More Thoughts On XP11.5b1 In VR

Today I had a window in my schedule and it was a prime time to do some real-world-quality practice in the sim. I haven’t been in the actual Cirrus SR20 I rent for two weeks thanks to Covid-19, so it’s essential that I use the sim to keep the aviation brain fresh, especially for checklists and IFR procedures.

Fortunately, VR in the vFlyteAir SR 20 is an excellent way to do this, given its very realistic flight and operational model. So today I decided to log on to PilotEdge and simulate a flight under real-world weather conditions from Seattle to Spokane (KSEA to KGEG), filing ZADON ZELAK ZIRAN ZOOMR.ZOOMR1 GANGS. PilotEdge ATC gave me the Seattle 7 departure, so I was able to practice a SID as well, and when arriving in Spokane I shot the RNAV (GPS) Y RNW 8 approach. The vFlyteAir simulation of the Cirrus Garmin Perspective system handles this sort of IFR work reasonably well, with some modifications and concessions compared to the real-world system.

This flight was also over Orbx Washington TrueEarth HD scenery, which is always taxing on my CPU-limited system. For VR settings I selected HDR, FXAA, one notch below max objects, reflections at 1, shadows off. I used VMI-twick to regulate frame rates. To sharpen the image in VR, I used supersampling of 1.6. Weather was multiple levels of scattered and broken clouds. Overall, on the ramp in SEA I was getting 25 frames or so, and they were relatively smooth. At lower frame rates leaving Oculus AWS off provides a smoother experience for me. Once the frames get to 40 FPS, it’s smoother with AWS set to auto. The flight went with no problems at all — no crashes, no significant stutters, no hangs. The system preformed quite well. I find that in these types of scenarios — complex scenery, urban area, big airport, and weather — with Vulkan I just can’t push all the sliders to max in VR. My CPU just can’t take it (the 1080ti hums along just fine). But with them backed off just a bit, the performance is great. In more normal settings, I can up the anti-aliasing quite a bit (and turn off the supersampling). I also suspect the fastest performance I’ve had to date is to turn HDR off, and use supersampling with no anti-aliasing, but the shimmers are just hard to take. It’s clear to me, though, that Vulkan is providing sharper images in the VR headset than OpenGL did — I can read things just fine with HDR anti-aliasing on and no supersampling.

All this is to say that I’m quite pleased. Using VR to stay proficient is now really an excellent option as Vulkan makes the whole thing visually smooth and quite appealing on my system. It was good before, now it’s really good. And as new betas come online, I expect it to only improve.

X-Plane 11.5b1 VR Testing

Here’s a stream with yesterday’s VR testing. It runs very well for me, but if you keep fiddling with the settings it wants to give up and crash. But the performance is very smooth. In some later testing I found that ASW fixed 45 FPS worked best for me.

Beta Update And A Recent Stream

Testing of the new X-Plane 11.5 Beta 1 continues today. I spent some time with VR yesterday, and found it very finicky. But I think this is more about Oculus than X-Plane: since I moved to the Rift-S my Oculus software has been very buggy and unreliable. So much so that I’d pretty much given up trying to use it in X-Plane 11.41. Regardless, what I found yesterday was that I was able to fly VR under Vulkan if I first loaded X-Plane, then loaded into the airport / scenario, then started the Oculus software, then reloaded Oculus from within the Oculus software (I had to do this before 11.5b1), then switched to VR in X-Plane. A lot, but it works.

My experience was that performance in Vulkan was much better than in VR for 11.41. While I still kept objects one notch below max, I flew with shadows on, full reflections, max textures, HDR and had reasonable frame rates with … importantly … few stutters. When anti-aliasing gets too high, though, it gets stuttery, so I stayed around 2x and sometimes 4x. I also found that in non-HDR I only had one eye working in VR. Asynchronous Spacewarp doesn’t seem to help smoothness, and super sampling makes things a bit sharper but comes at a performance price. As some others have noted, the GPS screens seem more blurry than usual in this beta. Today I’ll get to settings that I consider optimal, but overall the experience in VR was great and a significant improvement.

Today is going to be testing day, and I’ve already warned Mrs. Glideslope that I’ll be in “The Hangar,” which is what we now call the closet in which the sim sits, most of the day. Also, with us under stay-at-home orders here in Florida I’m no longer traveling for work or flying in the real world, so I have more time for the sim — and need to spend time in it to remain at least basically proficient in checklists and IFR procedures for my real-world flying. All this is to say that I expect to be streaming more in the coming days. On that note, my streams have been very unreliable ever since I upgraded to the 1080ti GPU. I think I’ve finally resolved those problems (I’ve under-clocked it a bit, and fiddled with some other things), and in a test stream the other day flew for an hour without crashing. So let’s hope that continues. Here is that post-bug-squashing test flight from the other day, and it showcases some of Orbx TE Florida as well. Note that it took a while to get the audio levels right (it’s been a while since I’ve streamed).

