December 28, 2014

How To Build A Racecar For Your Living Room



Throughout my many years of playing racing simulations and owning all sorts of hardware, I've compiled a personal list of peripherals for building complete sim racing rigs.  While rigs are highly personal and everyone's requirements differ, below is a compilation of products that can be purchased and serve as great starting points into any level of sim racing.

Choosing A Rig
This is perhaps the most complicated bit, as it really depends on your size, weight, and how "hardcore" you want to go.  There are many different types of rigs out there, ranging from basic wheel stands that clamp onto your chair, to full blown motion rigs.  There are couple of important considerations though that apply to any rig.

Adjustability
Pick something you'll be comfortable getting in an out.  Some rigs are great for small people, others for big people.  Pick a rig that allows you to adjust the distances between the seat, wheel mount, and pedals.  The greater the adjustability options the better.  Determine what wheel and pedals you're going to get, as some require specify types of mounting.  The more powerful force feedback wheels, and some pro level pedals require stronger and stiffer rigs that won't shake or flex.  It is always a good idea to hard mount wheels and pedals. While there are rigs that come pre-drilled for specific wheel bases and pedal sets, not all wheels and pedals mount the same and chances are you'll need to drill your own template.  Choose rigs that will allow you to drill them for mounting your wheels, pedals, and any other peripherals.

Accessories
Want to put in a shifter? Button box? Alternate displays? Not all rigs are easy to accessorize.  Some come with plenty of options, others don't. If you're serious, choose something that has potential.  Also choose something you'll be comfortable drilling holes in.








Display mounting
It's always better to mount your displays separate from your rig. A lot of rigs have built in display mounts.  Avoid those if you're going to get a wheel with descent force feedback, as chances are displays that are mounted to your rig will shake as you drive around.  Plus, some rig display mounts have limitations on the size and type of displays you can mount.  While there are plenty of monitor stands on the market, most are intended for office use, and not for racing simulators.  If you're planning on multiple displays, three displays being a wise choice, pick a stand a lone monitor mount that will allow you to mount at least 24" monitors or of greater size and be able to adjust them at 45 degrees of each other.  This way the display can encompass 180 degrees of your vision.  Also no matter how good or sturdy a multi monitor display mount is, you will never be able to alight the monitors perfectly.  The best way is to figure out how to mount monitors is by mounting them via their factory stands, and not by the direct VESA mounts.  This will allow you to micro adjust monitors and align them later if the arms of the monitor stand start to sag over time.  They most certainly will.



Personal Recommendation
Obutto r3volution gaming cockpit. Plenty of  adjustment options, accessories, and separate monitor mount. Pretty much covers it all.


Choosing A Wheel
Buying a wheel is pretty straightforward. For all intents and purposes, there are currently four categories, Entry, Serious, Hardcore, and Pro.  The most important consideration here is the platform you're going to use.  All wheels work on PC, however only some work on PlayStation and XBox. The more hardcore you go the fewer the choices become for PlayStation and XBox.  So if you're buying a wheel to play Gran Turismo or Forza, your choices become limited as you climb the wheel ladder. Almost all Pro level wheels are exclusively to the PC.


Personal Recommendations
(Entry) Logitech G27

Includes the pedals and shifter. Acceptable force feedback with peak torque at stall of 2Nm, and fairly bullet proof.  Uses helical gears.








(Serious) Thrustmaster T500RS

Also includes pedals, but no shifter. Descent force feedback with peak torque at stall of 4Nm.  Belt driven. Features choices for rims, and variants for different platforms.





(Hardcore) Fanatec ClubSport Wheel Base V2 with Porche 918 Rim

Many different options for rims here from DIY to race car replicas. Belt driven wheel with good force feedback and torque of 8Nm.







(Pro) SimXperience AccuForce Pro

Yet to be released, this direct drive wheel will feature three options to choose from: Genuine MOMO, Pro, and DIY. SimXperience is hoping to deliver a very advanced force feedback system with this wheel.  Using their proprietary software package, SimCommander, they claim the wheel can produce FFB for games that don't have any!





(Pro) SimSteering by Leo Bodnar

This direct drive wheel system is developed specifically and intended for professional race car drivers.







Choosing Pedals
There are three categories of pedals. The ones that come with your wheel, Fanatec's ClubSport V2, and ridiculous pro level ones, some featuring complete hydraulic systems!!  The difficult choices on which ones to buy are in the pro level pedals. There isn't much choice below that.

(Entry) Logitech and Thrustmaster include pedals with their wheels, making them the default choice for entry level pedal sets.


Logitech's pedals, which come with the G27, and Thrustmaster's pedals, which come with the T500RS, are spring and potentiometer based.  Potentiometers determine how much a pedal is pressed by measuring the distance traveled by the pedal.  They provide adequate control for even the serious couch racers.  Both pedal sets can be adjusted slightly, while Thrustmaster's pedals can even be inverted out of the box.

Fanatec ClubSport V2
These are the only pedals currently on the market that are mass produced and fall into the more serious category. They use magnetic hall sensors instead of potentiometers to measure how far the gas and clutch pedals are pressed, and a load cell for how hard the brake pedal is pressed.  A load cell measures pressure rather than position, allowing for more consistent application of the brake pedal. They are somewhat adjustable and feature a regressive clutch mechanism. At their current price point they are the best bang for the buck, period.

(Pro) Heusinkveld Engineering Pro Pedals
These pedals are engineered so that you can apply the same forces onto them you would in a race car.  There is also an Ultimate version designed for even higher forces.  These pedals must be mounted to an extremely sturdy rig. All pedals use a load cells. They are very adjustable and require very little maintenance.

See my HE Pro Pedals Impressions for more info.





