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iRacing with the Pimax Crystal VR Headset

My Pimax Crystal ready to race in iRacing

Featured image: Pimax Crystal

I’ve recently had the time to rediscover sim racing in VR – if you get the opportunity yourself, it takes surprisingly little time to get on the pace. VR is very different to monitor use, and I think it’s well worth exploring.

Having had 3 months or so away from sim racing in VR has actually been a good thing. Rediscovering it has reminded me just how much I enjoy it! That time away did mean that I was starting from scratch, not that this was a particular problem. To get back in the seat I just needed a setup reconfiguration and secondly, some troubleshooting. Overall, the experience has given me more confidence to rely on VR as a fine alternative to triple monitors (read my monitors vs VR article here).

My Pimax Crystal
My Pimax Crystal – I’ve rediscovered the joy of Racing in VR (review here)

As I’ve written here before, using VR does give you better (visual) feedback on the car’s behaviour. I’ll talk about that in a moment.

Setting up the Pimax Crystal on PC

Having reinstalled much of my sim racing PC in the last month, I took the opportunity to revisit the Pimax Crystal installation and setup process. Here’s how that setup process goes:

Firstly, connect the cable. There are two USB cables and a DisplayPort cable. The other end of the DP cable is inserted into the empty DP socket located in the upper left (rear) of the headset, pictured below:

The upper left (rear) of the headset highlighting the empty DP socket

With my setup I disconnected the peripheral monitors (left and right, leaving just the centre monitor). I also disabled the onboard CPU graphics – something I’ve been running this Grid Engineering DDU with. I won’t be needing that for a while!

Next, you need to download and install Pimax Play.

Download Pimax Play
Download Pimax Play (here)

Installation is of course, very simple. Once the installer file is downloaded, open it, and follow the prompts.

Completed Pimax Play installation
Completed Pimax Play Installation

Getting to a connected and happy Pimax Crystal wasn’t quite this straightforward. With the headset connected to my PC, I encountered a flashing red light. The headset wouldn’t power up.

The controllers had enough charge, but the Pimax wasn’t responding.

The solution, for me, was to take the battery and give it a good charge on a higher-power USB-C charger for an hour or so. Replacing the battery with the headset still connected solved the problem for me. I did, however, try a few other strategies before I arrived at the battery solution:

  • Try the hub (I reverted back to a direct USB connection to the PC),
  • Double-check the cable is seated in the headset,
  • Restart the PC (I recommend this after installing Pimax Play regardless)

Once Pimax Play is installed it will likely trigger a firmware update dialogue like this:

Pimax Firmware update

There were several updates to work though – I think Pimax Firmware updates are sequential to avoid any connectivity loss between the controller and the headset. To make doubly sure you’ve got all the latest updates, open Device Settings > General:

Device Settings / General settings in Pimax Play
General settings in Pimax Play: note the “HMD Update” and “controller update” notifications

With the Pimax updated, Steam VR needed to be installed. This is available (and free) in Steam:

Add it to your library, install it, and then open it. There’s really not much more than that.

Before you get going, there are a few more tasks to perform.

You can set up the room if you wish. This is completely straightforward, as I’m using the headset for racing it’s a matter of holding the headset roughly where it will be in use. Calibrate to that position. I set it about 1.2m from the floor.

I also downloaded and installed the latest driver from NVIDIA. It seemed that while I was updating firmware and installing new software, I might as well make sure my RTX 4090 has the latest driver installed.

Pimax Play Settings for iRacing

Setting up Pimax Play is very straightforward. Having written about this on the Pimax website, I won’t go into more detail, although I’ll summarise the key points:

Pimax VR Headset settings for iRacing
Pimax VR Headset settings for iRacing
  • Set the refresh rate to 90hz or higher (an update gave me 120hz, which ran reliably)
  • I turned the brightness level down and found a comfortable balance at “89”
  • Eye Tracking: ON
  • Auto IPD Adjustment: ON

The automatic IPD adjustment and “Wearing Location Reminder” is very powerful. Automatic Interpupillary Distance adjustment detects when you put the headset on your face. It draws a line pattern, which you focus on. A few servo-driven noises come out of the headset as it moves each eyeglass to the optimal position for your pupils.

It used to take a while to adjust this stuff on the Valve Index, and to be perfectly honest, never felt like it was quite right.

Pimax Earpieces

All of the other settings in Pimax Play were left to default.

NVIDIA Settings

I messed around with the NVIDIA settings but couldn’t really improve upon the default settings. There are things that you can change that may suit your system, particularly if you have a lower-powered GPU:

The key setting to look out for is “Virtual Reality Pre-Rendered Frames”. This renders and caches a few frames ahead of time to avoid stuttering.

Some of the other settings you can play with to squeeze out a little more performance:

Power management mode: Prefer Maximum performance
– Set “Shader Cache” to “On”,
– Set “Texture filtering” to “On”,
– Set “Texture filtering” to “Quality: High Performance”,
– And “Vertical Sync” to “Use the 3D Application settings”.

Finally, it’s time for iRacing.

Before you actually get to do a lap, open up a test session (with Steam VR running), run a few metres along the pits, stop and get out of the car. You’re going to need these settings configured for anything to be usable:

  • Assign “Recenter HMD” in Options > Controls to a button easily found on your steering wheel
  • Set the camera position (CTRL+F12)

Getting into the car for the first time, my driver position was not ideal. Once you have a small amount of running recorded, leaving the car and going into camera mode gives you access to the camera position the driver will experience. In my case, I needed to adjust “Offset: X” which moves the driver closer or further away from the wheel. The driver horizon needed increasing too.

iRacing Graphics Settings

It’s difficult to take a screenshot in VR, so here’s a screenshot from my iRacing graphics settings post. Ignore the resolution settings!

iRacing Graphics settings
iRacing Graphics settings

What’s key are the following settings:

  • Increase UI zoom to around 150% so that you can see the settings in your headset,
  • If you have FPS stutter or slowdown, disable “Grandstands” and “Crowds”,
  • You can leave Anisotropic Filtering” and “AA Samples / Mode” set to default,
  • Play with “Max Prerendered Frames” (I set this to match my NVIDIA settings.

Revisiting How Much Better VR is than Monitors

VR is better than Monitors. There, I’ve said it!

With everything configured, you’re finally ready to go racing. It takes quite a lot of time, from opening the headset box to leaving the pitlane (as much as two hours to setup!) but it is worth it.

VR Visuals in your peripheral view will always be a bit quirky. There’s some screen door effect in the far left and right of the view. But this doesn’t matter when you’re looking directly ahead, especially not with a 110° Field of View.

It’s striking how much more information about the attitude of the car you receive while driving. You instinctively know when you’re in a nice, 4 wheel drift and when you’re losing control.

Accuracy in placing the wheels exactly where you want them to be is so much finer, there’s no “getting used to” what you see; controlling the car feels much more intuitive. This leads to your inputs being well thought out and all the extra information through your eyes gives you that “feel” so that you’re always planning ahead, not reacting to what’s happening in real-time.

That “planning ahead” and not “reacting” point is something you experience in a well set up car in real life, and VR (in my opinion) remains the best way to get there. Rediscovering VR has been fun, and I’ll be focusing on my racing with the Pimax Crystal far more as a result.

iRacing with the Pimax Crystal VR Headset