DCS VR Settings & Optimization Guide (2020)

Getting DCS to run just right in VR can take an investment of thousands of dollars and dozens of hours. It’s not the most optimised game on the planet, so we do what we can. This guide will help you get the settings just right and its based on my own personal experience of running DCS in VR since early 2016.

1. In-game Graphics Settings

Texture – As high as you can push it. This determines how objects look. It won’t kill your GPU and it does impact quality. So don’t skimp on it unless you have to.

Terrain Textures – This determines how the terrain looks. Not super important unless you are a ground-hugger but not a big GPU hog either. Crank it up!

Civ. Traffic – All those civilian planes flying around. I turn them off because its just unnecessary clutter which doesn’t add much value. These things do impact CPU performance in large numbers.

Water – How good the water looks. Medium is fine as going higher will unnecessarily imapct performance, but not by much.

Visib Range – How far away objects are drawn. Things like mountains, clouds, buildings. Medium is fine for most people.

Shadows – This is a BIG one. This setting determines how sharp the shadows will be in the cockpit and from the stuff that is near you (like rotor blades, tankers, wingmen which are close to you etc.).

Despite the performance impact of this settings, many keep it high because otherwise your cockpit can look pretty bad. I have it on max. but if you are having performance issues, you can reduces it.

Heat Blur – This looks cool in 2D, but not really suited for VR. It’s essentially the distortion caused by hot air.

Resolution – This is the resolution of the mirror image that will be on your 2D screen. I set it as low as possible because you are in VR and no one is looking at it anyway. Note that full screen is inferior to windowed mode in term s of performance in Windows 10. So run it in Windows mode.

Res. Of Cockpit Displays – This determines how good your cockpit looks. You need it high to be able to see the static stuff in your cockpit. Max it out, this is important.

MSAA – Ok, so this is the big one. Anti-aliasing is essentially the technology that programmers use to fix shimmering and other such issues in digital videos. Objects in real life have infinite resolution. But a screen has a limited resolution which means you need to decide which pixels to light up and in which colour. This can lead to shimmering on the edges of objects  and high resolution OR MSAA fixes that.

The downside is that this is a MASSIVE performance hog. I can run it on 2x without issues, but I set it to zero.  But that’s because I run my Reverb at 150% SS so there isn’t much MSAA can do at that point. You will get minimal improvements for a massive cost. Alternatively, you can lower the SS and set this to 2x.

Depth of Field, Lens Effect, Motion Blur – Looks cool in 2D, but better to turn off in VR.

SSAA – Anti-aliasing technology like MSAA but MSAA is better.

Clutter/ Grass – This is a personal preference. Do you want grass, bushes and other stuff on the ground? It does affect performance. I set this to zero because the grass looks terrible in every single VR game anyway.

Tree visibility – This will not make the trees go bye-bye. It will only make them invisible unless you get close to them. This setting affects how close you need to be before they pop up.

This is important because some helo missions require you to land in forests and the trees will appear invisible if you have this set too low even though they will be physically still there!

 Preload radius – How much of the map will be loaded when you load the mission. The higher it is, the longer it will take to load missions. However, the advantage is that you will need to load less stuff during the actual mission. I set it to medium normally.

Get a super fast SSD and at least 32GB RAM to make the game load faster.

Chimney Smoke – Meh.

Gamma – Personal preference. I think 1.5 is fine for me although I think the default is higher. It will also depend on your VR headset since some are brighter than others. No performance impact when changing this.

Terrain Object Shadows – Shadows are a BIG resource hog in all games. Cockpit shadows are controlled through the other setting mentioned earlier. This is just for terrain objects which are less important because you belong in the sky! So you turn them off to get a decent boost.

2. In-game VR Settings

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Pixel Density – This is essentially super sampling (SS). SS here is multiplicative with what you set in SteamVR or elsewhere. Therefore, as a best practice, set it up at one place only. I recommend leaving this to 1.0 and adjusting in SteamVR or the Oculus Tool.

Also, keep in mind that setting PD to, say, 1.2 here is the equivalent of setting it to 144% in SteamVR because this is per axis. So 1.2 x 1.2 = 1.44 or 144%. That means 44% more pixels need to be rendered and 44% more GPU load.

Force IPD Distance – The most important VR setting! This is essentially world scale. Meaning if the cockpit seems small, then changing this number will make it bigger. And vice versa. This has nothing to do with your actual physical Inter-pupilary distance. I wish ED had chosen a better name for it to avoid confusion, even though it is technically not wrong.

