To VR, or not to VR. That is the question.

  • I’ve been doing flight sims since SubLogic’s Flight Simulator on the Apple ][. An addict to them of sorts but just lost interest. That changed with the Oculus DK2 and FlyInside. Been hooked ever since.


    Even back at that level of the technology, people would post some pretty amazing user forum posts about what VR was like for them when they tried it out. One guy loved real flying and had lost his medical. He wasn’t able to really relate to flight sims on a monitor but gave VR a try just to see if it might really be like he had read other people say - that you “feel” the altitude, feel the fear, are in the cockpit instead of watching what it would look like on a monitor, etc. He said when he put on his headset and was able to look around, it was very emotional for him. He said he just sat there looking around in the plane and outside, and was blown away.

    A flight instructor also posted about a setup he used for his students. His flight school used computer sims to help students but some couldn’t turn the 2D monitor representation into a 3D mental picture to help with their real-world patterns and approaches. He said that when he put those students into VR they were able to practice everything they couldn’t on regular monitors and “got it”.

    Unrelated to the fidelity of VR flight simulation, there are people who have never had stereo vision even though they have good vision in both eyes. There are lots of reports of where they put on a VR headset and start seeing stereo. The odd thing is they keep seeing stereo after they take the headset off. VR is being used extensively in brain and vision studies.

    I think most would agree VR is hard to describe and do justice to. It’s an experience. The brain is working to process all it sees and is seeing the virtual world very much like the real one but not quite. It’s not that different from how the brain processes optical illusions but much closer to reality. It smooths over things like maybe the colors aren’t dead on realistic, maybe there’s scenery that is flat (which sticks out even more in VR), funny looking bridges, buildings, or trees, or whatever. The brain kind of looks past the problems and you interpret and perceive things as real. Plus you get the ability to freely look around in the virtual world just like you do in the real world. Just the ability to look all around is huge. But the bonus is it all feels more real when you can do exactly like you do in a real airplane and lean forward and back, or crane your neck, or whatever to see around wings, struts, over the nose, etc.

    Racing sims are another treat. When you are wheel to wheel at high speed it gets pretty intense. For me, VR is a way to see and experience things I will never get to do in real life. Explore the Titanic, go to the moon in Apollo 11, jetpack around the International Space Station, drive formula Ferraris, Lotuses, etc, fly amazing aircraft, explore the world, etc. I love flight sims but VR can take you other places too.

    I always recommend people try it if possible. It isn’t for everyone. But depending on what kinds of things people are into, it could turn into quite a way to sim and game.

    Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog, MFG Crosswind pedals, 2 dof Motion, Valve Index

  • I for one recommend to at least give it a try. If you know someone with a VR head set maybe you can borrow it? Some months ago there were also companies (at least in Germany) where you could lease a VR headset for a reasonable price. If you found out that VR just is not your thing, you were able to return it even after months of usage.

    I started really small with a €350-WMR-headset. After some days finding my ways around the technology and convincing my body nothing bad is happening, I was completely convinced by VR. The feeling of really sitting inside a plane, leaning left and right to get a better view on the outside while taxiing a Pitts S-2, really being alone up there with just your knowledge and your skills to bring you back home... this is really hard to describe with any other words but: it almost feels like you are there.

    My setup for Aerofly is to not use the VR controllers, but instead stick, throttle, pedals and mouse, making the interaction much more precise.

    I am so convinced by the benefits gained from using a VR headset for simulations, I am planning on upgrading to the HP Reverb G2 as soon it is out.