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).
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 …
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.
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).
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.
Was able to take a nice long flight on Friday and knock out the remaining minutes of my solo cross-country requirement. It was a beautiful day for flying. The 172 I fly was booked so I took the Archer.
Yesterday I was able to download and install (on my own dime, not as a promotion) the new True Earth Great Britain South scenery from Orbx for X-Plane. I had posted about this upcoming scenery earlier in the month, along with some Orbx screen caps. It looked fantastic, and in all candor this was an announcement I’d been waiting some time to see. I used Orbx scenery extensively when I used P3D, and while the ability to create your own photorealistic scenery in X-Plane (for free) is a huge asset, as is the availability of HD mesh (also for free), there’s nothing quite like photo scenery, mesh, and landmarks created by someone who’s really doing it with intention.
And after spending about 90 minutes kicking the tires on the scenery in VR yesterday, I can say without hesitation that Orbx has created an amzaing product for X-Plane. I streamed that VR flight online, and it’s posted below. It was my first flight in the scenery, and we started in London, in part to find out what it does to my frames, optimal settings, etc. So if you choose to watch the video, know that much of the first 40 minutes or so are me trying different settings, re-loading the scenery and X-Plane, etc. Summary of the London experience? Really hard on my frames in VR, although people in the comments noted that it seemed to be much easier on frames in their physical cockpits. So perhaps it’s something about the VR rendering. It was not unflyable — nothing is unflyable if you compromise your settings — but to have what looked like a natural draw distance of objects, and a decent density to my taste (one notch below full on the object slider), my frames were really being tested. I can tolerate it, but it doesn’t make me eager to spend a lot of time flying around London (at least not until I upgrade my PC and video card).
We also ported to three other locations, though, and that experience was spectacular. Good-looking tiles, fantastic color-correction of the ortho scenery, trees everywhere (and of many different varieties), fantastic autogen buildings, gorgeous blending of the water textures on the seashore, and many, many custom local objects just where they should be — with highly flyable frames (at least on my rig). It was nothing short of thrilling in VR, and it looks good at all times of day (including at night, with all kinds of unique strobes, flashing red lights, etc. on different objects).
Summary: If you like to fly GA, this scenery is a must have. GB Central and North are next, and then Orbx plans to move to the US. And if you are tracking the path of X-Plane scenery development, all I can say is that Orbx have done it. The future is here.
Video and screen caps from the video are below.
… 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.