After an intense year of development and a few demos of the technology at various Flight Simulator conferences, it’s finally time to let you all in on a preview of X-Plane 11 with VR support built-in! I will admit that I personally thought this was another technologic fad that was going to fade without ever gaining traction but I’m happy to say that I think I was wrong. Once you try a VR headset, you’ll never want to fly without one again. For the first time EVER, you can fly precisely and accurately by looking around and interacting with the cockpit without being anchored to a narrow field of view and small clickable hotspots viewed from unnatural angles. VR lets you have unlimited freedoms to move your head and body around naturally. You also get a sense of scale for the first time. Objects and manipulators are the right sizes and distances…just stand next to the tires or engines on one of the airliners and you’ll understand what I mean by scale.
What Do I Need?
In order to use VR with X-Plane 11, you need an Oculus Rift CV1 (with Touch Controllers) or an HTC Vive. At this time, these are the only two headsets to have official support. It is, of course, our goal to maintain support with all mainstream and common headsets in the future but at this moment, these are the only two officially supported systems. In addition, you’ll need a Windows PC* with modern hardware and an installation of Steam and SteamVR. You do NOT need to purchase X-Plane through Steam even though the Steam App is a requirement. The Steam App is free to download.
What is This Release?
This is a preview of our VR support. This is not the final product. This does not contain the final set of features. The purpose of this is to let you all play around with it. It’s very usable. It’s very fun. It works very well but it does have limitations and artifacts like you’d expect from an early release. Aircraft authors should begin getting their aircraft ready to support VR headsets (documentation coming soon!). We will continue to add features and make adjustments based on user feedback.
Things To Try!
- I know many of you have very elaborate and expensive hardware setups. I encourage you to abandon them…cut the cords man!!!!….move your chair away from your desk….just for a little while…and try flying the aircraft with JUST the VR controllers. I think it’s important to see how usable things are without the need for any hardware at all. Of course, we expect many of you will return to your hardware devices, I think it’s still a good idea to leave your comfort zone and just have a little fun too!
- All of our default aircraft (with the exception of the F-4, CirrusJet, and SR-71) are completely VR-ready. PLEASE TRY THESE AIRCRAFT. You should be able to interact with any switch/knob/lever etc that you would have expected. The default aircraft have the minimum level of detail and usability that we expect to offer. Essentially, you should be able to do everything with the VR controllers and not need the keyboard or the mouse. They all have hotspots in the pilot and copilot seats. Many have hotspots in the passenger seats as well so you can put on the autopilot and watch the flight from there (we know you want to!). They all have a full set of working manipulators.
- GRAB THE YOKE! The yoke is a SPECIAL manipulator. It is different than all of the others. The yoke is latching which means you click it once, and then you are attached to it until you click again. While attached, you can move your VR controller anywhere because the location of the controller does NOTHING. I recommend comfortably placing your hand on your lap or on an armrest. To control the aircraft’s roll, turn your wrist left/right as if you were turning a doorknob. To control the aircraft’s pitch, tilt your WRIST up/down. Your first instinct will be to move the yoke like a real yoke…pulling toward you…pushing away from you….we still may add the ability to do this but trust me it will fatigue you to have to hover your arm in the perfect position for a long flight. All of the rest of the manipulators in the aircraft should behave how they would in real life. Knobs get twisted…switching get flipped, levers get dragged etc.
- Try the detented throttles on the KingAir. You have to pull UP on the throttles to get over the notch into Beta and Reverse. Try the detented flap handle on the 737 and 747. Like the Throttles, you have to pull up on the handle!
- Scroll down the Aircraft list and try the Aerolite 103. This is a special aircraft designed just for VR to give you the sense of REALLY flying. There’s no walls, no floor…just you and the wing. It’s a beautifully detailed aircraft!
- You have an xPad with a moving map on it! You can pick it up and put it down where you like. Each Default Aircraft has a ‘magnetic’ mount on the yoke so you can stick it there. Aim the laser pointer at it and use the trackpad/thumbstick to zoom in and out on the map. Use the laser pointer and trigger to move the map around.
- Teleport around! You can do a walk around your aircraft and inspect it from outside and then teleport back into the aircraft. Get under the wing and up close with the wheels.
- Press the Menu button on the controller to bring up a quick-menu. One of the most useful features is “Get back in the pilot seat” which will always put you back in the left seat no matter what view or location you are in. This is also incredibly useful for “adjusting your seat”. Let’s say for example you moved your office chair and now you’re straddling the throttle quadrant (ouch) in your view. Press the button to get back in the pilot seat and you’ll be repositioned. You can also bind this command to a key or joystick button for quick access.
- Try Opening the Ground Services menu! You’ll get a 3D window popup that you can position/resize in 3D. Stick it somewhere in your aircraft and use the laser pointer to interact with it. When you’re done, move the controller to the red quit box and click on it. More 3D windows will be added soon!
Caveats and Known Limitations…
While the manipulators in some 3rd party aircraft may work at least partially, most will probably not at all. VR will require updates from the aircraft authors to really take full advantage of the manipulator system. We have been working on VR manipulator support for the 3-d exporters, and support for them is already shipping in X-Plane 11.10. We’ll get more info posted about VR and cockpit manipulators shortly.
Right now, if you fly with your yoke bolted to your desk and have limited room to flail your arms about without knocking things over, you will find VR very limiting. This is why I suggested you ditch the hardware temporarily in “Things to Try #1” above. We DO plan on adding features that will make things easier if you do want to continue staying attached to your desk. Early tester feedback has made it clear that features such as mouse-pointer interaction as well as Headset Mounted Device (HMD) pointers are useful features to have. This will allow users to take advantage of the visuals of the VR headset without having to use the controllers to click on things.
Another limitation of being tied to your desk is positioning/teleporting. We plan on adding the ability to create VR quicklooks to position yourself around and customize the hotspots so that you can sit properly in your seat(s) without having to actually move your real seat. Currently, you can use the arrow keys as well as ‘<‘ and ‘>’ to slew yourself around and adjust your position. You can also bind the general up/down/left/right commands to a hat switch and use those.
External Apps and Windows
We currently do not support external apps and windows. Sorry, you cannot watch The Patent Scam while flying your 737 in VR. 😉 We do realize how useful it would be to have external windows but this will require more investigation.
We currently do not support 3rd party plugin windows. We will open the VR system up to developers to allow them to do so in the future however.
How Do I Get It?
“BLAH BLAH BLAH…Just tell me how to get it already!”
Alright alright! The first thing you should do is tune your system to get your FPS up first! VR is very CPU intensive. If you cannot sustain ~45FPS without VR, you should adjust your rendering settings until you can. Turn down Reflection Quality, Scenery Shadows and maybe even Autogen. Once you’ve gotten stable performance around 45fps, then proceed.
Next you just install and setup the drivers for your headset as well as the software for your headset. Run their demo, set up your room config etc. Then install Steam and SteamVR and run through its setup and tutorial.
Now update X-Plane with “Check for Beta Versions” enabled. (Steam users – we love you too – the 11.20 VR preview is available as a public beta on Steam.) Once you’re in X-Plane 11.20, go to your Graphics Settings and enable the “Enable VR Hardware” checkbox. Detailed instructions can be found here.
* Support for Linux will depend on the future development of SteamVR on that platform. Support for Mac will be coming in 2018 as it requires X-Plane moving to Metal.