I took advantage of the Orbx launch sale and yesterday downloaded the HD version of the new ORBX True Earth Southern California scenery package. It is excellent. Here’s a long video where I tour the visuals and consider the performance implications of TE SoCal over my prior homemade orthoscenery, with visits to Van Nuys, Oceano, San Louis Obispo, Palm Springs, and Orange County John Wayne. My sense of the performance hit: 5 PFS on X-Plane 11.5beta6 Vulkan, which on a single-screen system with my rig would be about 15 FPS. Your mileage will likely vary. All that said, if you’re using X-Plane and enjoy this part of the world — and if you use PilotEdge in particular — I think this is an excellent product to own (especially for VFR flying).
Yesterday I committed the morning to testing graphics settings in X-Plane 11.5beta6 with three objectives: (1) understanding the performance difference Vulkan gives me over OpenGL, (2) understanding the performance implications of the various graphics settings under Vulkan on my setup, and (3) finding my optimal Vulkan graphics settings under the current beta.
As a reminder, my setup is an Intel i7-6700K 4.0 overclocked to about 4.6, liquid cooled, with 64G RAM and an EVGA GTX 1080ti Black Edition GPU with 11G VRAM. The GPU is running three screens in X-Plane, and four overall, with the motherboard GPU running a fifth screen. Full details are here. All testing was done sitting on the ramp at KVNY in the Jason Chandler SR20 I use in the sim, with Ortho scenery and no plugins. My testing setup was to compare settings in clear skies and in scattered clouds so I could understand their impact. I had a number of crashes along the way — it’s a beta, so this isn’t unexpected.
Overall it was a very interesting morning. Here’s what I learned.
First, regarding OpenGL vs Vulkan, my prior Vulkan settings (HDR, 4xSSAA+FXAA, shadows on, high objects, reflections on first notch, draw aircraft) were producing about 25 FPS on the ramp at KVNY. These same settings in OpenGL produced 13 FPS, and then quickly crashed the sim. So call it a nearly 100% increase in performance, and a big increase in stability. That’s all the OpenGL testing I wanted or needed to do.
Moving on to the testing of Vulkan settings, I reloaded the sim with all graphics settings full-left to establish a baseline performance level. Full-left settings gave me 89 FPS clear skies, 70 FPS scattered clouds. This 20-frame hit from clouds under full-left settings was the largest cloud hit I had in testing, interestingly. With the baseline established, I began adjusting one setting at a time to see its impact on frames. Here’s what I found:
- Visual Effects: Full left 89 FPS, Med 88 FPS, HDR 80 FPS, Max 80 FPS. (I forgot to test clouds here, but more on that later). Conclusion here is that medium is as good as full-left, and moving to HDR costs about 10 FPS. One would think that max right has no impact from this, but with clouds and objects in a later test we will see this isn’t the case.
- Texture Quality: Full left 88 FPS, Max 87 FPS. At max it loaded about 4,100 MB of data, and with my GPU it had no real effect on performance. Others with less VRAM will have other results. Interestingly, when switching other settings (like anti-aliasing or visual effects) the sim would reload textures. There would be a brief frame hit while it did so, but once they were loaded frames would return to prior levels. Conclusion (for my card): Max out the texture quality.
- Antialiasing w/o HDR: Full left 88 FPS clear, 60 FPS scattered. 4x 88 FPS clear, 60 scattered, 8x 80 FPS clear, 55 scattered. Conclusion: 8x costs about 10 frames, and while one would expect a 20-30 FPS hit for clouds on 4x or 8x, later with objects loaded we find this is not the case.
- Antialiasing w/HDR: I only tested 4xAA and up here, as I really don’t like the visuals without it. 4xSSAA 78 clear, 55 scattered. 4xSSAA+FXAA 75 clear, 55 scattered. 8xSSAA+FXAA 53 clear, 50 scattered. Conclusion: with HDR 8x costs about 20 frames, but does not hurt cloud performance.
- Antialiasing w/Max Visual Effects: 1xAA 80 clear, 65 scattered. FXAA 80 clear, 65 scattered. 2xSSAA+FXAA 73 clear, 65 scattered. 4xSSAA 42 clear, 34 scattered. Given that large drop, skipped 4xSSAA+FXAA and went to 8xSSAA+FXAA 16 clear, 14 scattered. Conclusion: Max visual effects has a huge hit at 4x AA and up. Avoid as I can’t run 4x AA at reasonable frames (remember I have no objects loaded or shadows in these tests).
