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Another foray into Virtual Reality (VR)

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The technology for Virtual Reality (VR) has come on enough in recent years for it to be considered viable for home gaming including in some Flight Simulators. The latest set of Headsets released this year have improved on what there was somewhat with some calling them 1.5 or 2nd Generation.

Even so opinions on these seem to be mixed with some declaring they are the new messiah and others putting them in the box and sending them back to the shop. So is it the new messiah or just a very naughty Scuba Mask.



After patching up my hands (more later) the subject on trial is the Oculus Rift S, which improves on somethings over the Rift CV1 such as:

•    Resolution and clarity.
•    Ease of Use.
•    Price.

 but is not so good on some other aspects
•    Sound.
•    Lack of mechanical IPD setting.

The Rift S price seems competitive and includes 2 controllers however, like myself and others you will likely be plugging your own headphones into the provided Jack to improve sound quality:


Those ultra cheap earbuds plug right in to the headset!


Rift S also has internal tracking using 5 cameras so doesn’t use or need external base stations (Lighthouses) like the Pimax 5K+/8K and Vive do. This means 6 Degrees Of Freedom (6DOF) comes included.

Rift S is also said to be one of if not the easiest to setup and live with. All you do is install the Oculus App, plug in the headset and pair the wireless controllers with onscreen tutorial. 

A spare USB 3 and DisplayPort is what you need to plug in the hefty cable.  I am also running Windows 10 with an RTX2080 card which specifically had a USB type C connector on it for VR. So, taking advice from other users I plugged the headset directly into that using a USB 3 to USB C adapter.

(Note I am running a mid to high end gaming PC currently and quite frankly anything less might see you disappointed regarding performance if you were say using it for DCS.)

Once I had stuck in the AA batteries onto each controller both paired straight away so setup was no issue at all for me.

Earlier headsets and others like Pimax 5K+ have a mechanical InterPupillary Distance (IPD) setting. Being a single display Rift S only has a software controlled IPD setting and this seems to be a large negative point people are throwing at it. This is basically the distance between your pupils and so is important to know so you can set the correct value. 


Rift S comes with snazzy box and two controllers!


The initial Oculus “First Steps” program (App) is a joy and really gets you into being able to use the controllers to grab and throw objects and interact with the world.

The Oculus App store is an advantage for Oculus being one of the most developed. Here you can find some free gems like BBC VR spacewalk and 1943 Blitz. 



Screenshots alone are useless on conveying what VR is like you have to try it and get your VR legs, which translates as getting used to things to stop that part of the brain that thinks it is real and making you feel sick. Try a VR spacewalk or a Dogfight in DCS and this is what you initially will be fighting as well.



After using Rift S for a few weeks this is a real showcase for the potential of VR especially concerning interaction with computers and even VR games such as Robo Recall which are really pretty amazing.
But I don’t want to give the wrong impression because you still basically have a 3D monitor in Scuba type mask at the end of the day and this will not be for a lot of people. 

It is advised that you have lots of space around you for games such as this because you are essentially flailing yourself around pretty much blind. Also you will find that although your in game hands can rip robots apart and throw them about – your real hands are no match for the wooden furniture you just hit and need patching up. In fact possibly the first time blood has been shed for real during a computer game.


Robo Recall - the only blood shed was outside the game! (Oculus.com)



VR games make you sweat and so your VR lenses will steam up. Some get around this by blowing a fan in their face others like myself came up with this solution which also lets me stay in touch with the real world but makes things less comfortable:


Yep I have pulled the rubber mask off!


Speaking of which Rift S has a promising feature maybe for the future called Passthrough where I can be in any game and switch to a view through the external cameras. If you are thinking just like the F-35 helmet! – erm sort of like the F-35 helmet…….…in 2001 maybe. Was thinking I might be able to make out the keyboard but no chance. (maybe in a few years)

When it comes to flight sims there are lots of mixed views and opinions. I can see why some have returned it because some people won’t put up with headaches or bother trying to overcome sickness for computer games. Some will be disappointed at the view in the Rift S which is better than the original Rift but still less than a 1080p monitor.


