Overshadowing the Previous Gen
To say that sim racing has had a banner year is perhaps an understatement. We have an amazingly robust ecosystem of titles and hardware that help accentuate the other to provide outstanding experiences for those who wish to invest. This past year has seen titles such as Project CARS 2, Forza 7, DiRT 4, and F1 2017 released as well as stalwarts such as iRacing getting major (and consistent) updates. We also have seen the rise of esports with racing titles, most recently with the F1 series and the WRC games. These have become flashy affairs with big sponsors and some significant prizes.
Racing has always had a niche in PCs, but titles such as Forza on Xbox and Gran Turismo on Playstation have ruled the roost. The joy of PC racing is the huge amount of accessories that can be applied to the platform without having to pay expensive licenses to the console guys. We have really seen the rise of guys like Thrustmaster and Fanatec through the past decade providing a lot of focus and support to the PC world.
This past year has seen a pretty impressive lineup of new products addressing racing on both PC and console. One of the first big releases is what I will be covering today. It has been a while since Thrustmaster released the TS-PC wheel set, but it has set itself up to be the product to beat in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Dropping Price Points for Wider Appeal
Fanatec needs little introduction for anyone that has seriously considered racing wheel and the corresponding components. It is a German based company that produces high quality and authentic feeling gear for PC and console racers. Their ClubSport products are their top end models which also commands a top level price. Solid construction, high quality materials, and sharp looking designs have defined the company since its inception.
Fanatec always features a classy design. The first portion of the 4-flap saying is on the top. Otherwise, a bit confusing if you didn't know that...
Last year I was given the chance to test out some of the latest, and highest end, Fanatec gear. The ClubSport V2 base and pedals were fantastic performers. The build quality, fit and finish, and functionality were all superior to anything that I had used before. The unfortunate part of the setup was the corresponding price. These parts were not inexpensive. Thankfully, most people who are familiar with Fanatec know that they cater to a more discerning crowd where price constraints are not the driving factor for this gear. Even though these parts are expensive, they are still far less than the direct-drive counterparts that typically cost two to three times more.
Like any company, Fanatec is looking to expand and attract new users. Their biggest hurdle with the ClubSport series is obviously price. To attract new customers Fanatec introduced a new, more cost effective design that provides much the same experience as the higher end ClubSport series, but at a more reasonable price tag. The CSL Elite series (ClubSport Lite) is aimed to address this area with more reasonably priced units that promise the same build quality and attention to detail as the higher end products in the ClubSport realm. Costs were cut throughout, but Fanatec hopes that the overall product will provide much the same gaming experience as their higher end products.
The packing is always well designed and copious when it comes to materials.
Move Over T150...
The Thrustmaster TMX was released this past summer to address the Xbox One ecosystem with an affordable, entry level force-feedback wheel. This is essentially the Xbox version of the previously reviewed Thrustmaster T150 for the PS3/PS4. There are many things that these two wheels have in common, but there are a few significant differences as well. The TMX is also PC compatible, which is what I tested it upon.
A no-nonsense box design that lets the buyer know exactly what systems this product is for.
The TMX is priced at an MSRP of $199. Along with the T150 this is truly an entry level FFB wheel with all of the features that racers desire. The wheel itself is 11” wide and the base is compact, with a solid feel. Unlike the T150, the TMX is entirely decked out in multiple shades of black. The majority of the unit is a dark, slick black while the rubber grips have a matte finish. The buttons on the wheel are colored appropriately according to the Xbox controller standards (yellow, blue, green, and red). The other buttons are black with a couple of them having some white stenciling on them.
The motor in this part is not nearly as powerful as what we find in the TX and T300rs base units. Those are full pulley based parts with relatively strong motors while the TMX is a combination gear and pulley system. This provides a less expensive setup than the full pulley systems of the higher priced parts, but it still is able to retain pretty strong FFB. Some of the more subtle effects may be lost due to the setup, but it is far and away a better solution than units that feature bungee cords and basic rumble functionality.
The back shows a basic diagram of the mixed pulley and geared subsystem for force-feedback.
The wheel features a 12 bit optical pickup sensor for motion on the wheel. This translates into 4096 values through 360 degrees of rotation. This is well below the 16 bit units of the TX and T300rs bases, but in my racing I did not find it to be holding me back. Yes, the more expensive units are more accurate and utilize the Hall Effect rather than an optical pickup, but the TMX provides more than enough precision for the vast majority of titles out there. The pedals look to feature the same 10 bit resolution that most other Thrustmaster pedals offer, or about 1024 values for several inches of travel.
