The first time you experience VR will be amazing. The sense of depth and scale it gives you is undeniable and it makes a perfect companion for a flight sim. I’m using an Oculus Rift S, so that’s what the majority of this article is about.
- 1 Some Thoughts on VR
- 2 Cost Considerations
- 3 Before You Buy
- 4 Headset Comparison
- 5 Checking Your Choice
- 6 A Useful Alternative
- 7 Configuring the Oculus Rift S
- 8 3D Home
- 9 What Next?
- 10 Steam
- 11 How To Stop the Oculus Store Auto-Starting with Windows
- 12 Recording
- 13 War Thunder VR
- 14 X Plane VR
- 15 Trouble Shooting
- 16 Flightsim Hangar Contents List
- 17 Related Articles
Some Thoughts on VR
I recently bought into virtual reality (VR), having been encouraged by what I could see on YouTube. Setting up a decent VR experience can be costly so its good idea to decide what you want from it before you get involved. For me, it was seeing what VR could do for flight sims in combination with a reduced Black Friday price that made the difference. I figured that experiencing flight in VR was a repeatable one with each flight bringing the cost-per-trip ratio down a bit more.
Fortunately, I guessed correctly and I’ve spent many hours gliding around the Alps In VR already. Flying through the Alps is compelling and beautiful. I literally feel like I’ve been on a mini-holiday after each flight.
Buying the VR headset is one thing, but getting good use of it is another. These are the additional things that I added to create a basic flight experience.
- VR Headset with controllers and a tether to a capable PC
- Recharger and rechargeable batteries for the controllers
- A Hotas flight controller
- A decent VR flight sim
- MS Flight Sim 2020 will get VR in due course
- War Thunder is free and has optional upgrades
- X Plane is a capable flight sim
- There are a handful of good alternatives
- A better graphics card
Before You Buy
This page documents a few things I thought would be useful to know prior to buying, including a few problems I experienced. There isn’t anything here that would stop me from recommending it.
All of the leading headsets have good resolutions so you won’t pick a bad one. However, if you are keen to use VR for realism you will want to eliminate the jagged lines and shimmering that are common. You can do this by applying supersampling and anti-aliasing and for that, you will need to have a tethered headset that uses images supplied by a fairly powerful PC.
The following table is a quick view of selected models arranged in order of Megapixels Per Eye. Prices will vary and are only shown here to make a rough comparison.
The Source column refers to where the game environment is generated. ‘Self’ means the headset doesn’t need a console or a PC to work and that means it doesn’t need a tether. The Quest will soon have a detachable tether that you can buy separately.
Checking Your Choice
If you are interested in VR there are a number of things you should check before you spend money.
Can Glasses Be Worn?
The Oculus does have room enough for glasses, but as you might expect, it can also be annoying too. You will need to check reviews for your chosen product to ensure your choice will be ok.
Does Your PC Meet the Minimum Spec?
Make sure you check your chosen manufacturer for the minimum specification. If you need to upgrade, this may turn out to be an inefficient way to spend money if, for example, the PC is nearing the end of its useful life in other areas.
Does Your IPD Fit?
IPD = Interpupillary Distance = the distance between your eyes. The Oculus Rift S does NOT provide adjustment for the Interpupillary Distance. The optimum distance is 63.5 mm and the limits are about 10 mm above and below that value.
To check your IPD you could photograph yourself with a ruler and a mirror or get someone to do it for you. The best way I found to do it was to cut a piece of card with a hole punch at the given distances and look through.
Oculus says you can change the IPD in software, but I didn’t see a difference between one setting and another and other people have said the same.
Do You Have Compatible Connectors?
The Oculus Rift S requires a display port and a USB 3.0 socket. A USB 3.0 socket will have a visible blue insert in it. If you need it, a mini-port adapter is provided in the Oculus Rift S box and commercial adapters will not necessarily work.
Not too long after I took this photo of a GTX 970, I upgraded to a GTX 1070 graphics card to ensure that I could record videos whilst also being VR. Although the graphics card must be a standard length it barely fit the slot available and I had to move other PCIe cards to avoid covering its fans. Something to be aware of.
A Useful Alternative
If after checking the above you aren’t ready to jump into VR then maybe an expanded field of view using an ultrawide or multi-monitor setup would be a better solution.
