Hello and welcome to our buyer's guide for professional racing simulators. We will take you step by step through each element of these high tech machines. By the end you should know all the pitfalls and be informed enough to make a buying decision.
Racing Simulators as with other high technology products can vary in quality and specification quite dramatically. This means we have to identify your budget as a starting point. You can spend anything from £1,500 right up to over £100,000 and anywhere in between, so it is key we identify your price range before we look at the different products available to you.
We are going to tackle this first as it's so closely related to budget. In general, console based "Simulators" are far more affordable and offer a relatively similar experience to a PC based system at the lower end of the scale. They even run the same software in some instances. The trouble with using these software packages on a console is they are unable to deliver an accurate simulation. This is due to inherent steering and pedal input lag meaning there is the slightest of delays between your input and the outcome on screen. This is not noticeable for the average user who may be looking for a fun, arcade experience. If this is you, then you should be looking at our GT Gaming and Formula Gaming range of simulators as they are all console based.
From this point onward in the guide, we are going to assume that you're looking at a professional system and by default that means PC based simulators.
An argument that has raged on for years within the sim racing community. Essentially robustness versus aesthetics. At PRS, we believe you can have your cake and eat it. Our chassis' are built with both factors in mind and you will not find the slightest flex in any of our rigs. Looks are subjective but we feel that our chassis design is modern and pleasing on the eye whilst still being practical for it's purpose. Ergonomics are key to your comfort and a huge amount of emphasis has been put on this in our design philosophy.
So what differentiates a "good" simulator from a "bad" one? The clue is in the title... SETUP! This is where it really matters what company you choose to supply your simulator. The market is divided evenly into motorsport based suppliers and the more commercial entities. It is fairly obvious that a racing simulator that is more realistic is considered to be the superior product. Companies that already work in or come from a background in Motorsport are much more likely to produce an accurate simulation due to their experience of real world race cars and circuits.
There are many factors to consider in creating a realistic simulation. Just one of the many key considerations is Field of View (FOV), this is basically your viewing position relative to the virtual representation of the car's interior, if this is wrong then the whole experience is out. Steering and brake pedal feel are also very important and is your main feedback as a driver. If any of these factors haven't been tackled properly then it will turn even the most expensive, high end simulator into an experience as realistic as your xbox! Choose wisely.
Well you might say, how can they differ that much? All of the companies that sell racing simulators essentially use the same group of software packages (whether they deny it or not!).
It is imperative to have an accurate circuit model. We are very lucky now that the majority of the world's circuits have been laser scanned and therefore are extremely accurate down to the last bump or kerb. Also, the software model for the vehicle you're driving needs to be based on real world data and then calibrated so that inputs both on the sim and real world correlate.
We use only the best software packages available and both your track and vehicle content will be tailored to your requirements whether that be motorsport vehicle development, driver training or just home entertainment. From V8 supercars at Bathurst to the latest GT3 cars at Spa, let us know your favourite combo and we'll happily arrange a demo for you!
Let's move onto the hardware, the components used in the construction of the simulator. Specifically force feedback steering systems. There are a huge amount of options available on the market but with our experience, we have been able to bring this down to just three high quality options used in our whole product range. These are essentially budget, intermediate and professional components and your choice will be again largely dependant on how much you've got to spend.
Both our budget and intermediate options are belt driven, meaning they are limited in how much torque they're able to deliver through the wheel. The main difference between the two units is torque rating and smoothness, the intermediate system is able to deliver a higher torque level and delivers much smoother feedback cues. This takes nothing away from our entry level system, in its price bracket, it is by far the most accomplished wheel and is a quality product that has delivered outstanding performance and reliability. But everything is relative and this is where we move onto our professional system.
This is the very latest iteration of the leading steering system on the market. It is based on a direct drive system, this means the steering rim attaches directly to the output shaft of the motor. The motor is also much more powerful than on our other steering systems. It is capable of delivering 20Nm of torque direct to the wheel. That is enough to simulate the same force found in any race car in the world and this is why a direct drive steering system is essential to a high end racing simulator.