Subject: General Tech | November 18, 2016 - 12:12 AM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: wheel base, wheel, TX, Thrustmaster, T500, T300, racing, force feedback, Alcantara
Thrustmaster is announcing today the upcoming availability of their latest PC focused racing wheel and base. The TS-PC is a brand new design that integrates many new features as compared to their previous offerings. The press release did not mention compatibility on consoles, but it seems for now that it is aimed squarely at the PC (hence the name).
The big improvement from past part is the inclusion of a 40 watt motor providing more force than what we had seen previously in the T500, T300, and TX series of wheel bases. I do not know how it compares to the Fanatec CSL’s 6 Nm of force, or the higher end ClubSport V2’s 8 Nm. My guess is that it could very well be somewhere between those two options.
The motor needs some extra cooling so that apparently has received a pretty good upgrade. Thrustmaster seems to like their acronyms, so they are calling this cooling system the MCE. This stands for Motor Cooling Embedded. Few details were provided, but this system is in place to keep the motor at peak efficiency even at high transient levels of force. It does this without ramping up the speeds of the fans in the base. Hopefully soon we can find out how Thrustmaster was able to increase the thermal capacity in a base that is not all that much larger than previous products.
Thrustmaster is also implementing what they call a F.O.C algorithm (Field Oriented Control) that supposedly boosts the already impressive precision of the H.E.A.R.T. system (Hall Effect AccuRate Technology). I told you they like acronyms. This features the same 16 bit resolution of the T500 and T300 products, but it seems the new software reading the values is able to do a better job at it than previous parts.
Powering all of this is an external power supply that supports up to 400 watts of peak power. This is a peak number and not what it can do under constant load. That number is probably closer to 100 watts, but the specifics have not been released yet. The motor in the wheel base does not pull a constant amount of current, so its needs are varied depending on the type of inputs required by the application. When more force is required, it typically is not for extensive periods of time. It seems that the power supply that Thrustmaster is using is going to be quite a bit more powerful than those that were integrated into the T500/T300/TX wheel bases.
The open wheel itself is a new design. It features suede grips, an aluminum plate, and aluminum paddles. Thrustmaster claims that it has optimized stiffness and weight to give it the best overall response for the size of the product. More mass is never a good thing when trying to transmit small or subtle variations of force feedback, so the less mess in a wheel while maximizing rigidity gives the best overall experience no matter how strong the motor is.
The TS-PC is compatible with the entire Thrustmaster ecosystem of parts. This includes the 599XX Alcantara wheel that I reviewed some months back. Wheels, pedals, and shifters are all compatible with the new base so users can customize their experience as needed.
The TS-PC will be available on Dec. 5, 2016 for $499.
Stepping Up the Simulation Game
I don’t exactly remember when I first heard about Fanatec, but it likely was sometime after the release of DiRT 2. I was somewhat into racing games before that, but that particular title sold me on the genre and I have not looked back since. Before then I used a Microsoft Sidewinder FFB stick for my racing, but it was D2 that convinced me to purchase a wheel for the full fledged experience. The initial impression of Fanatec was of course “high priced, but really nice gear”. These were products that I did not think I would ever see in any personal capacity as they were out of my price range and my driving passion was just not amped up enough to rationalize it.
My dog is quite suspicious of the amount of boxes the set came in.
I know I probably talk about it too much, but the introduction of DiRT Rally really supercharged my interest in driving accessories due to the work they did on physics and Force Feedback effects. My older Thrustmaster Ferrari F430 wheel featured a meager 270 degrees of rotation and clunky FFB that did not translate well with this particular title. It may have done OK with older, more arcade based racers, but with the latest generation of sims that focus on accuracy in experience it just did not cut it. Purchasing a Thrustmaster TX based unit was a night and day experience for these latest titles.
The next few months after that I spent time with multiple other wheels and accessories and provided a few reviews based on them. My level of interest grew exponentially about what the industry offered. I was able to contact Fanatec and they agreed to put together a bundle of products based on their latest ClubSport V2 products. This would include the ClubSport V2 Base, ClubSport Universal Hub for Xbox One, ClubSport Pedals V3, ClubSport Shifter SQ, and the desk mounting hardware for the units.
