X-Plane 11’s native VR support uses SteamVR, so let me clear this up now:
You will be able to use VR directly in X-Plane 11 with any distribution of our sim:
- An X-Plane 11 digital download from Laminar Research (or any other reseller) if you have a 24-digit product key.
- An X-Plane 11 DVD set from Laminar Research (or any other reseller) if you have DVDs.
- X-Plane 11 on Steam if you bought X-Plane on Steam.
VR will work for X-Plane 11 no matter how you bought it. You do not have to have bought X-Plane from Steam to use VR.
(This post does not contain any guidance on supported hardware – I’d like to wait until we get further into beta and get some feedback on how system requirements affect actual users. This is just a reassurance that you didn’t buy X-Plane “the wrong way” for VR.)
What Is SteamVR
SteamVR is a free download from Steam’s app store that X-Plane (and many other games) use to talk to your VR hardware. We use SteamVR for both the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift – X-Plane’s native VR support requires that you have both the Oculus drivers and SteamVR.
The good news is: SteamVR is free, and it works with the non-Steam editions of X-Plane as well as the Steam one. If you are a Steam user, you just pick the app and download it; if you are a non-Steam user, you’ll need to create a free Steam account to get it.
(If you have the HTC Vive you almost certainly have done this already, as SteamVR is the only thing that lets you play games on the Vive. If you have the Oculus Rift you can get apps directly from Oculus’ own app store, but SteamVR lets you get at a wider array of content.)
Why SteamVR on the Oculus Rift?
When using the Oculus Rift with X-Plane’s native VR, we have a bit of a game of telephone: we talk to SteamVR, which talks to the Oculus Rift drivers, which talk to the hardware. Why not talk to the Oculus drivers directly via their SDK?
The short answer is development time: we like SteamVR for the same reason we like OpenGL: we can write our app once and support a wide range of hardware from multiple vendors. We don’t have to write our rendering engine twice for NVidia and AMD, and we don’t have to write our VR implementation twice for the Vive and Oculus Rift.
Our hope is that by using SteamVR, support for future headsets will be a relatively painless affair; SteamVR’s OpenVR API looks like the closest thing to a common API for VR.
(X-Plane is not locked into OpenVR – X-Plane has an abstraction layer and we could code to a second API if necessary. But I’d rather have the dev team work on making X-Plane better than have them code the same feature over and over for multiple vendors.)
What Will We Support?
Recently I’ve received a bunch of questions about supported hardware, e.g. will we support Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) Headsets, or any of the software bridges to phones, or some of the proposed 8K headsets that are on Kickstarter.
I think we’ll end up in a very similar situation with VR as we are in with graphics cards and joysticks – we’ll have three levels for headsets.
- Supported. Right now this list contains only the Oculus Rift (CV1) and HTC Vive. Supported devices will be ones where we’ve spent testing and dev time making sure they work, and where we expect a great VR experience. We’ll add more to this list based on development time, but this category is only going to be for major selling headsets. E.g. PSVR (e.g. Morpheus) might be a reasonable candidate here but (from what I can tell) OSVR is not.
- Unsupported. Even if a device is unsupported, we may still let you use it. If you want to try one of the new mixed reality headsets before we support them, go ahead and try – it might work. We’re not going to tell people “go get this”, but we’re not going to close the door to tinkering.
- Banned. If a device is really, really, really bad and awful, we won’t allow it at all, and we’ll take active measures to keep it from being used accidentally.
SteamVR will hopefully* let us easily put important devices in the supported column without too much dev time lost, and have wide support for unsupported (but not outright banned) devices.
* I say hopefully because the VR ecosystem is still very young. We think SteamVR is a good choice for our implementation, but it’s too soon to say unequivocally “hardware vendors can just develop for this ecosystem and it works”.