Well, That Was Frustrating

Thanks to those who joined for the PilotEdge event today. We had a few aircraft go out of KSUN and it was fun to see others on takeoff, and to pass one of you at the same altitude with ATC separation. I rocked my wings in case you were looking.

But on the whole, this was a very frustrating experience in the Rift. Things started off well, even with clouds, and it was really pretty stunning from 9,500 MSL. But for some reason the Rift stopped working about half-way through. Initially I thought it was a USB issue, but I think SteamVR crashed. In trying to fix it X-Plane crashed. I reloaded from Milard to fly in to SLC from there, but the frames were never smooth, even when locked to 45 FPS. I killed the weather and it didn’t help. I searched for other things hitting the CPU in Lasso – MS Edge was running at some points, so lord only knows what was going on behind the scenes. But by the time I was approaching the KSLC downwind it was unusable. Total slide show. I quit it in frustration.

In retrospect, it felt like a memory leak. Performance just slowly got worse and worse. Who knows, but thanks to those who started the flight and I hope you had a great time. When I looked there were 59 people on the network, and long streams of aircraft inbound to KSLC. It was really pretty cool and I look forward to the next one (which will be in February).

Fly With Me Tomorrow On PilotEdge

Fly With Me Tomorrow On PilotEdge

Tomorrow PilotEdge is getting back in the swing of monthly fly-in events with a takeover of Salt Lake City (KSLC), with directions to plan an arrival in the window of 13:00-13:30 PST. They have suggested inbound routes from Phoenix, San Francisco, and Seattle, which are also towered fields in the PilotEdge network.

Given that these are bizjet / airliner routes, I suggested on the PE Discord server a GA / VFR flight set to arrive at the same time: Sun Valley / Haley ID (KSUN) to Salt Lake City (specifically, KSUN BYI OGD KSLC to allow for a little VOR navigation practice). In a 172 that flight should take about 1:45, and in a faster aircraft (I may be in the new JustFlight Turbo Arrow) about 1:20. This should provide some inbound traffic for runways 17/35 at KSLC, which serve the GA side of the field, and may make some of the arrival work a bit more interesting for the controllers handling all those 737s. Should be fun.

If you’ve wanted to do a group flight together, consider joining me. I’ll probably be on the ramp at KSUN around 11:30-12:00 PST / 2:30-3:00 EST. You will need a subscription to the PilotEdge Western US Expansion to make this flight, but given its continually growing coverage, I think that’s money well spent. I will probably fly it in VR to see how well I can actually manage ForeFlight and charts while under the hood, and I might video some of the flight as well. I hope to see you there.

Our First Video From Inside The Oculus Rift

I finally figured out how to capture Rift video using the Oculus Mirror tool and my NVIDIA Experience ShadowPlay feature (it’s actually quite easy, but it did take some research to figure it all out). I also shot some iPhone video up front so folks could see how I have the sensors set in my cabin, and I do two laps at night, one with HDR off and one with HDR on so you can see the difference.

VR settings:

  • SS and AWS / Autoprojection OFF in SteamVR
  • Supersampling 1.5 in Oculus Debug
  • AWS fixed 45 FPS in Oculus Debug
  • Visual effects 4/5
  • Autogen 4/5
  • AA 2/5 No shadows, no reflections
  • 3jFPS plugin set to 46 FPS

These reflect a change from my prior settings. I found that Oculus Debug Tool does a great job of locking the frames at 45 FPS, and this makes both the sim scenery and the Oculus movement very very smooth, especially if I have HDR turned off. As some have noted over in the Facebook VAG group the Debug Tool’s FPS lock doesn’t always seem to “take” when you first turn it on. It may have to do with having the Oculus software running first and launching from within it, but I’m not certain. Regardless, I now have the SteamVR improvement turned off in favor of those in Oculus and I like the results.