Fanatec is not for the faint of heart when it comes to pricing. The total package I received is worth 1800 Euro, or about $2016 US. This is a pretty tremendous amount of money for racing gear, but it is about average for higher end products that exist in this market. People will question why it costs so much, but after my experience with it I now know why.
Subject: General Tech | April 12, 2016 - 02:33 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: Thrustmaster, TMX, T300, tx f458, force feedback, wheels, racing pedals, DiRT Rally, project cars, Assetto Corsa, xbox one
Subject: Editorial | January 27, 2016 - 01:27 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: Thrustmaster, T150, Rocket League, racing wheel, racing, project cars, livestream, GRID Autosport, gaming, force feedback, DiRT Rally, Assetto Corsa
Did you miss the live stream for yesterday racing action? No worries, catch up on the replay right here!
On Thursday, January 28th at 5:30 PM ET we will be hosting a livestream featuing some racing by several of our writers. We welcome our readers to join up and race with us! None of us are professionals, so there is a very good chance that anyone that joins can easily outrace us!
We have teamed up with Thrustmaster to give away the TM T150 Racing Wheel! The MSRP on this number is $199.99, but we are giving it away for free. This was reviewed a few months ago and the results were very good for the price point. You can read that entire review here!
We will be playing multiple games throughout the livestream, so get those Steam clients fired up and updated.
We will be racing through the Rallycross portion of DR. These are fun races and fairly quick. Don't forget the Joker lap!
This is another favorite and features a ton of tracks and cars with some interesting tire (tyre) physics thrown in for good measure!
Another fan favorite with lovely graphics and handling/physics that match the best games out there.
We will be announcing how to join up in the contest during the livestream! Be sure to tune in!
Build Your Own Setup
Who would have thought that racing wheels would be so much fun? I have mentioned this before, but until recently my experience with these products has been pretty limited. I used a joystick for at least a decade after I started into PC racing, and then some five years ago I purchased a pretty basic FFB wheel with the Thrustmaster F430. I was not entirely sure that a more expensive wheel would give me a better experience. After having played DiRT Rally, a sim that leans heavily on wheels with a greater than 270 degrees of rotation, I knew that I was missing something.
The packaging looks nice and conveys the information needed for the purchaser.
I purchased the Thrustmaster TX F458 wheel and my eyes were opened to the light. The more expensive wheel with a 900 degree rotation made driving a much better experience for those titles that are more than arcade racers. DiRT Rally became a totally different game and my understanding of the handling and physics was enhanced dramatically with the more advanced wheel. This is not to mention how huge of a difference such a wheel is as compared to the products in the $50 to $100 range which offer no force feedback and rely on bungie cords to center the steering.
The TX wheel does have some limitations and a couple downsides. The first is that it is limited to 900 degrees vs. other products that feature a full 1080 degrees. It is compatible with PC and Xbox One. It does not support the PS3 or PS4. It comes with a two pedal stand as well as the Ferrari inspired wheel that is constructed entirely of plastic and a rubberized material on the wheel surface. It is not a luxury item and I would not expect as such for $294 US. It is also the least expensive “full” setup of the more professional line of dual pulley FFB servos.
This is a diagram of the dual pulley system that makes the T300 as smooth as it is.
Over the past few years Thrustmaster has expanded their lineup to include higher end accessories for the wheel setups with three pedal stands (the T3PA and T3PA-Pro), a solid shifter (TH8A), as well as a variety of interchangeable wheels that fit the Thrustmaster Quick Release system (TX, T300, and T500). These include leather wrapped wheels, a F1 inspired wheel, and finally a newly introduced Alcantara wheel that apparently feels fantastic.
It seems a waste to buy an entire set and then replace pieces with upgraded parts. Obviously Thrustmaster figured this out and decided to start offering just the servo bases as standalone products and allow the user to pick and choose what type of pedals and wheels they want to use. This also allows those who are more frugal to buy secondhand parts off eBay and other outlets. Believe me, there are more than a few F458 wheels and 2 pedal sets out there for pretty good prices. The T300 Servo Base is the second standalone offering from Thrustmaster with the Xbox One focused TX being the first.
Fully Featured Wheel for $200 US
Gaming wheels are a pretty interesting subset of the hardware world. It seems the vast majority of gamers out there are keyboard and mouse players, or skew towards console controllers which are relatively inexpensive as compared to joysticks or wheels. For those that are serious about their racing games, a wheel is a must. Sure, there are plenty of people that are good with a console controller, but that does not provide the same experience. In fact, racing games do quite a bit of compensation when it comes to steering, acceleration, and braking when it detects a console controller.
