15 months ago I backed the Pimax 8KX. Following that I purchased an Odyssey as in “interim” HMD for which I posted a review here:
Samsung Odyssey review - Virtual Reality - ED Forums. In essence, I wasnt impressed and went back to my 65" 4K TV for DCS (Panasonic 65AX802b) + TIR. Unfortunately, I couldnt hack the massive drop in visual quality and clarity. I was however, under no doubt, that VR was the future for flight simming, if not gaming in general.
Last week I finally received my 5K+! The following day I put an order for a 2080ti since it was clear to me before even trying it that even a 2080ti would struggle to deliver acceptable frame rates.
Ive been using the 5k+ for close to a week now and feel ready to post initial impressions. This review is really geared to users like myself that have wanted to get into VR but weren’t quite ready to give up the sharp image of a normal display. Im sure current vive, rift and SO users would probably consider my settings too high given the extra pixels the 5k+ is pushing out but ive approached things somewhat differently. Instead of finding an acceptable framerate and then seeing how far I can push the graphical settings ive tried to find the minimum visual quality that I would consider acceptable to make the switch and then see what FPS I get. I love how DCS looks. Its beautiful in certain light conditions and the experience is even more amazing on a 4k big screen. Basically, im not an easy customer for VR.
Hardware: 8600K@5.3ghz, 32gb 3200mhz ram@CL14, 1080ti/2080ti both at 2ghz.
Build quality and comfort
Build quality is actually quite good. The headset feels quite sturdy despite being very light. It came well packaged and generally everything looked and felt good. The headstrap is functional but im sure something like the Vive DAS would feel alot better. Pimax are developing their own DAS. Personally im glad it doesnt have integrated headphones. The SO sounded pretty terrible and were not removable. Even an entry level Sennheiser would sound alot better and be more ergonomic. I use my own.
Im not a fan of the megatron look with the blue light. We look dorky enough playing flight sims.
Installation and software tweaking
No problems here. I installed SteamVR and then installed the Pitools software and it was instantly recognised together with the lighthouses. I had huge issues with the SO with WMR software and W10 updates. Thats probably all fixed now but im glad I had no similar issues with the pimax.
Note: For DCS you must check use parallel projections otherwise you get a double vision effect. This is a workaround for “older” titles but eats away at FPS. Assetto Corsa for example doesnt require it and sits quite happily at 90fps!
There are essentially 2 quality settings you can control outside of DCS. The Pitool Rendering Quality (default 1.0) and the SteamVR application resolution (default 100%). Im not entirely sure of the interplay between the 2 and how it works with the PD setting in DCS. But after alot of trial and error I settled on Pitool 1.25, SteamVR 100% and DCS PD 1.0. This gave me perfectly readable cockpits far beyond what I experienced with the SO.
Within the Nvidia control panel I changed power management to Prefer maximum performance and VR pre-rendered frames to 3. This last setting is particularly important since it removes many of the judders that you might get with low fps.
FOV and sweetspot
This is whats really impressive. The FOV is just great. Its not quite life like, more like looking through a scuba diving mask, but it really sets it apart from the competition. Even more importantly is the size of the sweetspot. If theres one thing that makes this HMD totally unique its the fact that the FOV is huge and most of it is perfectly focused with good clarity without even trying. I had huge issues with the SO trying to dial in its minuscule sweetspot. It felt like trying to read a map by looking through a monocular telescope. By contrast the 5k+ you just put it on and most of your vision is perfectly clear and in focus. I think this explains why I had no nausea with the 5k+ despite jumping in to the 104th almost immediately. IPD adjustment is via a scroll wheel with an OSD.
In small FOV ~125 degrees – No distortion.
Normal ~150 degrees - Very minimal at the edges. Closest I can describe it like the seeping in of water at the edge your mask while scuba diving. Noticeable at first but doesn’t detract from the experience.
Large ~170 degrees – slightly more at the edges.
I preferred Normal FOV throughout my testing. There was minimal FPS difference between any of the FOV settings.
Clarity, definition and colour
Clarity and definition were far better than my experience with the SO. Everything in the cockpit is readable without zooming or straining your eyes. This, together with the sweetspot, in my opinion is the game changer. Spotting planes is doable but visual IFF is hard till they get closer. The colours are washed out compared to a normal display. I don’t remember the SO colours in comparison too well since a lot depends on time of day and season etc. Most people have said colours are better on the SO. OLED vs LCD. Supposedly the 5k+ is tuned to a colder colour palette and that this will be user selectable cold/warm in future updates. DCS gamma setting helps a little in this regard but I wish this was better. To be fair, none of the HMDs are in any way comparable to a good display in terms of pure visual quality.
