X-Plane 11.5b6 Vulkan Testing Results

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.

Flying The I-11 Rating On PilotEdge (In X-Plane 11.5beta3)

This is the I-11 rating on PilotEdge using X-Plane 11.5beta3. The IFR profile for passing this rating is to contact ATC on the ground at Corona, fly the Obstacle Departure Procedure, do at least one lap of the hold at the Paradise VOR, fly the victor airway to APLES, fly the VOR DME RNW 17 “DME arc” approach into Victorville, go missed, then cancel IFR and return to KVCV VFR for landing. To provided added practice I decided to hand-fly this flight (with the exception of the segment between the hold and APLES). Finally, for the first time I bring my ForeFlight display into the scene via screen mirroring, and I hope it adds something for viewers.

Having watched the flight, I am again reminded of the value in being able to go back and critique one’s work. Things go well for the most part, and I have three main observations:

  • I was at first visualizing the incorrect runway for the ODP. Caught it in time, but still. The extended centerlines in ForeFlight are helpful when on an approach, but the “07” on the screen was not helpful in me visualizing the correct departure direction.
  • On short final I look at my charts / iPad which destabilizes the approach (which was already a bit high) – something I would never do in the real world (and an important lesson about simulation).
  • There’s some general sloppiness on the ground that many viewers might not notice, but it comes from not having checklists. I should be using my real-world checklists.

Practice makes permanent, and I believe a sim can build bad habits as well as good. Going “by the book” is important to real-world proficiency, at least for me. Given that at least until Covid-19 restrictions are dropped this is the only flying I’m doing, I’m going to keep focusing on that. Finally, X-Plane 11.5beta3 performs fabulously. This is easily the smoothest, most detailed (scenery, weather, etc.) flight I’ve ever had in the sim. Really great stuff going on at Laminar.

Resources in this flight: https://www.pilotedge.net/ http://c74.net/xplane/_cirrus.html https://forums.x-plane.org/index.php?… https://foreflight.com/

New Video: Olympia To Everett

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.

The PilotEdge I-1 Rating In VR (X-Plane 11.3b5)

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.

An Awesome New Feature On PilotEdge

PilotEdge recently released an update to their X-Plane plug-in and it simulates VHF radio distortion. To this point PilotEdge transmissions were crystal clear unless a user either added their own distortion or, as I do, used real-world headsets (a solution that only distorts my audio and no one else’s). This updated plugin now brings the VHF, “aviation-style” audio to everyone on the network (controllers and pilots), and it’s highly realistic and immersive. What’s more, it’s not just a frequency distortion feature, as the plugin simulates the amount of degradation based on distance, altitude, and terrain. The further away you are, the worse the signal becomes. It’s really very slick.

Available only in the X-Plane version of PilotEdge for now, it will come to the P3D and FSX clients soon. In this flight I demonstrate this new feature with a quick flight from San Luis Obispo to Oceano. The flight also has some VFR traffic in the pattern, which demonstrates how well PilotEdge can simulate airspace and radio work.

Live Stream: Grand Junction To Aspen

Yesterday I flew my first scheduled live stream on YouTube, a PilotEdge flight from Grand Junction to Aspen. This is actually a continuation of my point-to-point flights, but I’ve switched to the JustFlight Turbo Arrow as the Saratoga isn’t a 3D cockpit suitable to VR (that Arrow is fantastic by the way – a really great X-Plane GA bird). The stream worked relatively well, although I’m still suffering from some upload speed issues. The flight goes relatively well. A weather update gives us some sudden IMC conditions, but we quickly get below the cloud deck and change our planned flight path to stay in the valleys. I also blow the approach into Aspen but the controller is good enough to get me back into the pattern. And last but not least, I crunch the landing hard enough to set off the ELT transmitter – I was using the Rift controllers and thought I had my hand on the virtual throttle in the flare but did not. It’s pretty funny to watch. Also, thinking about it now, I kept having to add rudder on the approach thinking it was a cross wind. It wasn’t. I’d used the Arrow’s rudder trim in flight and never trimmed it back. This is why we practice!

We Live In Amazing Times: The Latest Live Stream

Tonight I was able to stream XP 11 directly from the Oculus VR headset, on PilotEdge, while monitoring the YouTube live-stream chat in-cockpit via the Oculus Dash feature. Amazing.

We also toss in a few practice engine-out approaches just for good measure.

Copilots Are A Blast

A good buddy was in town and we had a great time flying in the sim. He agreed to a video, so we made a PilotEdge flight from Haley to Stanley, Idaho. This was a lot of fun, and he did a great job flying the sim, handling the controls from our departing the pattern in Haley all the way to making the landing in Stanley. Thanks for watching.

First-Person View KSBA to KSBP on PilotEdge

First-person view videos are not everyone’s cup of tea. Some love them, and others find they make them nauseous. I like them, and try to make one every six months or so. Here’s the latest, a short hop from Santa Barbara to San Louis Obispo. We make this flight on PilotEdge, and with few interruptions I recorded the entire flight. It also highlights the latest xEnviro release, and the modified lights.txt configuration I posted about earlier. Finally, this is X-Plane 11.1beta4.

PilotEdge Realism

There’s an interesting thread taking place in the PilotEdge forums. Among the responses this caught my eye:

As an instrument-rated commercial pilot and former CFI, I can tell you that IF you can function with ATC on pilot edge for either VFR and IFR flights, you will be able to function with ATC in the real world. There are NO operational or procedural differences between PE and RW air traffic control … The very first time I flew an IFR flight on PE, I did not consult any PE training documents or watch any videos. I just did it exactly the same way I would do it in the real world, and it worked fine.

That’s a pretty awesome testimonial to what Keith Smith and team have built at PilotEdge.