We can equip any steering rim that you would like, whether it be GT or Single Seater based. We can even offer an exact replica of your favourite F1 driver's wheel if that is what you desire. Please enquire for further info.
We offer four different options on the pedal side of things. Our budget level product is a great starting point but realistically lacks feel and resistance compared to our other models. They rely on potentiometers to measure the pedal positions which means they measure input in a different way to a real car. The next step up is our intermediate level, a big jump in performance mainly due to the use of a load cell on the brake pedal. This measures pressure rather than position and so delivers a more accurate feel through the brake pedal. They still lack performance compared to our professional offerings.
Our two professional offerings are widely considered to be the best products available on the market. We have the Sprints and the Ultimates. Both products offer a load cell on the throttle, brake and clutch to give the most accurate inputs possible. The clutch features a regressive mechanism meaning that it actually has a bite point. The brake pedal can be adjusted to represent different pedal weight, for instance a GT car might have a maximum weight of 65kg whereas some single seaters or F1 cars can be in excess of 120kg. The whole pedal set is customisable to make them suitable for all applications. The difference between the Sprints and the Ultimates is that the Ultimates feature hydraulic dampers on all three pedals, this enhances the feel even further.
If you can only have one, then the answer at the time of writing (Oct, 2019) is monitors. To be honest, it is relatively inexpensive to upgrade to Virtual Reality so we would say, why not both!
VR headsets have come on massively since the first generation of products with wider FOV and higher resolution making them much more useable for racing applications. There is no sensation quite like sitting inside your favourite supercar and being able to lean in and watch the speedo top 200mph down the straight. Virtual reality also enhances your speed sensitivity which is a major advantage over using monitors in racing simulation. Quite often people fail to slow down enough to make corners on their first attempt at a race simulator. Whereas in VR, the vast majority of drivers will turn clean laps right from the off, as mentioned this is due to having a heightened awareness of the speed you're travelling at in VR.
Yes, yes and yes! Anything that adds immersion to a simulator is worth the money and there is no bigger differentiator than motion! The definition of simulation is to bring as many feedback cues as possible together to emulate the real world. So we start one step at a time with the force through the wheel and pedals, tactile feedback, audio and visuals. There's only one thing missing, the most noticeable feeling when you take a lap in a real race car is G-force! OK so now we know we need motion, what packages offer you the most realistic, immersive experience? Our standard motion system is 3 Degrees of Freedom, that is pitch, roll and heave. This does a very good job of emulating real world g-force but that is balanced against footprint, weight and cost. Our new ULTIMATE product line will offer the most accurate motion experience available on the market at the lowest price point. They are 6 Degrees of Freedom systems and can replicate g-forces on all axes.
The devil is in the detail and when purchasing such an expensive item, it is essential to understand what is included along with the simulator itself. We are of course talking about installation, aftersales support, guarantee and warranty.
Firstly, a professional racing simulator is a technical product. This does not mean they are complicated to use. In fact, we put an awful lot of effort into making sure they are very straightforward to use. However, they are complex to build, configure and calibrate. This is why we avoid if at all possible, dropping boxes on doorsteps as some of our competitors may do.
At PRS, all of our turn key simulators include free factory assembly, delivery, on-site installation (in mainland England & Wales) and a 2 year RTB Warranty. We do not sell maintenance packages, we believe in our products and since we've been established we have never had an unhappy customer. For any technical issues, we offer free 24 hour email support and 9am-5pm phone support.
It is important to prioritise. We are all limited by budget and this will largely dictate what product you end up purchasing. As a general rule, control gear (steering and pedals) should be your first priority closely followed by visuals. Of course, how much space you have available will again dictate monitor size. If budget is available then virtual reality, tactile feedback and motion systems would be next on the list.
It's easy to be daunted by the options and combinations that are available. We offer a personalised service and will tailor the perfect package for you. Don't feel limited by the products on our website or feel that a bespoke package would be more expensive, this is not the case. Even though this buying guide is fairly extensive, there is still a huge amount of detail we're happy to discuss with you. When making such a large investment, we want to make sure you have all the information you need, you only need ask.