SDE and Gods Rays
The SDE as I understand it is still just about perceptible although I can make out the pixel pattern against a light coloured uniform background if that makes sense. For example the pixel pattern is visible against a clear blue sky but not so against the terrain.
No God Rays.
Fine. I use steam base stations I picked up on ebay 2nd hand.
To my surprise with very little adjustment time I was able to jump on BF and the 104th and fly combat missions effectively as a Lead and a wingman. I cant say my K/D ratio suffered due to VR. I fly modern jets mostly so visual IFF and spotting are less important. The systems help a lot. Visually I can quite easily maintain a 6-8km spread. If I were into WW2 combat I’d have more of an issue with the poorer medium range distance spotting compared to a monitor. The little time I spent in Helis was quite enjoyable. Overall im pleased.
Again I must reiterate that I’ve deliberately set the bar quite high. The 5K+ pushes out 4815x4113 pixels per eye with a pitools setting of 1.25 and SteamVR 100%. Pitools 1.0 and steam VR at 60% (recommended settings) push out 2984x2549 pixels and its still perfectly playable. What can I say? I like pretty.
I use the following graphical options:
All benchmarks used the instant action missions. fpsVR.
FPS, GPU frame time(ms), GPU usage(%), CPU frame time(ms)
F18 instant action
4v4 32|40 26|19 78%|72% 14|14
AAR 38|45 23|18 82%|78% 9|8
8v8 30|36 27|20 75%|71% 16|16
Valley 33|42 27|19 80|78 14|12
Su27 instant action
Intercept 34|44 26|19 83%|80% 10|10
Ka50 Instant action
Shooting range 37|41 23|20 84%|81% 9|10
Viggen instant action
Offensive counter air 31|42 29|19 85%|78% 10|10
Su25T instant action
Free flight 36|45 25|18 88%|81% 10|9
Mig21 instant action
Free flight 28|36 29|21 77%|71% 18|20
FPS, GPU frame time(ms), GPU usage(%), CPU frame time(ms)
F18 instant action
2v2 33|40 25|19 75%|73% 16|16
AGM65 33|43 26|17 80%|75% 11|11
Ready Ramp 26|32 30|24 75%|69% 22|22
AAR 30|42 28|18 83%|78% 11|10
Su-27 instant action
Intercept 37|43 26|19 84%|80% 7|9
Ka50 instant action
Firing range 31|35 28|22 82%|82% 13|15
Beach party rockets 27|36 32|22 80%|77% 13|15
Strike 33|40 25|19 80%|75% 14|14
Overall the 2080ti yields exactly 25% uplift in fps and similar decrease in frametimes. FpsVR is a great utility and gives you a visual representation of your frametimes as well as the raw numbers above. Basically the GPU frametimes are almost always in red (bad) whereas the CPU frametimes are always green/amber (good/mediocre). Clearly the 5k+ on my rig and at those settings is GPU limited. BUT the utilisation is still only about 75-85%. DCS really needs more VR optimisation.
Similar numbers are seen in MP. With the 2080ti on the 104thand BF I get 36-45fps fairly consistently. If you’d have asked me before I’d have said that was unplayable low but I find it actually quite playable.
For reference in the above missions with Pitool 1.0, SteamVR 60% and the same DCS settings I get almost 60 fps. I need to spend far more time experimenting and tweaking the options to find what works best for me. I really wish it was better documented how the pitool, SteamVR and DCS PD setting all interplay with one another. There are too many combinations to test all of them and most of us will have different preferences. As such the numbers ive posted above should not be taken as absolute fps figures since it can vary so widely (30-60fps) with the settings you select, even between software updates. Ive tried to convey what the HMD is capable of and what the FPS cost is for someone more inclined to better visuals.
I tried the VR mod briefly but couldn’t get it to work. Im also not too keen to mod my game much and had heard it needed further modding to make it IC compliant. Furthermore it may require further tinkering to make it compatible with the 5K+. If anyone has the expertise to make it work for me im happy to give it a go. Any extra fps id get id put into turning on MSAA!
Overall im impressed with what im seeing with the 5K+. VR is a very subjective experience. For me the 3D effect is pretty cool (AAR from an Il78 was the closest I felt to a wow moment) but Im not willing to forgo all visual eye candy and sharpness for it. I think the 5K+ is probably the minimum that I would accept to make the jump. As I said before Ive set the bar pretty high. For anyone currently using any of the current generation HMDs im sure youll find the pimax a big upgrade. You will need a monster computer though.
For me, im gonna keep using it for a few more weeks before I totally commit. VR kinda grows on you and I am excited each time I get to fly with it. If we could get the VR optimisations that would enable me to turn up the settings and crank up the MSAA I would absolutely consider myself a VR convert. Even in its current compromised state, im fairly sure ive already made the jump.