Those are the settings that are GPU-limited. I then turned to the CPU-limited settings (and my system is definitely CPU-limited, given the age of the i7-6700K):
- Shadows: Visual effects and AA full left, no objects, 80 FPS shadows off, 70 FPS shadows on. Max objects: 30 FPS shadows off, 15 FPS shadows on. Conclusion: Shadows have a minimum 10 FPS hit in Vulkan, at least for me.
- Objects: Full left 80 FPS. Low, 60 FPS. Med 45 FPS. High 35 FPS. Max 30 FPS. Conclusion: Deciding to have any objects at all gives the biggest frame hit for me, at 20-25 FPS. After that each increase in objects appears to hit my CPU for a lower number of FPS (15, then 10, then only five from High to Max).
- Reflections: On my rig I only get an FPS hit when reflections are set to the third setting or higher, and that hit is significant (10 or more frames). Conclusion: Might as well use them on the second notch, but never more.
- Parked Aircraft: Did not test as I know they have a negligible effect on my system.
With this testing done I went into final trials of what could be optimized settings for my rig, at least in this Vulkan beta.
- Option 1 high objects no shadows: Visual effects medium, textures max, AA 8x, shadows off, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft: 47 FPS clear, 44 FPS scattered. (Note that with these settings clouds have a minimal hit on frames.)
- Option 2 high objects with shadows: Visual effects medium, textures max, AA 8x, shadows on, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft: 39 FPS clear, 27 FPS scattered. Note the big FPS hit from shadows, and that they made the clouds impact higher as well.
- Option 3 max objects no shadows: Visual effects medium, textures max, AA8x, shadows off, objects max, reflections low, parked aircraft: 30 FPS clear, 27 FPS scattered.
- Option 4 HDR high objects no shadows: Visual effects HDR, textures max, AA2x, shadows off, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft: ~40 FPS clear, ~30 FPS scattered.
My primary conclusions from all this testing are that:
- For me, shadows are not worth the performance hit, even with Vulkan.
- I can run at 8xAA if in medium visual effects.
- HDR is not worth the price of performance it has at higher AA settings, and I will use it only at night when I can turn down the AA and not see the jagged effects.
- I can run at high to max objects if the above are true, and depending on the density of the objects.
Based on these tests I’ve settled on two visual setups, primarily because I find HDR necessary if I’m to enjoy X-Plane lighting at night:
- Daytime: Medium visual effects, 8xAA, shadows off, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft
- Nighttime: HDR visual effects, 2xAA, shadows off, objects high, reflections low, parked aircraft
Given that going from high to max objects only costs me about five to 10 frames with these settings, if I’m not in a highly-populated area I may load with max objects, but these will be the defaults. From a plug-in standpoint, the only graphic plugin I will run on top of these is the FlyAgi Tweak Utility, which is my preferred visual-modification and frame-limiting plugin. I use it with the level of detail knocked down three clicks, which sets the LOD to about 82% (and which is where I like it).
So how do these settings work? To test them yesterday afternoon I did a PilotEdge flight from Palm Springs to San Diego using ortho scenery and the “Daytime” settings above. Visually it was the best flight I have had in four years with the home cockpit. I have a video of the flight below, and I also believe that visually it is the best video I’ve streamed to date (the 1080p60fps stream works very well, and the Vulkan performance is nearly devoid of stutters). Beginning on the ramp at Palm Springs I had 50 FPS. They dropped to about 35-40 during takeoff, climbed back up to 50 en-route, and were at 30 coming over San Diego and at landing. Weather was clear but I know from the testing that clouds would have cost me only about five frames. (Finally, if you watch the video, note that the audio was off for the first 4:20.)
Visual performance in flight simulators is very rig-specific. Your testing may vary widely from what I learned and have posted above. But it also might be helpful to you, even if it you simply follow a similar process. Regardless, it’s clear that Vulkan is going to be a game-changer for X-Plane.
The other day I wanted to have some fun, so I loaded up the Colimata FA-18 in X-Plane VR and flew around the Salt Lake City area some. Performance under X-Plane 1.5beta3 in the sim was very, very smooth, yet I noticed that on the YouTube stream there were all kinds of stutters and judders. Yesterday after work I made another flight (video below) with the intention of testing different settings to see if they made a difference on the YouTube side. I’m sorry to say that the stutters and judders in the YouTube playback are still there. I’ll continue to explore the issue, but it really does ruin the video in my opinion.
