The wheel is approximately eight inches in diameter and feels solid in your hands. The front-facing buttons are your usual PlayStation 3 fare save the sensitivity and programmable function buttons that are hardware specific. What I really liked were the buttons on the backside of the wheel. The R1/L1 buttons are directly beneath your index fingers’ tips – though I admit that in moments of excitement, I would accidentally tap one of the buttons and temporarily change my camera view. I’m claiming user error on that one. There are also four easily reachable buttons underneath the wheel to provide even more flexibility. Driving with the wheel made the driving experience a treat with its responsiveness and sensitivity. The most impressive piece to me was noticing the difference in tactile feel driving different makes and models of cars in the game.
There are two pedals on the chair to use and like every other input on the chair, are completely programmable. Even though the pedals themselves are made of plastic, they did not feel cheap or flimsy. Overall, they felt sturdy beneath my feet.
Like I just mentioned, the pedals and all inputs can be programmed to whatever button/function you choose. The right and left pedals are the R2 and L2 buttons respectively in the firmware, which I reprogrammed to the accelerator and brake buttons in GT5. Now for the blessing and a curse point – the Racin’ Pro chair is powered through a wired USB cord and does not use batteries. While this is a fantastic conservation of energy, this also means that when you turn off your PS3, all the buttons you reprogrammed are wiped and set back to their defaults. It’s not that programming buttons is difficult on the Racin’ Pro chair, but by my third sitting to play Gran Turismo 5, I was tired of resetting the pedals to Accelerate and Brake.
The chair’s construction is light for portability, but the materials feel solid. To have that level of portability, users will have to make many adjustments to find their driving sweet spot. I spent many a race lamenting the fact that something felt “wrong” and had to wait until the finish to use trial and error to make my experience comfortable. Continuing on the comfort kick, it is obvious that Subsonic did not intend to have people use the Racin’ Pro on a hard wood floor. My house does not have any carpet, so while the cushion under my butt wasn't flimsy, it certainly wasn't enough to sustain me to sit through more than three or four races in one sitting. I finally remedied the situation by putting pillows under the seat to raise me off the ground and cushion my backside. The pedal assembly also leads me to this conclusion. The parts underneath to stop and support the pedals had no effect on the hard wood floor. I suspect the pedal assembly would have been fine on a carpeted floor.
Setting all the tech aside, there is a real feeling of immersion when you are behind the wheel of the Racin’ Pro chair. Of course, the buzzword ‘immersion’ is thrown around a lot these days as some mystical goal for everyone in the industry to attain. What truly defines the experience of using this racing chair is that when I found a comfortable position, I wasn't worried about playing a video game; I was trying to win a race. To me, that is true immersion.
The Racin’ Pro chair by Subsonic has some really great qualities going for it. The wheel is responsive and you really have that tactile feel of driving. The suggested retail price of $199.99 puts this chair at a very competitive price point against other racing chairs in the $350-$600 range. It also has the portability aspect. I admit that I cannot imagine people carting this chair to their friends’ houses that often, but in an age of peripherals clogging up every nook and cranny in our living rooms – being able to fold this up and put it away is a huge advantage. On the flipside, I had a very difficult time finding a comfortable setup and the chair isn't really meant for my living room, which is a huge turnoff. I also had difficulty getting in and out of the chair without contorting my body to slide into place behind the wheel. Lastly, the trouble with the programmable buttons isn’t huge, but it is definitely a nuisance.
Whether the Racin’ Pro chair is for you is dependent on spending flexibility and the setup you have for your PlayStation 3. I will say – all barriers aside – having played Gran Turismo 5 with the Racin’ Pro chair, I did not find moving to a DualShock controller to play even remotely as enjoyable or immersive as when I was behind Subsonic’s wheel. I don’t think I could go back to dual-sticks sitting on my couch.
The Subsonic Racin’ Pro chair is available for $199.99 at the usual suspects for retailers and can be used with the PlayStation 3 and PC. A chair was provided from Fame for review purposes.