The cost and benefit are more predictable to calculate and you have the advantage of not having to wear a headset. However, if your graphics card can output to this type of configuration, it will also be suitable for VR as and when you decide to take in on.
Configuring the Oculus Rift S
Start The Software Installation
- Plug the USB and DisplayPort into the PC.
Note 1: USB 3 ports are coloured with a blue insert by convention.
- Go to ‘Oculus.com/setup’, download the correct installer and install up to 14Gb of data.
Create a Login
- You don’t have to use Facebook, you can sign in with an email address and separate it from your other accounts.
- You will be asked for a 4 digit pin number.
Execute Firmware Updates
- Connect the headset and accept a firmware update.
- Load batteries into the controllers.
- Pair the controllers with the headset.
- Update the controller’s firmware.
- View the health and safety video.
Prepare the Play Area
- Clear the play area
- Put hands through the controllers with the oculus button in the right hand.
- Put on the headset and rotate the wheel to tighten. Adjust the top strap so that it carries the weight of the headset. This is especially important if you are wearing glasses. Adjust for comfort and clarity using the physical adjustment button on the underside of the visor on the right-hand side.
- You will see a 3D grid on a ground plane that extends to the horizon, you are in VR :0)
Oculus provides a 3D home environment that you can invite your friends to but for me, that’s an annoying add-on that I want to avoid. The way to turn this off is via the Oculus settings page. You can still access the home environment via the Oculus Bar in VR if you want to visit it.
You will be given some free apps to play with, and you can buy some from Oculus or Steam.
You do not have to use Steam VR, but it does offer some useful features. VR capable Steam games will have a checkbox in their launchers to enable and disable the VR mode. Note that to allow steam to be accessible in the rift, you will have to enable the use of external content in the oculus app settings page.
How To Stop the Oculus Store Auto-Starting with Windows
The isn’t a checkbox to stop the Oculus Store from launching when your headset is detected at launch, but there is a work-around: you can set the Oculus app to be restricted to ‘administrator‘ start mode. If you do that you will have to start the Oculus app manually when you want to use VR.
- Find the Oculus shortcut on the desktop or an icon on your task bar.
- Right-click it to open a menu
- Find and click ‘Properties’
- The Oculus Properties dialogue appears
- Select the compatibility tab
- Enable ‘Run this program as an administrator’ with a tick mark
- Apply and close the dialogue
Now the Oculus home and store can only launch when you start a relevant application.
This video by Virtual Reality Oasis explains recording via the Oculus Mirror. These are some of the commands you can use to change the Mirror output:
War Thunder VR
War thunder works really well in VR and looks great too. You can download it for free and play straight away. The VR checkbox is in the launcher.
It took me a fair amount of time to get to the point where I could sit in the cockpit of my Plagis Spitfire because I had to get used to the Oculus controls, Steam and Steam VR. It’s confusing! At the end of it all, I was in the cockpit, which quite frankly felt amazing :0) I took a few snaps for my friends and to record this historic moment (yay).
After hooking up and configuring my HOTAS on another day, I got my Spitfire into the air and figured out how to record a video. This one doesn’t have the best settings so it stutters a bit but here it is.
How to Disable Auto-Updates
The Gaijin War Thunder auto-updater is NOT a Virus! It sits in the tray area and does a great job of restoring itself if you try to erase it. This is actually an admirable feature, not something to be worried about.
I prefer not to have auto-updating enabled and you can switch it off in the War Thunder launcher. Run the game and in the launcher, select the wrench icon at top right to untick ‘auto-updates’.
X Plane VR
Since flight sims are a natural fit for VR I looked at buying one that would allow me to fly with more freedom. There are quite a few to choose from, but I settled on X Plane and quite quickly became attracted to the simplicity of gliding in the Alps.
When my PC didn’t recognise the Rift S I tried the following without success:
- Reinstalling oculus
- Updating Nvidia GeForce drivers
- Restarting the PC before and after Windows updates
- Turning the power off completely for 5 minutes (to reset the hardware)
A connection led illuminates briefly in the headset when the PC boots up but then goes out. The device manager revealed that there was a problem with the Rift S Hub.
I contacted the Oculus Support via a chat window and to my surprise, they were not only readily available they were very helpful. Lily identified that my version of Windows wasn’t the latest available.
I found that there was a Windows update due for my PC that was a month late. Auto Updates to the Rift S had put it out of sync with my PC. I found out how to force all the missing updates to occur and the Rift came back online.