My home sim-racing rig consists of an old 42-inch TV sat in front of an even older Mazda Miata seat and a force-feedback Xbox One racing wheel. Yeah, I know it's a pretty crap setup, but my sense of scale for just how crap it is has been blown totally out of the water after spending a day with the best home sim-racing rigs I've ever used, combined with the one of the hottest virtual-reality (VR) technologies available today.
It all started when I received an invitation from CXC Simulations to stop by its offices to test out the professional-grade CXC Motion Pro II racing simulator and its new Oculus Rift VR headset integration.
I started with the vanilla Motion Pro II experience. The Pro II is a motion-controlled racing simulator for deep-pocketed enthusiasts and racing teams. Starting from the ground up, the system consists of a beefy base that contains all of the electronics and computers that power the simulation software, much of the hydraulics for the motion hardware and the amps into the 5.1 surround-sound system. The base, which weighs hundreds of pounds and keeps the simulator firmly planted while the driver is being tossed about above, is also home to the powered subwoofer for the aforementioned audio system.
Atop the base is the racing bucket seat. This seat is anchored from below, but can be moved about that anchor by a pair of massive hydraulic actuators that also serve as the seat's rear uprights. These strong arms are rated for industrial-grade duty cycles and should last for thousands of hours of racing. I, the driver, was held in place by a multipoint racing harness connected to the base. Interestingly, because of the way the belt ties into the base, you get a bit of belt tensioning, which helps with the feeling of inertia when virtually braking.
The seat has rumble motors built into it combine well with the powerful bass of the surround-sound system. The steering wheel uses a real racing quick-release -- enabling the owner to quickly swap between, say, a formula racing wheel and a street wheel -- also features a powerful force-feedback motor and paddle shifters. The pedals are genuine hydraulic units pulled from the parts bin of a road car and can be tuned and adjusted to mimic the pedal feel that the driver wants. And the entire setup is modular, so you can, for example, add or remove an h-pattern shifter or change the pedals, seat or pretty much any other part of the whole. A flight stick and helicopter controls are also on the menu for those who want to use the Motion Pro II for flight simulators.
Front and center is the the panoramic triple-screen setup, which delivers 6,220,800 pixels and a 180-degree field of view. (The system comes standard with just one screen; the three-head upgrade is an option.)
With the sound system, the motion system and graphics that occupy nearly my full field of view, it's a spectacularly immersive racing experience in a reasonably compact package. The whole kit's about the same size as a big touring motorcycle parked in front of a trio of large-screen TVs. (Which now that I think of it, actually does sound pretty big, but if you can afford to buy the Motion Pro II, you probably have a house or garage large enough to accommodate it. We'll come back to that.)
Just when I was starting to enjoy myself, I was asked to move to a smaller, single display unit and handed the Oculus Rift headset.
For those unfamiliar, the here.features two small OLED displays -- one for each eye -- and head-tracking technology to, well, virtually put your head in the game. You can check out CNET's coverage of the technology
I thought that the Oculus Rift implementation would just be the cherry on top of the motion-racing package, but it's more. Adding VR to the Motion Pro II is a complete game changer.
The visual immersion of the VR combined with the tactile feedback creates an amazingly realistic racing simulation. CXC also outfitted its rig with a wind simulator, a pair of speed-sensitive fans that blow air across the driver's face as the virtual car moves faster through the simulation.
What's interesting is that my previous VR experiences with the HTC Vive and Oculus involved moving around the environment with head and hand tracking. The Motion Pro II and Oculus combo flips that paradigm on its head by instead moving the environment -- the cockpit -- around me in a surprisingly convincing manner. It's hard to really express the jump in immersion that the combination of VR, a sim with convincingly realistic graphics and a fan pointed at my face added. In fact they don't add, they multiply, exponentially increasing the realism.
When in the heat of the race, wheel to open wheel with other digital formula race cars, I believed I was back at Willow Springs, Mazda Raceway or Sonoma. When I came in too hot on the last turn of Willow Springs and was nudged off track by an AI racer, I literally screamed. But at the same time, I knew well enough that the experience wasn't so real that I was freed to push the limits of my abilities just that bit harder than I would with the fear of death looming overhead. I didn't want to get out of the simulator at the end of my almost 3 hours of testing.
The CXC Motion Pro II is compatible with a variety of games, er, racing sims including Simraceway, but VR functionality requires that the sim software, of course, include compatibility with the Oculus Rift. So for purposes of my testing, I raced in Project: Cars by Slightly Mad Studios and Bandai Namco Games.
Also interesting is that the VR setup seems to work best with the steering-wheel paddle shifters. The position of a console shifter in the virtual car may not be the same as the placement on the Motion Pro II's cockpit and, because there's no hand tracking, you can't reliably take your hands off of the wheel. That's just a minor nitpick.
VR racing is almost something that you have to experience to believe, which interested (and well-heeled) buyers can do at CXC's facility and workshop in Southern California.
I was totally sold on this setup at the end of my testing session. The only reason I went home at the end of the day to my beat-up Miata seat and force feedback wheel was the high cost of entry. The base Motion Pro II simulator starts at $49,000 for the single-head Standard setup with an additional $1,650 to add Oculus Rift integration. And that's just the start because, as I stated, the whole thing is modular, so CXC will happily customize every part of the build for a price. Check every option box and a top-tier, three-head Pro system with Oculus will run $75,275. (For comparison, my janky home setup cost me about $600.)
I know what you're thinking, because I'm thinking the same. It's probably somewhere along the lines of, "If I had an extra 75 Gs lying around, I'd buy an actual Porsche Boxster S." The Motion Pro II isn't really the sort of plaything for a person who can afford a Porsche; it's the sort of toy for the person who already has a few Porsches.
Is it worth the dough? Well, it's both one of the most immersive and realistic virtual racing simulators that I've ever tested and the most expensive gaming rig I've ever seen. Its value depends on what side of that duality you're looking for.