as cool as you imagine it to be, the negatives outweigh the positives by a substantially large margin. It works and provides an experience every bit as intuitive as the footage you’ve most likely seen on YouTube out of curiosity, it’s just not the all-encompassing revolution you’d expect it to be. $600 is a lot to spend on a gadget that doesn’t fully deliver.

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The weight of the headset isn’t noticeable, nor is your visibility compromised. It feels like you’re wearing a Simpson helmet and the device rests on your head in a very natural way, and the black borders aren’t intrusive at all; they instead provide an unintended helmet cam effect that will invalidate the need for any first person camera plugins. Merely sitting in the pits with the car in neutral, it’s definitely neat to be able to look around and explore your surroundings as if you’re fully a part of the virtual world. Smart cookies like fugudacat will map a Reset Viewpoint button to the steering wheel, ensuring they’ll never struggle with an odd camera position after extended periods of driving and shifting around in your sim seat.

But then you start driving.

Look, the last time I was in Disneyland, my teammates and I went on the main California Adventure roller coaster something like six or seven times in a row. Back when I was big into Guitar Hero, I intentionally played with the Hyperspeed cheat activated, routinely swapping between levels 4 and 5 depending on how much I’d played that week. 3D movies have never bothered me, nor have strobe lights or driving late at night in heavy snow, a trademark of Canadian winters. The whole motion sickness or vertigo thing some people deal with – that’s a foreign concept to me.

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I don’t think I ran more than three or four laps at Mosport in the Skip Barber Formula 2000 before I felt like I was going to have a seizure. Myself and Greg swapped out every couple of minutes while I warmed up to the headset, and that introduction process is something I never want to experience again with any piece of technology. Your eyes hurt, your brain hurts, and you feel you’re about two or three seconds away from your entire central nervous system shutting down. It was comparable to the feeling of the anesthesia knocking you out for anyone who’s had their wisdom teeth removed – sustained over a period of minutes.

Gradually, it gets a little better. At first, three laps were nearly impossible to stomach. The second time out, the three laps were a tad easier to complete. Then we moved to five, and I was able to look towards the apex on some corners. As Mosport is a track with massive elevation changes, you felt extremely dizzy if you tried to be too active in the cockpit. While being able to look towards upcoming segments of the track and point the car in the direction I wanted to go was indeed everything it was cracked up to be, it felt completely unnatural. As I clicked off more laps, my eyes hurt less and my brain calmed down a bit, but the reality is that some people might not ever be able to use this technology because the sensory overload will be too much for their eyes or brain to handle.  You’re looking at a very real chance that some people paid $600 to purchase the first retail version, only to use it once and find out they simply can’t handle it.

So we go to Circuit of the America’s in the BMW Z4 GT3, which is both a car and track I’d become familiar with as I’d just wrapped up two back-to-back championships in a few 4Chan endurance racing leagues. Turn One at Circuit of the America’s is this massive blind left-hander over the crest of a huge hill overlooking the entire Grand Prix complex. In single monitor setups, you’re guessing at this corner each and every lap, turning in by following the racing groove and hoping you got things absolutely perfect. Being able to look out the side window and aim for the apex made the most challenging part of the circuit into a total breeze. Right then and there, I understood why sim racers were hyping this up as the next big thing. The Oculus Rift gave me a competitive advantage when I needed it the most.

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But what sim racers don’t tell you, is that the overall resolution of the product lacks fidelity. Above is a simple mock-up I’ve made of what you see while the Oculus Rift is strapped to your head. Now, maybe this issue has been rectified for the first retail release, but the DK2 I tried had an overall resolution that made your eyes bleed. Everything near you was blurry, and everything on the horizon was a cluster of pixels. After the large downhill run from turn one at Circuit of the America’s, you’re led into turns three, four, and five: a high speed left-right-left section reminiscent of Silverstone. I never managed to complete this section without blowing one of the corners entirely, because I couldn’t actually see where I was going; the entire corner complex was a blur of colors and pixels. As quickly as the technology demonstrated its usefulness, my lap time was rendered invalid because of it.