Thrustmaster echoes the Playstation blue with their PS3/PS4/PC based T150 wheel.
This makes quite a bit of sense when we consider how many degrees of travel a thumbstick has as compared to a wheel. Or how much travel a button has as compared to a set of pedals. I have talked to a developer about this and they admit to giving a hand to keyboard and console controller users, otherwise cars in these games are nigh uncontrollable. A wheel and pedal set will give much more granular control over a car in a simulation, which is crazy to think about since we use a wheel and pedal set for our daily driving…
The very basic wheels are typically small units that have a bungie or spring system to center the wheel. They also feature a pretty limited rotation, going about 270 degrees at max. These products might reach to the $100 level at max, but they are pretty basic when it comes to the driving experience. There is then a huge jump to the $300 MSRP level where users can purchase the older Logitech G27 or the still current Thrustmaster TX series.
This was not always the case. Microsoft years back had offered their Sidewinder FFB Wheel around the $200 level. Thrustmaster also addressed this market with their now discontinued Ferrari F430 FFB wheel which had an initial MSRP of around $200. This particular wheel was popular with the entry level gamers, but it had a pretty big drawback; the wheel was limited to 270 degrees of rotation. This may be fine for some arcade style racers, but for those looking to expand into more sim territory had to set their sights on higher priced products.
Taking Racing Games a Step Further
I remember very distinctly the first racing game I had ever played and where. It was in the basement of a hotel in Billings, MT where I first put a couple of quarters through the ATARI Night Driver arcade machine. It was a very basic simulator with white dots coming at you as if they were reflectors on poles. The game had a wheel and four gears available through a shifter. It had an accelerator and no brake. It was the simplest racing game a person could play. I was pretty young, so it was not as fun to me because I did not do well actually playing it. Like most kids that age, fun is in the anticipation of playing and putting the quarter in rather than learning the intricacies of a game.
Throughout the years there were distinct improvements. I played Pole Position and Enduro on the ATARI 2600, I had my first PC racer with Test Drive (the Ferrari Testarossa was my favorite vehicle) using only the keyboard. I took a break for a few years and did not get back into racing games until I attended the 3dfx T-buffer demo when I saw the latest NFS 4 (High Stakes) played at 1024x768 with AA enabled. Sure, it looked like the cars were covered in baby oil, but that was not a bad thing at the time.
One of the real breakthrough titles for me was NFS: Porsche Unleashed. EA worked with Porsche to create a game that was much closer to a simulation than the previous arcade racers. It was not perfect, but it was one of the first titles to support Force Feedback in racing. I purchased a Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 joystick. The addition of FFB was a tremendous improvement in the game as I could feel the tires start to slip and experience the increased resistance to turns. This was my first real attempt at a racing game and actually completing it. I still have fond memories and it would be great to get a remastered version with better graphics and physics, while still retaining the simulation roots.
After PU I again stopped playing racers. The release of Project Gotham racing for the XBox rekindled that a bit, but I soon tired of the feel of the controller and the rumble rather than real FFB effects. Fast forward to Quakecon 2009 when I saw the first gameplay videos of the upcoming DiRT 2. This title was one of the first to adopt DX11 that would push the HD 5800 and GTX 480 video cards for all they were worth. This re-ignited my desire to race. I purchased DiRT 2 as soon as it was available for the PC and played with the aging (but still solid) Sidewinder FFB P2.
The box was a little beat up when it got to me, but everything was intact.
Something was missing though. I really wanted more out of my racing game. The last time I had used a wheel on a racing game was probably an Outrun arcade machine in the late 80s. I did some shopping around and decided on the Thrustmaster F430 Ferrari FFB wheel. It was on sale at the time for a low, low price of $76. It had a 270 degree rotation which is more apt for arcade racers than sims, but it was a solid wheel for not a whole lot of money. It was a fantastic buy for the time and helped turn me into a racing enthusiast.
During this time I purchased my kids a couple of low end wheels that use the bungee cord centering mechanism. These of course lack any FFB features, but the Genius one I acquired was supposed to have some basic feedback and rumble effects: it never worked as such. So, my experience to this point has been joysticks, bungee wheels, and a 270 degree F430 wheel. This does not make me an expert, but it does provide an interesting background for the jump to a higher level of product.