The X-Plane 11.50 Beta

I could not resist, so today I backed up my 11.41 install and upgraded to the Vulkan beta. It took a bit to get things working — had to update the XP files a few times to overwrite some of the custom textures I was using as part of my Ortho installs — but after having just done a brief flight my initial report is:

Total game change. With my 1080ti and now-dated quad-core i7 I’m getting 20-25 FPS sitting on the ramp at Oxnard with Ortho, max objects, max reflections, HDR, 4x antialiasing+FXXA, clouds, max textures, draw airplanes, and shadows on. If I go down to 2xAA those numbers go up to 30 FPS. But as soon as I’m off the ground, they go up to 50 or so. Objects as far as the eye can see. Better, though, is the smoothness of the sim. As others on the .ORG have reported, even at 20 FPS the sim is extremely smooth with no stutters that I can see. In 11.41 I would expect to run with no shadows, 2xAA, one notch low on objects, and no reflections and be at right around 20-30 FPS.

One bug I have that’s already been reported has to do with my multiple screens. I have disconnected my GPS screens for now, and the problem resolved itself.

Next step will be to try VR, and to turn on hyper threading not he CPU and see how the sim does with eight virtual cores rather than four physical. But so far, this is a remarkable improvement that I can only assume will improve. Well done Laminar team.

NASA Flyby

A buddy and I went flying the other day to build a little time, and I planned a route up to Daytona, then down to Cape Canaveral so we could request a low pass of the Shuttle Landing Facility. While all of the Cape sits within a restricted area, it’s only active around launches and it was quiet the day of our flight. And while you are not allowed to land at the Shuttle Landing Facility (KTTS), it’s a Class Delta airport much like any other, and you are able to request a low pass from the tower, which they nearly always approve. So we did, and they did.

It was something else to make a radio call that begins with “NASA tower,” and it was even better to set up on the same runway that welcomed so many Shuttle missions home and fly its length at 100 feet. The runway is 15,000 feet long, so even at 130 knots it took a while. One of the remaining Shuttles sits at the field, and the fly by provides great views of the launching pads and the VAB (Vehicle Assembling Building), the giant structure in which the United States assembled rockets prior to launch from Apollo to today. Here are some shots from the day. It was a great flight.

Gateway KTPA For X-Plane

I’m happy to say that the Tampa International I’ve been long working on has been approved by Laminar and is now part of the X-Plane Scenery Gateway. You may download it for free here, and as it’s a Gateway scenery it requires no custom libraries. It should also be in the next update of X-Plane that includes new airports.

The Source Of The Problem?

First, to those celebrating in the States (but really to everyone), happy Thanksgiving and thanks for your support through the past three years.

Those watching my recent VR streams know that I have struggled with performance issues. This goes back quite a time, actually — ever since I got the 1080ti, although they have been worse since I replaced the Rift with the Rift S.

The problem: after loading with great performance, as high as 50-60 FPS in VR, the graphics card after a few minutes goes to 100% load on 3D processing and the frames crater. Even more interesting is that the situation is persistent — once it begins nothing seems to fix it, including turning down sliders.

Today after some significant testing I think I’ve found the source of the problem: hyperthreading. I turned hyperthreading on my PC off, running on the four physical cores rather than eight virtual. (Yes, I already had threading support off in the GPU). While I was at it I also upped my CPU overclock to 4.8 from 4.6, without any real negative effect. And almost instantly the GPU performance improved and stayed rock-solid, as did temps on the GPU core. This is all good news as the situation has been driving me nuts. We will see if it lasts, but so far, it seems that for whatever reason X-Plane, the Rift S, the 1080ti, and hyperthreading were not playing well together.

VR Testing, Traffic Global From Just Flight, And Extended Night Lighting For X-Plane 11

VR Testing, Traffic Global From Just Flight, And Extended Night Lighting For X-Plane 11

Now that I’ve wiped the PC drive, reinstalled Windows 10, and upgraded to 64G RAM, I wanted to begin testing the new PC environment with VR. I’d also been reading about two add-ins for X-Plane 11: Traffic Global from Just Flight (payware), and the extended night lighting scenery download from the .ORG (donationware), and was eager to test them out. Finally, I’d read about some new configuration settings for Oculus Mirror (which I use to stream VR sessions from the Rift S) that apparently create a mirror more representative of what I see in the headset, and less likely to promote motion sickness for those watching, and wanted to test those settings out, too.

So, last night after the kids were in bed, I decided it was testing time. I loaded up the VFlyte SR-20 at KTPA (my custom airport model), activated Traffic Global, and went for a spin. There is a video below, including a random simulator crash at the very end. Not sure what caused it, but it was an X-Plane crash as the PC kept running. Regardless, early impressions are that my VR performance is better — higher frame rates generally, and smoother performance especially using Asynchronous Spacewarp. My impression of Traffic Global is that I’m very impressed. Great injection of real-world traffic, great models and animation, and no real frame-rate hit that I can see. My impression of the extended night lighting scenery is WOW! Beautiful, with lights all the way to the horizon, and again, little to no frame-rate impact that I can see — although I’ll do more testing to get a better sense of that. The image up top is a screen grab of what it produces, and again, here’s a video.

Oh, one final thing: for this video I just used the default Oculus Rift S headset and mic rather than my aviation headset. I think it worked really well, even if it doesn’t sound like an aviation headset. It’s certainly more comfortable.