Not being able to read the HUD was also kind of shitty.

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To close things out, we took iRacing’s Late Model to the now non-existent USA Speedway, and due to the much more simplistic track design, the Oculus Rift again displayed why some feel this is the future of sim racing. For once, the cramped quarters of the cockpit aligned with my own experience sitting in Maple’s Late Model, and being able to look ahead in the corners out the extremely small windshield made a world of difference compared to the traditional fixed cockpit view. Whereas most people are used to preparing for the road a car length or two in front of you, the entire corner opened up and it was easier to focus on driving a smooth line. Again, this was largely in part due to the small, simplistic nature of the track. Any long, complicated road course, and you’re lucky if you can see ahead past the first braking marker. I can’t imagine anyone turning competitive times with this thing in DiRT Rally, or dealing with the extreme dizziness that is bound to creep up in drift competitions on Assetto Corsa.

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Do I think the Oculus Rift will be worth the $600 it’s currently going for? No. While a stunning piece of technology in it’s own right, offering the exact sort of virtual reality experience you envision, there are just too many setbacks that make the hefty price tag hard to justify.

  • Some people are simply not going to be able to handle the motion sickness it causes.
  • If huge improvements aren’t made to the resolution, it’s only effective on certain tracks
  • Good luck navigating through menus or reading your heads up display while in a race.
  • Periodic dizziness forces you to take breaks, a hard sell when some online races last upwards of 45 minutes and require you to constantly monitor info displays you can’t read.

Realistically, the best way to copy the advantages of virtual reality without wrecking your eyes or giving yourself the worst headache imaginable is a good triple screen setup – provided you have the space of course.

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39 thoughts on “One Expensive Headache

  1. The other thing that puts me in favour of multi monitors or projectors is the whole real world awareness thing. I mean yeah MUH IMMERSHUNS is great and all but I really can’t afford to be disconnected from reality or not be able to see anything around me for 1-3 hours at a time. Want to take a drink during a pit stop? Have fucking fun. It’s just not convenient.

    It might be great for things like short single player console games but it’s too restrictive more more complicated and demanding things where you can’t have a time appropriate seamless experience.

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    1. Beyond that, everyone thinks this will be amazing for VR Porn, but think about it:

      >something over your eyes so you can’t see
      >something over your ears so you can’t hear

      Dude the amount of kids who are gonna get caught having a wank after this thing releases is going to skyrocket. I mean, you’re a sitting duck.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. porn always has and always drive drive technology forwards. its a massive factor. also dont get mad at the “2D” market. of more of them that buy this the more companies that will want to enter this VR game and that means cheaper prices.

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    2. The HTC Vive will have a forward facing camera just for that reason, so that you can drink etc. without having to take the VR goggles off.

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    3. This is why I will stick to monitors, there’s other people in my place who I interact with and actually want to see what I’m doing and I actually want to see them. I would constantly be disconnected to them with VR and headphones. Also I have pets that have to be dealt with, much easier when you can just look away from the screen and see what they’re doing.

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  2. Daammn. The truth hurts. I have read that they have been focusing on the motion sickness and resolution issues as a priority, so I still have some hope. If you get your mitts on a consumer version, please do a follow up.

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    1. Motion sickness, and to a lesser extent vertigo, can’t be helped by the hardware itself.

      My mom came down with vertigo when she was photographing Top Alcohol Dragsters in the early 2000’s. Ear plug fell out during someone’s burnout, hasn’t been the same since. Can’t go swimming, can’t do 3D movies, can’t drive at night, can’t drive in snow storms… etc. A coworker’s mom also has vertigo from working in a convenience story for a large portion of her life, and it developed by the constant 180 turns of grabbing cigarettes from behind her.

      You can’t just “wear better glasses” to fix this.

      I think a lot of people are gonna drop $600, only to put down the goggles after five minutes and be like “oh shit this is the same feeling I get trying to watch 3D movies.”

      Thing is, it works enough to the point where it’s not entirely a write-off. As I said, being able to point and shoot CoTA’s turn 1 with ease was a real eye-opening moment. Its just too bad that experience isn’t consistent.

