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The Best VR Headset for Flight Sim

by Ben Miles
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The list of VR headsets on the market is growing and there’s not often an easy way to tell which headset is the right one for you. There’s a long list of specifications that you need to pay attention to – what is the headset resolution? What kind of tracking does it use? Is my PC powerful enough? What’s the field of view? Will it work with my glasses? The list is almost endless and sometimes overwhelming.

To add to this ever-growing list, HTC has released yet another headset to their Vive line-up, the HTC Vive Cosmos.

HTC Headsets Explained

Up until now, there have been two core “lines” of HTC Vive headsets, their consumer headsets and their Pro headsets.

HTC’s line of consumer headsets started (and stopped) with the HTC Vive. Released in 2016, it was one of the first headsets on the market and quickly gained popularity. It boasts a 2160×1200 pixel screen, 90hz refresh rate and comes with two “lighthouses”. These lighthouses emit infra-red beams which allow the headset to get its orientation and position within your room.

Later, HTC released its Vive Pro headsets. These headsets came with a higher resolution screen at 2880×1600, which greatly improved how immersive your VR experience is. HTC also made a number of other great improvements to the headsets, including integrated headphones and improved lighthouse tracking. These improvements did make a huge difference over the “consumer” headset, however, also resulted in the headset being almost double the cost.

Since then, HTC released an addition to its “Pro” line-up that added eye tracking to the headsets. The HTC Vive Pro Eye tracks where your eyes are looking and allows for better hardware usage and improved image clarity, but with largely the same specs as the base Pro model.

Image of the HTC Vive Pro VR headset surrounded by all it's accessories

The HTC Vive Cosmos

The Cosmos is HTC’s latest offering in their Vive VR Headset line-up. But what makes it different from the multiple other headsets that HTC (and other manufacturers) offer?

One difference is the screen. In this new Cosmos headset, HTC have equipped it with their highest resolution yet. The 2880×1700 screen offers 88% more pixels than the original Vive, and 100 pixels more vertically than the Pro. In our testing you can really tell that there’s an improvement in the visual fidelity.

It’s not just the screen that makes this headset interesting. It also features an all-new kind of tracking to HTC headsets: Inside-Out. The Inside-Out tracking uses no external lighthouses or sensors to position itself in the room. All of the position tracking for the headset and the controllers is handled by the 6 wide-angle cameras on the front of the headset and internal sensors. You still get the 6 degrees of freedom you would expect with a high cost VR headset.

But that’s just the thing. This isn’t one of those high-cost VR headsets. With comparable specs in the HTC line-up reaching over £1200 in most cases, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is headset would cost just as much, if not more. The HTC Vive Cosmos, however, comes in at just £750.

Ultimately, it’s not the cheapest headset on the market, but for the experience you get, it’s (in our opinion) the best value-for-money headset available.

The Best VR Headset for Flight Simulation

Granted, so far we’ve been talking in VR Headset only terms, but how does all of this apply to your Flight Simulation needs? Is the Vive Cosmos the best you can get for Flight Sim?

Firstly, let’s talk about set-up. As seen with other Headsets, you need some form of tracking sensor to get your headset oriented in your room. With HTC this is usually a lighthouse in two opposite corners of the room and with other brands, it’s often a sensor in front, attached to the PC you’re running it on.

HTC Cosmos Makes it Easy

With the HTC Cosmos, there are no Lighthouses. This makes setting-up the whole VR experience very simple. Pop on the headset, define your bounds and that’s it, you’re ready to go. Compared to other headsets we’ve tried, this is a joyous experience.

And that seems to be the theme running through the Vive Cosmos. Everything has been designed for an “ease-of-use” that we’ve not seen in other headsets before. From the ease of setting up the experience, to the little quality-of-life additions (like a flip up front, and easy strap adjustment), you can tell that the whole experience is designed to be simple, easy and pleasant.

Is the Vive Cosmos the best Headset for Flight Sim? We would argue so. Most high-end headsets are hitting very similar levels of image quality, immersion and tracking, but what you’re paying for is the user experience and the Vive Cosmos gives nothing but a positive one and at a price-point that’s hard to beat.

Screen capture of a flight in Aerofly Flight Sim

What Flight Sims is it compatible with?

The vast majority of popular flight sims are compatible with VR headsets and the HTC Vive Cosmos is no exception here. XplaneFSXAerofly and P3D all offer VR ready experiences.

You can use your already established flight controls and simply enjoy the view from the headset, rather than through a monitor screen. Granted it may take a little moment to be able to naturally place your hands on certain controls when you can’t see them. However, some simulators allow you to forgo the controls altogether and allow to you interact with your in-sim controls instead.

The hotly anticipated Microsoft Flight Sim 2020, whilst no formal announcements have been made, is expected to launch with full VR support from the start.

How powerful does my PC have to be to run VR flight Sim?

This is very much a “how long is a piece of string” question. As you know, the needs of your system vastly depend on how complicated your flight sim installation is. However, there’s some metrics we can use to point you in the right direction.

In order to run your simulation in VR, we suggest you need to be able to run it at 4K 90fps stably. 4K, because that’s close to the resolution of 2 viewpoints in VR and 90 frames per second, because that’s how fast the headset runs it. If you drop below this FPS, you’re going to experience stuttering and frame-drops which, for most people, will be disorienting and induce motion-sickness. You can always turn down your sliders for better performance.

We were easily able to run our sims with VR on our Dreamliner Elite and Nimbus 5 systems. One benefits from the i9’s huge computing power and the other, from the 2080 Ti’s massive 11GBs of VRAM.

If you’re interested in giving VR for flight sim a go, take a look at our complete range online, or chat to a member of the team.

More resources:

Check out this article that takes a look at the best PCs for VR!

Why not check out this article that tells you everything you need to know about Microsoft’s Flight Sim 2020!

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