I had fun shooting this, and I think it illustrates the quality of the experience in VR. One thing you absolutely cannot appreciate from this, though, is the experience in 3D. I’ll post more on this later, and thanks for watching.


An Interesting Flight: Oculus, At Night, On PilotEdge

Last night I did my first PilotEdge flight using the Oculus. I loaded the sim at Oceano, which had several people online on the ramp and one flying the pattern, with the intention of doing a few laps of the pattern and then heading north over the hills for a lap or two at San Louis Obispo. Real-world weather (scattered 9,000) and time (night). The aircraft was a Piper Cherokee (can’t remember whose, but it has a 3D cockpit that works relatively well in VR).

This flight was interesting, for a variety of reasons. First, the headphones on the Rift come off easily with a few turns of their screw. I took them off and used my real-world aviation headset over the Rift, and that worked fine. As far as the VR experience, frames were silky smooth with no judders using the settings I’ve posted, with the exception of a few long lags where the sim was clearly dealing with data. My instinct is that I have more of these with HDR on than off, but I don’t really know. There were probably four or five of them in the course of an hour flight, and after maybe a five or 10 second delay things resumed without any difficulty.

Regarding PilotEdge, it worked as expected. I also used my real-world kneeboard to see how it would work, and was easily able to peek under my headset at it for frequencies I’d written down and at my phone (which was running ForeFlight). As for running the radios, the Cherokee I was flying has radios that work in VR but they aren’t optimized (you don’t turn the dial with your wrist like you do in the default 172). They worked fine, but I actually powered up my FlightIllusion radio stack and used it for the radios just by feel, and it worked fine (same for the Saitek trim wheel, which is just easier to use for me rather than reaching down between my seats with the VR controller). The key thing, though, is that VR combined with PilotEdge made for an extremely realistic flight experience. Being able to easily look around the ramp and spot other aircraft moving about, and in particular, being able to see other aircraft in the pattern in 3D and hear them on the radios, was remarkably lifelike.

So, too, was the VR experience of flight at night. The darkness of the horizon, my ability to reach up to the ceiling of the virtual cabin and turn the Cherokee’s red night light up or down and have it illuminate (or not) the entire scene, the shadows and light cast into the cabin by lights on the tarmac or passing buildings on final, the darkness of the area surrounding the strip with only its runway lights sitting in a black hole, and then my landing light illuminating the landscape on final — all of this was far more immersive in VR than it is in my physical cockpit. (One comment here: the modified lights.txt file that I’ve been using is too bright in the VR headset, so I went back to the default.)

Same too for the sense of perspective and space. Looking at the field when turning crosswind to downwind, seeing KSBP coming up in the distance on final, checking my distance to the field on downwind – this was all extremely true to life in the VR, even at night. (Perhaps more so as you can’t see any textures.) I didn’t really need to check the map to see when I was at two mile final into KSBP as I could tell for myself based on my real-life flight experience. The motion of the airplane on takeoff and final was also more immersive in 3D VR. On final in particular I “felt” the little movements of the airplane up and down and side to side much more so than in the physical sim cockpit, especially with the crosswind I had going. These landings were much more like real landings to me.

So all of this was really very striking. Craning my head behind me and seeing the 172 also in the pattern at Oceano, whom I had just heard make his downwind call on PilotEdge, with his landing light illuminated. Seeing that same 172 on its departure leg, with its beacon and strobes flashing in the darkness just as would in real-life, not too bright nor too dark, as I flew downwind. The shifting illumination of the cabin. The real-world ATC and radios. The movement of the simulated aircraft through space. I left the experience thinking that, for me, that 3D VR flight combined with a physical yoke, pedals, and trim wheel (and perhaps throttle, although the VR throttle works great), was absolutely a better night-pattern simulation (and for me, training exercise) than I would have gotten from the 2D world brought to life in my physical sim cockpit. If I wanted to work on my night pattern work, I’d reach for the VR headset for sure over booting my real cockpit. And the use of maps, kneeboard, and radios was not nearly as clunky as I thought it would be. A quick peek down my nose or a quick lift of the headset was all it took, and as the tech for brining apps into the VR cabin improves, this too will get easier. (And a quick note to Laminar here: please make it so we can click on a VOR or field in the X-Pad map and get its radio or runway information. You can do this in the non-VR map, and it would make things much easier in the VR cabin.)