MSAA Mask Size – Makes the area where MSAA is applied bigger or smaller. At least in theory. In practice, people are still divided on whether it works or is bugged (its a new setting so its possible).

3. NVIDIA Control Panel Settings

Assuming you have an Nvidia graphics card, there are a few settings you can tweak here. Or rather that other guides tell you to tweak without knowing what they even mean.

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Virtual Reality pre-rendered frames – The one setting that often gets talked about is  “Virtual Reality pre-rendered frames” and setting that to 3. Note that there is a trade off here between frames and latency with this setting. Increasing it to 3 means the CPU will buffer some additional frames ready but it may cause higher latency/ lag/ input delay and even mess up re-projection. So don’t just blindly put it to 3 and call it a day – it might make things worse. Try 1 or 3 and see which one your brain prefers.

Anti-aliasing – Some guides also tell you to set anti-aliasing to 2x MSAA from here instead from the in-game setting as it is faster. That is also not true. You can’t set MSAA at the driver level for DirectX11 games. You can set MFAA to on form though and it will work.

4. SteamVR Settings

Motion Smoothing – Your headset will most likely have a refresh rate of 90Hz, 80Hz or 120Hz etc. Sometimes your GPU will not be able to keep up. So what happens is that SteamVR, Oculus or WMR will look at the previous few frames and use predictive algorithms to extrapolate or guess the next frame. This means that if the GPU can’t keep up with the refresh rate, you will see some guesstimated frames.

Motion Smoothing is Valve’s name for this tech. I think it is best to keep this on even if you hit 90 FPS normally. It does have some downsides, but it is better than not having it on. If you ever do go below 90 FPS (which you will), it will prevent frame drops.

Note that WMR’s motion reprojection is also turned on by this same setting for now. Read the next section on WMR to know more.

Resolution – This is where you set your super sampling level. You have two choices here. Push it up and then aim for 45 FPS with reprojection/ motion smoothing to make up for the rest. Keep it low and aim for 90 FPS or whatever is the native FPS for your headset.

With my Reverb, I use 150% SS and it looks crisp as can be. But you wont get 90 FPS even with a 3090 that way. So you will have to tinker with it based on your graphics card and VR headset.

5. Windows Mixed Reality Settings

Note: The old method of editing the text file has been done away with. Read the new instructions here:

5.1. Motion Reprojection Setting Changes

This beta makes changes to how motion reprojection settings can be managed. Like before, the default.vrsettings file can be modified to specify the reprojection mode to use for all titles. As a reminder, the possible values are:

  • disabled – motion reprojection is never applied.
  • auto – motion reprojection is applied if the running title cannot maintain native framerate.
  • motionvector – motion reprojection is always applied.

Alternatively, if you’re using Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR in conjunction with the latest SteamVR release, you can now use SteamVR to manage motion reprojection settings on a per-application basis. To enable this functionality:

  1. Ensure you’re running a supported version of SteamVR (1.10.28 or greater).
  2. Remove the “motionReprojectionMode” line from default.vrsettings.
  3. In the SteamVR settings, select Video > Per Application Video Settings.
  4. Select the title you’re interested in, and change the motion smoothing option.

5.2. Motion Smoothing Setting

  • Use Global Setting – no application specific override. The global default mode is auto.
  • Enabled – motion reprojection runs in auto mode, applying reprojection if the application cannot maintain native framerate.
  • Disabled – motion reprojection is never applied for the application.
  • Force Always-on – application runs at half-framerate with reprojection.

6. Shader Mods

There are some shader mods you can use to get better performance. What these mods do is simplify shaders for things like the canopy glass, grass, water etc. which improves performance by a fair bit.

7. Windows Settings

Windows Game Mode – Turn this off along with Windows Xbox Game Bar. Also, go to your graphics setting and turn off Hardware Accelerated GPU Scheduling. These settings cause issues. In fact, the latter was preventing my system from achieving motion reprojection when in auto mode.

8. Hardware Guides

At the end of the day, it all comes down to your hardware. There is only so much you can squeeze out of an old lemon. And since DCS is both CPU and GPU intensive, you do need to invest to extract its full potential.

Want the best DCS VR rig? Check out these guides:

About the Author

Gary (Flanker)

Gary has been "hard landing" into runways and driving his Mitsubishi Evo off of cliffs since the early 2000s. These days, he spends most of his precious hobby time with his favorite flight, racing and space simulations in VR. He also has an Engineering Degree in Computer Science which helps a lot with his obsession with optimizing PC hardware like CPUs, Graphics Cards, VR Headsets, HOTAS, Racing Wheels etc. for high end sims.