That said, flying around the canyons and mountains of Utah in VR at 500 knots is still a ton of fun …
Simulated an IFR flight from Olympia to Everett yesterday in the home cockpit. This is over the ORBX Washington True Earth HD scenery, but you don’t really see much of it because the real weather (using ActiveSky XP) was poor. Route was OLM V287 PAE 7000 ft / RNAV Y 16R on PilotEdge. We go down nearly to minimums on the approach, and have an unexpected icing event along the way. This is X-Plane 11 and a Cirrus SR-20 flight model.
One of the fantastic things about PilotEdge is the significant amount of educational resources they provide, one of which is the “I-Rating” series of training scenarios. I’ve already passed the I-1 rating on PilotEdge but thought it would be fun to fly it in VR (it’s an IFR flight to and from John Wayne using the ILS 20R approach) in IFR conditions. I bring Navigraph maps (I picked up an annual Navigraph subscription this week) into the virtual cockpit via the AviTab plugin, which works well. X-Plane 11.3beta5 eats 11+ gig of my VRAM for some reason, which does not work out well. But we complete the flight nonetheless.
Three thoughts based on this simulated hop: 1) Gotta figure out the VRAM situation, as that’s not good and it’s never happened to me before in X-Plane. 2) IFR in VR was very realistic, especially with the clouds. The Jeppesen charts in the cockpit via AviTab work great, but it’s still quite taxing to manage radios and notes under the headset. This may be a good thing, though, as it creates task saturation, and the realism of VR may make it worth it as it really felt like being under “the hood” real-world. 3) I’m going to plow ahead with the I-Ratings (I’ve done them through I-4 but will do them all starting with the I-1) and their supporting videos as a jump-start on my real-world instrument training. I’ll fly some in VR and some in the physical cockpit and decide which feels like better training and report back.
I took a little sim night flight this evening in VR to Punta Gorda for some pattern work — something I’d scheduled to do tonight in the real world but needed to scrub. I decided to stream it, and watching the YouTube video after the fact I’m still amazed at how great X-Plane can look at night. Incredible.
This is today’s live stream. The majority of the flight was me running through a real-world maneuvers practice flight in the Archer III using VR. I haven’t been able to fly for weeks in the real airplane, so I did this hop just to practice procedures. Then and the end I figured to try out the 747-800 in VR just for fun. That starts at 1:13 or so. I actually manage to land the thing! The ability to fly and interact with different aircraft in real-world proportion is one of the most amazing things about VR technology. If I only knew what all those buttons and dials actually do …
… since my last post, so here is a brief update.
All is well. Just busy. Real-world instruction is coming to its final phases. I’m scheduled for my second solo cross-country this Thursday, and have two night flights set for next week. If the weather cooperates this will fulfill all remaining requirements for my check ride. So let’s hope for clear skies and reasonable winds. If things go that way, I’ll probably do two check ride prep flights and if I’m lucky schedule my check ride before the end of May. Keep your fingers crossed!
Sim time has been spent trying to fly on the PilotEdge network and follow real-world procedures, trying to keep things as realistic as possible with the check ride on the horizon. I’ve also been preferring VR to the physical cockpit as it’s just a more realistic experience for me. In doing so I’ve been flying the Mooney Ovation from point to point using real-world weather, starting in Half Moon Bay and making my way to Wendover, NV so far. Here’s a stream of the latest flight. I think I’ll go on to Salt Lake City from there and you are always welcome to join in.
I upgraded the sim to VR3 last night and found, like several others, that I seemed to get generally better performance. I can run in HDR now with no significant hit compared to non-HDR, and it does seem slightly smoother.
Today, though, I watched the video below, made all of the changes suggested therein, and then had a truly remarkable 2:38 VR flight (yes, two hours, thirty-eight minutes). The sim was buttery smooth nearly the whole time, and this was WITH me streaming it and having the YouTube chat window in the cockpit via Oculus Dash. The flight started at KSPG Albert Whitted, which usually hits my frames pretty hard, but I was running at 45fps throughout. Across the flight I had no “grey flash” moments, judders, or image freezes, save one (when weather re-loaded). Toward the end of the flight I could tell the sim was probably running at 22.5fps for a time, but given that I’d been running it (and chewing through VRAM) for nearly three hours I wasn’t surprised. And after a bit, it improved. Truly a great flight, and I highly suggest taking the 40 minutes to watch his vid.
And for those who want to see the flight, here’s the final 2:00 (it seems YouTube only keeps two-hours worth of streaming video). The flight was a dress-rehearsal for the cross-country I’m set to fly tomorrow real-world. One of the fun things in this flight: about six miles out from my first landing a YouTube watcher suggested via the chat that the airport was closed via NOTAM and that I had to divert. I did, and it was a great example of what to expect from a real-world examiner.