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  3. If it had been in the same price ballpark as a single gaming monitor, I would have bought it just as a novelty. Even if it’s only good for ‘muh immersions’ for a couple laps at a time, that still beats the cost of going to an actual racetrack.

    At the current $900+ CAD, I would rather do a half dozen other ~$150 projects for the sim rig. Get a manual shifter. Get Fanatec pedals. Maybe throw in an SSD for dem load times. For the people who already have those, already have a $600 tube frame supporting them in the ergonomically correct position, and a 1500 dollar steering wheel? Maybe it’s a reasonable buy.

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  4. Th motion sickness issue is a weird one and I think they are still trying to sort it all out. I owned a DK2 up until this last week and used it pretty extensively on several games. There seem to be a number of factors that cause VR sickness but in general, games that have you walk around in first person consistently made me sick within minutes. And when I say sick, I don’t mean mild uneasyness- I mean “ten more seconds in this thing and I am literally going to puke”. I would need to lie down for the next several hours before I could even attempt to use it again.

    Cockpit-based games rarely gave me any issue. The only one that did was War Thunder and that seemed to be related to some scaling issue from what I gather. I was able to run for hours on end in Assetto Corsa or Live for Speed with no issues whatsoever.

    The point James mentions about the resolution is a very valid one as well- If you are just casually running laps, VR is great because you can work around the lack of detail by gradually becoming familiar with the course. In a race situation however, that is not the case. You need to clearly see subtle cues from other cars around you and the VR panels in the DK2 simply are not suited for that and while the CV panels are better, I don’t think it is going to alleviate the issue as much as it needs to.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. first the dk 2 can t compared to cv1 thats bullshit man. did u played with stable 75 fps and downsampling ? if u don t have a high end pc u get motion sickness because of other problems. i play with dk 2 rfactor 2 on great settings and it is allready 100 times better than a triple screen. i think ur statement is bullshit because u test one time the rift. And we all know its just a matter of time when the resolution go up and the tech gets better. But to say triple screen is better than cv1 is a joke 😀 by the way u should talk about the iracing understeer physics = a big joke because this is a point which i could not found on ur side.

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  6. I say give it two years. Not to say that V.R. is new, but it is the first product they considered to be acceptable for the market. With new GPU’s coming out soon on brand new architectures as well as the likelihood of a second generation coming out in a couple years, this is the future.

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  7. Features that can make you feel literally sick is one thing as mentioned, but I’m quite wary of the loss of peripheral vision to your physical equipment too. While not being as bad problem with racing sims than it is with flight sims, it still will be a problem if you have some buttons mapped to a keyboard or button box, probably more to the first. It will be a problem till they can implement working virtual touch contols to clickable cockpits. Flight sims have clickable cockpits, but virtual controls are still missing and will require quite a bit more to the software and equipment.

    I’ll stick with my triples at least for now and possibly consider single 21:9 screen if they start making those with bigger screens (40″+) and sell those at somewhat reasonable price. Triple screen setup is not without its problems too, but still offers the best compromise overall IMO.

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  8. Stop the revolution, James tried a DK2 one year ago and felt a bit sick!

    I’ve had a DK2 for one year, and I can thrash the Red Bull X2010 in Assetto Corsa at the Nordschleife at a stuttery 60fps just fine. I won IndyCar races in iRacing just fine. The resolution in the DK2 is way better than anyone gives it credit for, my only issue with it is on tracks I haven’t driven before. Which is moot anyway because the consumer version will have something like 2.5 times the pixels.

    You definitely seem predisposed to motion sickness, despite making yourself seem hardened. None of my friends had any issues driving and drifting around in LFS. With the consumer version running at 90fps with better tracking motion sickness has reportedly been eliminated for 99% of people, so I can’t see it being an issue for simracers.

    Fuck paying $1100 for it though.