Track IR 5 V Rift S

Let me say I have used TrackIR for over 10 years and so SA and positional awareness in Dogfights is not an issue. Nor is Air to Air Refuelling in fact recent DCS patches seemed to make things a lot easier. In Falcon I find it easier to join when the tanker is turning for some reason and do most of this automatically.

These are things it seems I will need to spend time practising in Rift S / VR before I can be as proficient as before.
The Field of View (FOV) is similar with both but with TrackIR I can still get a more realistic range and look around a lot easier with much better clarity. If I compare 1 v 1 tracking with the Rift S and my head then the FOV is much too small on the Rift S, so it is not just a pain in the neck I am getting. (Note I don’t wear glasses).

With Track IR I often have to F12 reset the view or shake my head to get it back to where it is supposed to be (things I do now automatically). The Rift S doesn’t have that issue but it is also not perfect with for example sometimes presenting the HUD display too low or high to use.

Other differences with Rift S include a 3D rendered cockpit thus the cockpit switches stick out in a way you won’t be used to if you used a 2D monitor. Also, the sense of scale is different and you can do things like stick your head out of the side of the aircraft which might be Useful for Choppers maybe (something I don’t fly).



Of course there are other changes you need to adapt to……..for example with the VR Headset I can use HOTAS, rudder pedals and mouse fine, but a keyboard is a no. Also not so great having to lift up the scuba mask to look at the many docs I have on tablet for the more complex sims, also if you need to write anything down like coordinates during a CAS mission forget that.

So, for example trying out the A-10C the other day and need to eject but no practical way to get at the keyboard and no clicky way to eject myself. Alternatives might be using Voice command software instead and there are ways to get some documentation into the DCS kneeboard such as the third party DCS Kneeboard Builder which may help to a degree.



Natural-point Track IR 5 - the King   (naturalpoint.com)


Potentially I suspect Generation 3/4 headsets could address some of the the current issues and be very good. Something that could add to this in future is Hand Tracking so you can manipulate controls in clicky pits with your hands / fingers.

So, in summary if you are tempted by one of these then do research into it and look up the many Pros and Cons or at least make sure you buy from where you can return it easily. Whether it is for you is entirely down to who you are.

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I have the original Rift and the Rift S. The S is way ahead in graphics. I like the pass through cameras, but the tracking was more precise and reliable with the sensors of the original Rift. My main problem with the Rift S right now is the mic. It suddenly stops working and will only start working again if you pull out the USB connection and put it back in. I cannot remove the face pad: I have glasses so the headset needs to be pushed clear of them. The Rift S fits better with my glasses. I don't know why they downgraded the audio. If you cup your hands over your ears, it sounds much louder. The original Rift audio worked fairly well. Since the mic isn't working, I have found that I have been able to wear my regular headset under the Rift S headband providing me with both better audio and a reliable mic.

The Rift S works fairly well I am generally locked at 40 fps when playing DCS World. Aerofly FS 2 is much better for VR in terms of speed, smoothness.

However, I still enjoy flying without VR. I now have a 49 inch 4K HDR TV for a PC monitor that looks absolutely stunning.

There are tradeoffs flying missions in DCS World: the clarity of 4K allows you to see everything well including spotting very small objects in the distance or reading any and all gauges. But VR provides much better head tracking orientation: you know which way you are looking and can follow a contact through maneuvers much easier. But spotting aircraft is much harder with the resolution of the Rift vs the 4K TV.

Edited by streakeagle

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Had my Rift-S for a couple of months now, my first VR set. Overall I'm impressed with it & find it improves the feeling of flying in DCS & IL-2. At first I did get some motion sickness flying the DCS Gazelle but the trade-off is that I can hover it more easily as the depth perception allows you to detect the minor direction changes sooner. The Virpil HOTAS may be helping too!

Unfortunately, my GTX1060 isn't quite up to running DCS in VR at much above low settings, and every few days I get to having enough of the sub-20FPS & jaggies & revert to the 49" 4K TV just to remember the 'wow-factor' of HD graphics & 60 FPS. But flying is noticeably less precise using a flat panel now.

I removed the nose bridge & peer through the narrow gap to look at the keyboard, not too immersion breaking.

Edited by Platinum Rogue

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