It will be interesting to see how long I go before flying in the physical cockpit again. VR has its issues for me. Too much time with the headset on makes my eyes a bit wonky, for one. I can’t fly with a co-pilot, for another. I expect that IFR work (with its charts) would be harder, for a third. But I rarely take long, co-pilot, or IFR flights. And for me, VR with traffic and real radio work over ortho scenery was an amazingly realistic experience. I can’t wait to do it again, and if you have the PC and GPU horsepower and are passionate about flight simulation, I think you really do need to give VR a look.

A Great GA Cockpit Build

Marco has added a fabulous series of posts in the forums about his Cessna cockpit build. He clearly knows his way around a wood shop and has done some really beautiful work. Check it out.

The Rift Is Dialed In

After continued testing and trial, I’ve found settings that work very well for me in the Oculus Rift, with smooth movement and no judders. Sitting at Albert Whitted near Tampa I was getting 90-100 FPS before activating VR and 45+ with it at the default KSPG airport, and 60-70/45 with the custom KSPG (which is much more taxing). Weather was set to real world, with some clouds in the area. The 45 FPS held as I flew around the Tampa area, held when I turned on WorldTraffic 3.0, and held when I went from non-HDR to HDR lighting effects. I did have more pauses and stutters after moving to HDR, though, so I will fly with it at night only. Without WT3 I don’t know that I would have had these, and I also realized my custom KTPA was loading on top of the Tampa scenery package KTPA, so the sim was managing two large airports on top of each other. But the flying was great, and I’ll be using these settings going forward. And it was really great to experience a big airport with traffic moving around in VR.

After reading a number of posts online at the Facebook Virtual Aviation Group, I decided to run without the Oculus app running (set the Occulus app to “Run As Administrator” and it will stop loading whenever the Rift is active) and without OTT or the Oculus Debug too, and instead only use SteamVR. I figure the fewer the software layers involved the better. Here are my settings (and remember I’m running an i7 6700 clocked to about 4.6 and a 980TI also overclocked just a bit):

  • In SteamVR:
    • Developer Tab: Supersampling set to 2.0 and Advanced Supersampling Filtering ticked ON (I picked 2.0 on a lark, and don’t know how high I can go with this yet)
    • Performance Tab: Allow asynchronous reprojection and Allow interleaved reprojection ticked ON (this was important – when I turned these off I had judders galore)
  • In the X-Plane Graphics Tab:
    • Main monitor set to 1280×720 – I figured by downscaling the main monitor I’m saving processing power for the VR headset (this may or may not be the case, but I’m happy with the results)
    • Visual Effects set to middle setting (one below HDR)
    • Texture Quality set to Maximum (one below highest setting)
    • Antialiasing off (I didn’t miss it with the supersampling, although adding AA didn’t hit frames that much; when I turned on HDR visual effects I set AA to off)
    • World Objects set to High (one below max)
    • Reflection Detail at lowest setting
    • Draw Shadows On Scenery set to off
  • In the 3jFPS plugin (a must-have, in my opinion) I ran the wizard and set it to keep frames at 50, which I figure will keep me at or above 45 FPS most of the time. I still had a world full of objects even with the plugin running.