(Pro) HPP Simulation

These precision engineered pedals feature linear potentiometers and a closed hydraulic system for the brake pedal!









There are obviously many more options for wheels and pedals, but these are my personal choices because I've either owned variants of many of them or have done extensive research and aware on how they stack up against their competition.  Generally, the higher end equipment is better for high-end PC simulations like iRacing and Assetto Corsa which feature very advanced physics engines and their controls can be mapped to the high resolution sensors these types of pedals offer.

Historically, high end sim racing hardware has also had great resale value due to large demand and low production volume.  Despite being much more expensive than entry level hardware, their resale value makes them a fairly safer buy.  So if you get tired of them after couple of years of use, you can be sure there will be someone eager to continue enjoying them after you.

Accessories
Just like a real car, no sim rig is ever complete without a few accessories.  Here are a few:

Fanatec ClubSport Shifter SQ V 1.5

This is currently the best and most realistic 6 speed H-Shifter on the market. It also has a sequential mode which allows you to change gears by pushing and pulling the lever.

This shifter either connects to a Fanatec base, or requires a USB adapter so that it can be plugged directly into the PC.  Be sure to read about any compatibility issues with consoles.


Button Boxes by Derek Speare

A button box in general is a good thing. Plenty of PC sims and games have lots of features now which are impossible to map to all buttons on your wheel.  Plus, reaching for the keyboard is not ideal when you're about to set a record braking lap while at the same timetrying to shoo away the cat from under your feet.  This is entirely personal, and you should be aware that special mounting to your rig would be most likely required.



Displays

Displays are also a bit personal and will depend on your budget, space, and your spouse's tolerance for this idiotic hobby.  The most important consideration here is latency. Latency, latency, latency. Everything else is secondary.  If you plan to use a TV, make sure it has a Game Mode which cuts out any frame post processing.  If you buy monitors, get ones that support at least 120Hz (or better known as 3D monitors).  It is a very extensive topic to cover as to why that is, so if you've got couple of days to spare, feel free to dig through the wonderful world of techie forums to find out exactly why.

Consider at least 24" monitors for triple screen setups.  High refresh rate monitors can be found now a days for less than $300.  Sure, they won't be IPS panels, and the colors might be a bit funny, but as long as the colors are okay to be viewed from a slight angle, everything will be fine.

If you're going really hardcore, there are projector solutions.  Generally you want something with as high resolution as possible.  Racing requires looking into the distance, so resolution matters. Especially if you're projecting onto a 60" screen fairly close to your eyes.

Platform
If you have a PlayStation or an XBox, then there is nothing to point out.  It is what it is.
For PC, you'll need a video card than handle the sim's requirements.

If you're running a multi-monitor display, you'll need that much more rendering power.  There are some non-trivial requirements, so please be sure to research what the software supports, what your video card supports, and what your displays support.  For starters, make sure the video card has the ability to support multi-monitor displays.  For nVidia cards, this is called "nVidia Surround".  For AMD cards, this is called "Eyefinity".  This is an absolute must for triple screen setup if you don't want any hassle.  The most common way to connect multiple monitors to an Eyefinity or nVidia Surround card is using DisplayPort cables.  There are many resources on this topic out on the internet, so search around.


If you like an absolute hassle free setup that is guaranteed to work, please get a PC built by fellow simracer Michael Main, of Main Performance PC.  Just tell him you want a PC that will work with whichever racing sim or game you intend to play, how many monitors you want, and he'll do the rest.

The Sims!
The most important part of the simulator is what software or game it's going to run.  If you plan to use your rig for PlayStation or XBox, entry level hardware will suffice for all games and sims currently out on those platforms.  However, if you like to take full advantage of the higher end hardware, below are couple of good choices for the PC.

iRacing


Laser scanned tracks, advanced physics simulation, fully online, and only multiplayer.  It is a subscription based service and requires purchasing of content.  However there are many deals which drastically reduce the overall cost.  With participation credits and some referrals you can actually reduce your cost down to nothing.

Assetto Corsa





Also featuring laser scanned tracks and advanced simulation physics.  One time purchase cost with purchasable DLCs.  Single player career modes, online, and a selection of both race and street cars.

Budget Estimates
To give a general idea of how much a complete build would cost, below are budget estimates for the entry, hardcore, and pro builds based on current US prices.

These estimates exclude tax, shipping, and VAT, or any other fees which may apply in your region of the world.

Entry
  $400 - Obutto Ozone Rig
  $300 - G27 Wheel and Pedals
$1,500 - PC and Monitor
------
$2,200 Total

Hardcore
  $825 - Obutto R3volution Rig
  $130 - Obutto R3volution Triple Moitor Mount Accessory
  $550 - Fanatec ClubSport Base V2
  $400 - Porsche ClubSport 918 Wheel
  $250 - Fanatec ClubSport Pedals V2
$2,000 - PC and 3 24" Monitors
------
$4,155 Total

Pro
  $825 - Obutto R3volution Rig
  $130 - Obutto R3volution Triple Moitor Mount Accessory
$1,750 - SimXperience AccuForce Pro Wheel
  $750 - HE Pedals
   $50 - HE Pedals mounting plate (required for sturdiness)
  $200 - Fanatec 6 Speed H-Shifter with Sequential Mode
   $20 - Fanatec Shifter USB adapter (for non-Fanatec wheel base)
$2,000 - PC and 3 24" Monitors
------
$5,725 Total

Personally, for the level of detail and immersion gained by the Pro equipment, for $1570 more than the Hardcore setup, it is well worth as the equipment is easily at least 3x better in every possible way.

Of course, you can always shell out $88,310 for the CXC Motion Pro II pictured at the beginning of the article.