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  9. The motion sickness applies on individuals. Some got it and some do not. I did get that with my experiments on DK2. I thought the hardware probably improves and there might software related issues as well that can be sorted out. Now that the final price is what it is, I just cant buy it and hope that the improvements help. Good bye.

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  10. I think this thing will not be for me 😦
    Sometimes I feel dizzy playing games like GTA V, Tomb Raider if I move the camera too fast, does not happens always tho. And then I did a race once @ Sonoma IndyCar layout I had to leave, just started getting dizzy with all elevation changes. And this all was with a monitor, let alone VR =/

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  11. I haven’t used an Oculus but I have used military thermal imaging binoculars\goggles, which have a very similar method of outputting the image to the user. They can cause motion sickness because of lag ( your body knows your head has turned 45 degrees, but your eyes are registering 35 degrees ). The low resolution\smearing\blurring effect is a another major factor.
    To defeat this with the goggles it’s easy – just shut your eyes when moving your head quickly.
    Kind of defeats the object of having a Rift though…
    I’m sure they’ll get there in the end, but right now I wouldn’t buy one.

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  12. Wow, this article is just really…. horrible. I wouldn’t even know where to start… as I don’t have the time for a nerd war and a 1000 word essay I just leave a comment of displeasure.

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  13. Motion sickness has always been my concern with this Oculus Rift tech. I mean, I use trackir and sometimes that get me dizzy. I’m worried I’ll never be able to use Oculus Rift properly.

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  14. Well, for one , I get complaints about possible dizziness … and I’m not sure I want to wear that thing (or PSVR) on my head for prolonged periods, but complaining about price (600$) is kind of ridiculous.
    It is not cheap, but most sim-racers will spend much more on a decent wheel set ( 500$+) , a rig (400$+) or triple screen setup (1000$+) , not talking about those who want 4k gaming etc… dang kids buy a new “hip” phone/tablet every year for that sum and suddenly this is expensive? Also take in account this is not DK2 but “supposedly” much improved tech (better screens,optics …) so I really don’t get it why anyone who got any sense about tech would complaint about price.

    But then ,maybe some folks thought you’ll get one for free with FB account)))

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  15. First of all, I have no experience of VR but it is a technology that seriously interests me, being a fan of sim racing and flight sims. The potential benefits of VR for these genres is immense, but that’s stating the obvious.

    I do have my concerns, though.

    Price…$600 is a little expensive but the price would be more acceptable if there were no other associated costs. Many will need to spend this again (or more) on PC upgrades to make their rigs ‘Oculus ready’. Ok, that’s PC gaming, I suppose. If you want to be at the cutting edge you have to spend big, but the total cost of Rift will stop this thing becoming mainstream in the short term.

    How do I try it? This is a tech that has to be experienced. I would never buy it without doing so because how do I know if I will experience motion sickness and if so, how bad? So, without knowing any Rift owners personally, where do I go to sample it?

    Practicality…Many parents of young children (like me) won’t be comfortable with the prospect of complete audiovisual isolation from what’s going on around them. This is actually one of my biggest concerns about VR. I can’t be shut-off from my surroundings like that.

    Health…is prolonged use of VR goggles possibly bad for you? I’m not even talking about motion sickness here, more the affect on your eyes. I don’t know, just a thought.

    All things considered I’m happy to sit on the sidelines for a while as far as VR is concerned.

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    1. >Price…$600 is a little expensive but the price would be more acceptable if there were no other associated costs. Many will need to spend this again (or more) on PC upgrades to make their rigs ‘Oculus ready’. Ok, that’s PC gaming, I suppose. If you want to be at the cutting edge you have to spend big, but the total cost of Rift will stop this thing becoming mainstream in the short term.

      Did you miss the saltiness that was the Oculus price announcement, by the way?

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  16. It is a bit like saying that luxury yacht isn’t worth it cos the person “reviewing” it felt a bit sick having never been in a boat before…

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  17. There are only two kinds of VR/Oculus enthusiasts for Sim Racing out there. The ones who have not yet tried it and the ones who have not tried anything else!

    I own a DK2 for a well over a year no and has never had the same experience I get from my triple screens, not even close:

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