Ironically, those settings are quite close to what I ran with in non-VR. But the important thing was that I was getting 100 FPS sitting at the default Albert Whitted, and I do believe setting the main monitor to 720p had something to do with that. The only downside was that it moved all my icons around on my desktop! Next step is to try the VR on PilotEdge …



Oculus Fourth Impressions

Today I did two things with the Rift: flew in DCS (Digital Combat Simulator), and flew in a Piper Warrior II (my old trainer) from my old home strip (KOQN) in X-Plane 11. Thoughts on each …

DCS was great. Easy setup and ran right out of the box. I only have the default aircraft and areas, and nothing in the default fighter is clickable, but the headset and controllers worked fine. Graphics were great with no stutters or juddering. The effect is jaw-dropping, and I felt a little shudder of spatial disorientation more than once. Looking around the cockpit is an incredible experience, and I can’t wait to get more into DCS in the coming weeks. Expect more posts about that here soon.

But while the DCS flights were fun, it was the pattern work in the VR headset at my old strip, in a Warrior II with a 3D cockpit like the one I used to fly there, that was most interesting. I flew three laps of the pattern. All I can say is that it was almost just like the real thing, and a MUCH more realistic experience than flying those patterns in the real basement sim cockpit. Why was this? First was still being able to use a physical yoke and pedals. For me being able to physically “hold onto the airplane” is important to the realism of the flight. Second was having the VR cockpit panel and controls very well aligned to the physical yoke (using the process I described in this post), which meant the visual matched the expected physical quite well. Third was having a quality, 3D, clickable cockpit of the same airplane I used to fly. I could look down and pull up the virtual flaps handle, just like I used to. In fact, the virtual cabin was so good that I used the virtual throttle rather than my real one.

But most important was the sense of space, distance, and perspective that the 3D virtual environment affords. Very often in my physical cabin I would look out the left or right-hand window (right for KOQN as it’s right traffic) and the field just would not look the same as in the real world – it would not look as high, or have quite the right perspective. While the pattern is still much easier to fly in the “one front, two sides” monitor configuration I have in the sim, it never quite looked the same as real-world. I couldn’t really put my finger on this before, but now having flown in VR the same pattern that I flew so many times in real life, it’s absolutely obvious to me. For all intents and purposes, flying the pattern in VR was almost exactly like it was in the real world – the only exception being that the Warrior in the sim climbs a bit quicker than the real one, and I flew the pattern a bit faster than in the real world (abeam the numbers came up a bit faster than it seemed to in the real bird). But especially with orthophotos underneath, flying that pattern was almost just as I remembered it, as was the landing.

Based on that experience I have come to a pretty interesting conclusion – for pattern work, and probably maneuvers as well, I think the VR headset with a physical yoke and pedals probably provides a better simulated training experience than the physical cabin. I know, and I can’t quite believe I’m writing that. Now let’s be clear – I’m not anywhere near ready to sell the cockpit, and I’m going to fly the VR on PilotEdge later today to see how workable the radios really are. But those laps of the pattern in the headset really struck me. It was so much like the real thing, with a cabin and panels like the real thing, and scenery based on the real thing, and performance close to the real thing, that for me I have to believe it would be better virtual practice for pattern work and maneuvers (at least) than the basement sim. It may be for emergency procedures as well, and I’ll run some to see how it feels (although there will be no checklists to hold, at least not so far). We’ll see how things continue over the next couple of days, but it has me shaking my head yet again.

Oculus Third Impressions

I upped the OTT Supersampling to 1.6 and it seems to have not hurt performance at all and makes things sharper. Things are running very smoothly on the settings described in the prior post, and I was able to run things at night with HDR and basic AA in the sim at about 45 FPS. HDR night lighting on the ramp at KSBP blew my MIND. SOOOOO good looking! A few judders, but so what? I’ll turn HDR off during the day and on at night.

I also did a quick flight in the default MD 80. HOLY COW! Such scale! So many things to look at in the cabin! And not any harder on frames than the 172, really. It was so cool it’s hard to describe. Now that things are dialed in my mind is officially blown. And this is only the first beta. It’s pretty hard to believe …

UPDATE: Seriously. I am sitting here shaking my head over this. It’s really pretty astonishing …