Second Opinions – VR adventures Part IV

In this segment I wanted to get other peoples opinions. To get things into perspective. I’ve invited two people to have a go on the Vive in DCS:World and see what they say about the whole VR hype. The first, is an experienced GA pilot. The other, Is a veteran Virtual pilot, with decades of flight simulator experience.

The “Unbribed opinion”

First to step up to the plate is a member of my extended family. A very experienced pilot, He is a CFI, Aerial firefighter and crop-duster pilot. He has over 20,000 hours on many types of GA and LSA aircraft over the last 48 years.

I’ve tried in the past to get him to try the Mustang in DCSW. But he’s an “old timer” and couldn’t get used to the screen as a viewport thing. He claims that flight sims cause him nausea because he can’t fly by the “seat of his pants”.

So when he came over for lunch over one weekend, I stuck him in the pit, and forced him to take a ride 🙂

Usually when I try to “show off” with some gizmo or another, he reluctantly climbs into the pit, does his “mandatory” few minutes, then find some excuse to get back to doing something else.

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We started the usual dance of me trying to get him interested. While he is trying to delay the “walk to the pit” as much as he can. So it took me a while to get him seated. once in the pit, he put on the HMD in the DCS hanger menu he reacted immediately. “What is this? What plane is this?” he asked and started giggling.. very satisfying to get this type of reaction out of a 68 year old.

Then I put him in the cockpit of the P51. For almost 5 minutes he flew pretty much straight and level, trying to find out where all the instruments are, the low resolution made it a bit hard for him to read, but once he moved his head closer to the instrument, he could read it and then you don’t really need to be able to read it perfectly.

With the instruments figured out, he started testing the flight envelope, doing some basic handling in several speeds and altitudes. these were followed by basic aerobatics, loops and wingovers, just to get the hang of it. But if you ever flew the the DCS:P51 you already know what happens at this point, the engine seized. So from joyride it turned into emergency landing in a Georgian field. Once on the ground, I ended the mission, getting ready to help him out of the pit. In our usual dance, the first crash/landing usually marks the end of the “computer time”.

I was utterly surprised that he asked “Are you going to put that thing back on?” And off he went again, some low altitude stuff, more aerobatics then a flight over to an airfield to land.

He ended up doing almost 45 minutes of VR time. which is considerably more the his normal “complimentary” 5 minutes.

I’ve tried to get him to explain his experience, but as the great talker he is all I got was:

This thing is great!

and

Almost feels like real..

However, many more things he didn’t say were reflected in the sounds he made and the smile smeared all over his face when he stepped out of the pit.

What surprised me the most is a phone call I got a few days later, apparently the experience left such a good impression on him, that he had started telling some of his co-workers that “They must try this thing”.

So In all I must write his opinion as positive. So this is the real pilot opinion on VR in flight sims, what about Virtual simmers?

The “Second opinion”

For this, I’ve asked Echo, the project lead for ITO and a veteran flight simmer to have a go.

I’ve had him fly DCS 1.5.4 as it is the better VR experience currently, IMHO. He did a few flights on the M2K, one little stroll in the A10, one quick ride on the F-15 (I’ve yet to configure the controls for this one, so it’s pretty much out of control all the way into the ground) and one final ride in the P51.

The first thing he did after launching DCS was sit in the main screen, which is a hanger, under the wing of an SU-27 and started looking around making all sort of content noises.

After the game loaded into the pit, M2K initially, in the first minute all he did was to look around the  in the M2K pit trying to touch everything.

his explanation for this was very simple:

I was very impressed by the 1:1 scale and movement tracking, something that you don’t get with TrackIR and a screen, which makes a great contribution to the experience. In addition to the fact that everything is in 3D of course.

One of the more noticeable moments was when I looked back and saw the wing and vertical stabilizer. watching them like this suddenly gave me scale to what I’m “strapped” into, something no other device had been able to do so far.

I all in all he seemed to enjoy the experience very much, and if Falcon BMS was supporting VR at the time, he would have probably already had ordered one for himself 🙂

I’ve asked him for a quick good vs bad. this is what he said:

The Good:
1:1 movement mapping and scale,
Wide field of view (no tunnel vision effect as far as I was concerned)
Tracking precision and latency.  (very good and very low)

The Bad:
Resolution – the still too low resolution was evident in the distance.
FPS drops – very noticeable and problematic (As previously mentioned GTX970 forces compromises to get decent performance and reasonable graphic quality – Uri).

Things completely missing:
Hand/Finger tracking (I’ve not connected my leap motion yet, so no Orion  demo for him – Uri)

And as a conclusion he had added:

For flight sim purposes, VR is not a gimmick.

Few important notes

Neither “test subjects”, nor I for that matter, had flown a full length mission (from ramp to landing – over 1.5 hours in length). The AC in my room is “mehh” (in lack of other description) making the HMD very hot and hard to wear comfortably for long duration (maybe “VR cover” will improve that, I’ll know when I get mine), if you are sensitive to sweat, you will probably get a light rash from that.

In addition, both of them had tried VR after I’ve got my KW-908 so it may had added effect to the experience.

The conclusion

Both my “random” test subjects had a go in the Vive pretty much said the same thing, VR in flight sims is here to stay. And I tend to agree with them. Yes, there are still hardware handicaps to overcome. Which I believe will be resolved in future HMD generations. In addition, there is the whole user interaction aspect that still has to evolve, but that is up to sim developers. mouse or head pointing (as currently implemented in DCS) are not completely intuitive in the way the immersion in VR works. I falling into the trap of trying grab things. Echo has also shown that it’s not unique for me, and had fallen into that trap himself a few times. Which hints that a device that will do hand and fingerr tracking with tactile feedback is something to look for.

For pit builders, a correct 3d model linked to a matching RL pit is an interesting option to examine. Maybe if hand tracking would be possible, have a highlighting your hands in VR. However, from other VR games, I’ve noticed I tend to know were my hands and arms are. So when you reach out to a virtual switch and confident that its real life counter part is there you will hit the mark everytime. This instantly solving all the pit building output problems, leaving us with structure and switches problems only. Those problems are much cheaper to solve as you don’t need panels, engraving or even correct type of back lighted push buttons (ehem, JAY-EL, ehem).

So should I go buy a VR HMD or not?!?

Initially I’ve stated that I’ll not be saying if you should buy a VR kit or not as it is very personal, and I still believe that YMMV.

But there are two cases I think I can answer confidently.

Currently (as of July 2016), DCS World is the only sim that supports VR. There are lots of other games naturally (including Elite Dangerous, which is a space sim), but hard core flight sims, only DCS.

So if FalconBMS is your bread and butter and you would fly thing else, I would say “wait with it”.

On the other side, If you are a hardcore DCS all the way person, Your rig already pimped up with a 1080 SLI rig and you have 700-1200USD (depending on where you live) sitting in your pocket looking up at you and cry “Spend us!!”. I say “What are you waiting for?!?”

For the remaining 95% that are not listed above, I believe that after 3 blog posts on the subject, you should have all the information you’ll need to make the correct decision for your needs.

In addition, if you prefer a more visual method of input, Spiderpig’s youTube channel, is full of VR videos in DCS.

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