Thrustmaster T150 Force Feedback Wheel Review: The Gateway to Potential Insanity
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.
There is obviously a market out there for an entry level, force feedback wheel that has the features of the higher end wheels but will not cost a small fortune to acquire. Thrustmaster took this challenge to heart and developed the T150 Force Feedback Wheel. The company laid out a solid wishlist for the wheel, and worked to develop a product that would not break the bank. This of course has lead to design decisions that help to reduce the cost of the product, but know that the functionality matches that of higher end products.
The contents are neatly shipped, but there is not a tremendous amout of packing material to ward off damage to the box.
The T150 is compatible with the PS3, PS4, and PC. It features a full 1080 degrees of rotation that can be adjusted through the control panel to go down as low as 270 degrees. The wheel is not removable from the base as compared to the TX, T300, and T500 series of products. The setup comes with a two pedal unit. The wheel does not ship with a shifter, but it is compatible with the 3 pedal units and shifters that Thrustmaster offers for higher end wheels.
Force feedback is handled by a hybrid geared/pulley system. Higher end Thrustmaster units feature a brushless motor and multiple pulleys to give strong and smooth feedback. Such a unit is beyond the cost structure of this particular product. Instead Thrustmaster employs a less powerful motor, but utilizes a single pulley as well as a geared wheel to give a pretty good experience of strong feedback as well as smoother feel as compared to a 100% geared setup. As a comparison the Logitech G27 features a dual motor, helical geared setup that provides good strength of forces but does suffer from some gear lash and grind. This hybrid system is designed to minimize some of these negatives in a cost effective way.
The base is smaller and lighter than for example the TX unit, but it is still sturdy. It features a metal axle and bearing system, so parts should not wear out anytime soon. The firmware on the wheel can also be upgraded through a pretty simple procedure on the PC. It of course has built-in support for the PS3 and PS4 consoles. The base does not feature the usual screw/bolt holes that are used to mount the unit on wheel stands. Instead it uses the traditional clamp system that Thrustmaster employs on all of its wheels. This particular clamp system is very similar to those on the higher end variants, but it features less metal in some areas that could lead to some wear and tear on the plastic over the lifetime of the product.
The wheel itself is an 11” affair which is about normal for a higher end gaming wheel. It is a combination of plastic and rubberized material that is pretty comfortable to the touch. The rubberized part covers the 8 o’clock to 11 and 1 o’clock to 4 positions. This blue material does not seem to rub off after extensive driving sessions where palms might get a bit sweaty. The paddle shifters are made of a metal and are powder coated. Wear and tear on those particular materials should be minimal over the lifetime of this product. The buttons and d-pad are of course compatible with what is offered on the PS3 and PS4 controllers, though it lacks any touchpad. The rest of the wheel is plastic, so do not expect any brushed aluminum.
So what does their hybrid setup look like? Happily, they illustrated it on the box!
The pedals are smaller than those offered with the older F430 as well as the newer TX wheels. These units are plastic as compared to the metal units on the higher end parts. These can be detached and rotated and swapped, according to the user’s needs and desires. The base is pretty lightweight as compared to other units and can be troublesome on hardwood floors and carpet. These pedals do have the necessary mounting holes on them for a stand. Users should be ready to implement some kind of mounting strategy if they don’t want to keep constantly re-adjusting the pedals mid-game.
The sensor technology implemented on this wheel is a step down from the 16 bit Hall Effect based products. It uses what seems to be an electro-optical system that has 12 bit resolution (4096 values on the steering wheel axis). The 16 bit unit features over 65,000 values. Most people will not notice the difference in precision, but there will likely be a few that may experience a more “mushy” feel if they are used to higher end products. These differences are very, very minor. It would again take a very perceptive individual with a lot of game time on a higher end wheel to notice a difference.
The entire package is pretty small altogether as compared to more expensive wheels. The base and pedals are much more size constrained and the entire shipping box is an easy carry home. Power is supplied from an average sized transformer. It does not feature an internal power supply like the TX and above products.