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HP's Reverb G2 is the ultimate headset for sim racing in VR

Want to try out virtual reality sim racing but worried about things being blurry? HP's latest headset is the fix.

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The HP Reverb G2 is the missing piece for your sim rig.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Sim racing is a wonderful thing, a chance to build and test your driving skills in a safe, (relatively) affordable environment. And, given the state of the world for the past 12 months, titles like iRacing and Assetto Corsa Competizione have been the only way that most of us have had to scratch the racing itch. 

I've been simming for two decades now and, while many major advancements have come in that time, easy and affordable virtual reality has been the biggest. A VR headset not only spares you the expense of a giant, triple-monitor setup but gives you a level of immersion you can't get in anything short of one of the multimillion-dollar simulators of the pros. 

VR lets you look through corners far better than any triple-rig setup. This is especially valuable if you're doing some rally action. For wheel-to-wheel racing, it's helpful being able to glance over your shoulder and see whether that rando with the rookie license is really serious about trying to make a pass.

The advantages are real, but VR has some serious drawbacks, too. Headsets are uncomfortable, especially if your racing skews toward the endurance side, and they can introduce yet another source of lag or glitches into the mix.

The biggest issue, though, is resolution. 4K gaming monitors are commonplace these days, offering somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,840x2,160 pixels. The Oculus Rift S, the most common VR headset used in simming today, offers just 2,560x1,440 pixels. That's roughly a 23% reduction on the surface, but the reality is even worse. The Rift S splits that display into two, half for each eye, so its effective resolution is 45% less than a single 4K monitor. 

Read moreThe best VR headset for 2021

This isn't as bad as it sounds, as most of the time when you're racing you're looking at large, well-defined objects like cars or apex curbing painted in contrasting colors. But when it comes to spotting the braking markers at Monza, or trying to read tire temps on a tiny virtual dashboard, more pixels sure would be nice.

Enter the HP Reverb G2. While looking little different from an Oculus Rift S on the outside, it's what's inside that counts: a whopping 2,160x2,160 pixels per eye. Total resolution is actually higher than a 4K monitor, and each eye gets more pixels to itself than the Rift S offers in total.

When I read about this increase I was naturally quite eager to try it out, but for awhile there the $599 Reverb G2 was as hard to find as, well, every other desirable piece of computer gaming hardware these days. Thankfully, HP was kind enough to send me one to test out.

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The Reverb G2 has four cameras (two front, two on the sides), and off-ear Valve-designed spatial audio headphones.

HP

Setup

If you're coming from a Rift S like I was, connecting the Reverb G2 is easy. It relies on the same USB 3.0 and DisplayPort connections. The software configuration is quite different, however. While the Oculus headset relies on a dedicated application running in the background, the G2 uses Windows Mixed Reality. So, setup was a breeze.

Most importantly, the headset is readily compatible with both SteamVR and OpenVR, the two VR standards you're most likely to use in popular sims like iRacing or ACC. So, for example, when loading into a session in iRacing, now you'll simply select "Steam" instead of "Oculus" in the VR pop-up. 

That part's easy. The next step may be a little more difficult.

Read moreiRacing: How to build the best PC

System demands

While the relative lower resolution of VR is a disadvantage when it comes to clarity, it's actually an advantage when it comes to system demands. Fewer pixels means less load placed on your graphics card, so you can dial up all the pretty effects and still maintain a solid frame rate.

With the HP Reverb G2 and all its pixels, I had to make some compromises. I'm running an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, powerful enough to run iRacing with everything on max and still get a solid 80 frames per second with my Oculus Rift S.

With the G2, I quickly realized that I needed to make some adjustments. First of all, the G2 has a 90Hz refresh rate, so I needed to find 10 more fps. That, plus all those extra pixels, meant dropping some settings like mirror detail, shader detail and a few other environmental effects.

In ACC, a far more visually demanding game, I had to make some drastic changes, dropping detail down to the minimum and even then reducing it to only 10 visible cars. I lowered the game's effective rendering resolution, too, all just to get a solid 90fps.

If you're lucky to be rocking an RTX 3090, chances are you're in the clear, but if you have anything lesser, be prepared to make some sacrifices.  

But don't worry, it's worth it.

Comparing the Oculus Rift S (left) versus the HP Reverb G2. This gives a rough idea of the effect of all those extra pixels. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The result

I thought it'd take me a little while to spot the difference in the G2's resolution, that maybe I'd have to run a few practice sessions on a few different tracks before I'd really feel the improvement.

I was wrong. The difference was obvious the second I jumped into the first virtual car. It was like I'd been wearing a set of glasses smeared with Vaseline and was only now seeing the world for the first time. I literally spent a minute just looking around the cockpit of my Subaru WRX STI rallycross car in iRacing, admiring the weave on the carbon-fiber steering wheel and all the other details previously lost in the blur.

Once I got moving, things got even better. Being able to spot and read braking markers farther down the road gave me more confidence on every lap. I could focus on other things.

In ACC, I could finally read the tiny tire pressure indicators on the dash at just a glance. Dropping all the graphical effects to enable this definitely made the game overall less beautiful, but the increase in sharpness more than made up for it. 

I was pretty blown away, but the Rift S does have some advantages over the G2. For one thing, it's easier to adjust. The Oculus headset has a knob on the back that makes tightening easy, something I often find myself doing midrace. Adjusting the G2 requires fiddly Velcro straps, impossible to do while driving.

Additionally, I like the foam padding on the Rift S more than that on the G2, which starts to feel rough after extended sessions. And, while the speakers on the G2 are great, I miss the Rift's 3.5mm headphone jack, which let me use noise-blocking in-ear monitors. 

The biggest issue I have with the G2, however, has to do with the size of my head. More specifically, the distance between my eyes. Interpupillary distance is a measurement of how far apart your eyes are; this is hugely important in VR, as the headset needs to line up precisely with your eyes. The G2 has a physical IPD adjustment, a nice feature, but its range is somewhat limited: 60 to 68mm. My IPD? 72mm.

The G2 still works well enough, but it has to be very precisely positioned for me to get a clear focus and, even then, I have a somewhat claustrophobic perspective. It's a little like the world is closing in on me left and the right. 

Most of you won't have an issue, but if your head is on the large or small size, it's definitely something to consider.

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Wrap-up

Despite my IPD incompatibility, I'm blown away by the HP Reverb G2. It's truly a leap forward over other, lower-res headsets. I am loth to go back to my Oculus.

At $599, the G2 is an expensive but worthy upgrade for anyone who's serious about simming in VR. Just make sure you budget a little extra for a graphics card to match.