VFR Photo Scenery for X-Plane
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VFR Photoscenery
For X-Plane 10 Developed by RC Simulations, published by Flight1 Simstop
Reviewed by Joe Lawford
October 2012

Introduction

When X-Plane 10 was launched the scenery was given quite an overhaul, the new scenery uses data from OpenStreetMap to create a base for "a plausible world" which means it kind of looks real, but it isn't. The cities, for example, are built by an artificially-intelligent city-planning algorithm.
Most VFR pilots like to go sightseeing, following major roads, rivers and coastlines usually on some cross-country jaunt with aeronautical charts in hand. Using X-Plane 10 in its native form really wouldn't be giving you that real world experience. This is where photoscenery comes in.

VFR photoscenery has been around for years, even for X-plane, the original series for X-Plane 9 was developed by RC Simulations and has always been a popular product.

So what is new with this product from Flight1? Well, it is still developed by RC Simulations but it is has newly re-mastered set of aerial images. The data is supplied by Getmapping PLC at a 1 meter-per-pixel resolution draped over a 10 metre mesh derived from data from Intermap Technologies Inc.
  spot the difference
Spot the difference

Availability & Scenery Coverage

This is a boxed product only, the smallest edition is 45Gb spanning 3DVD's. There are 4 volumes available covering the whole of England and Wales. These four volumes are also available as a 15DVD boxed set at a discount equivalent to getting one area free. The product is for sale on-line from SimStop. 

England and Wales are split up into the following regions
  Volume One - South East England brings thousands of square miles of pastoral tranquillity, coastlines and the teeming metropolis of London.

3 DVDs containing 45Gb of Scenery.
  Volume Two - South West England &South Wales features the beauty of Devon and Somerset, the ruggedness of Cornwall and the majestic valleys of South Wales.

3 DVDs containing 45Gb of Scenery.
  Volume Three - North Wales, West Midlands & North-West England allows you to explore some of the most dramatic coastline, the tranquillity of the Lake District, or the stunning peaks of the Pennines.

4 DVDs containing 60Gb of Scenery.
  Volume Four - East Midlands & North-East England lets you take in this massive region and the sights of Hadrian’s Wall, the haunting Yorkshire Moors, the Lincolnshire Fens or the tourist town of Scarborough.

4 DVDs containing 75Gb of Scenery.
  Boxed Set - All four volumes, 15 DVD's, 225Gb of scenery.

Requirements & Minimum Specifications
Although this product is mostly touted at X-Plane 10 users, it will also work on X-Plane 9.6 and above.

Windows PC or Apple Mac  
Operating System PC - Windows 7, Vista or XP (32/64 bit)
MAC - Tiger (Mac OS X v10.4 or later) Recommended Snow Leopard Mac OS X v10.6)
Processor PC - 2.0Ghz Dual Core (Recommended 2.8Ghz Quad Core)
MAC -  2.0Ghz Dual Core or better
Memory 2Gb (Recommended 4Gb)
Hard Drive 45 - 75 Gb free space (Depending on region installed)
Graphics Card PC - 256Mb (Recommended 1Gb)
MAC - 128Mb (Recommended 512Mb)
DirectX Version 9.0c or higher (PC only)

Installation
The installation is well-engineered, all I had to do was ensure I had already installed the default scenery for the UK before starting the process.

The manual recommends a defrag (Not you SSD users!) before and after installation. I can certainly recommend this when installing such a huge amount of data.

The installer didn't detect where X-Plane was installed on my system it defaulted to C: It's simple enough to browse to your installation folder.  The pre-installation summary, shown to the right, is a neat idea and assures you that the installation will go ok.

Unlike it's FSX counterpart, you do not select the level of detail you want to install, the scenery is installed in it's entirety.

As you can imagine, it takes quite a while to unpack all the data and you have to be present as the system will prompt you for the next DVD when required. This is a good time to read the rest of the manual!
 

User Manual & Setup

One thing to like about boxed products is the printed manual, even the smell of the ink is nice!  24 pages of useful and interesting information. I nearly always learn something new about flight sim configuration.

The manual will guide you through the installation as above and move onto settings that need to be changed in the rendering section of X-Plane. Advice is also given on optimising the performance by way of changing graphics card settings like Anti-Aliasing (AA) and Anisotropic filtering (AF). Essentially, a higher AA setting will remove the jagged edges and the AF will sharpen details that fade away into the distance.

You may already be familiar with graphics card set up but it's good to have the extra information to hand.

Ok, now we have her installed, how does she look, how does she perform?

Level of Detail

At 1 metre per pixel resolution and a 10 metre mesh, I was expecting vistas as good as if not better than its FSX/FS2004 counterparts. Using tiles at 2048 x 2048 helps to get a better resolution at lower levels but it won't be pin sharp. Let's face it, unless you are pausing the program to look around at the detail of, say, parked cars, this is not going to be a problem. I could certainly recognise all my local landmarks and points of interest.

heading for the mountains
Heading for the mountains
snowdonia
Snowdonia
snowdonia 2
Snowdonia 2
mountain lakes
Mountain lakes

What first struck me was the saturation of the colour in the textures, they look far more natural than other versions using the same source data.  Also the detail in the distance seemed clearer. I am led to believe that this has a lot to do with the way the X-Plane graphics engine processes the data. All I can say it looks great.

check out your local town
Check out your local town
detail in the distance
Detail in the distance

I came across a few aberrations in the scenery, but in such a vast area I sort of expected that. A lot of work has gone in to aligning the runways with the photoscenery and I had no problems at all with runway placement.

One thing I did learn is that you must turn off your sloped runways (The manual says this is a user preference) in the rendering options as this scenery is not compatible with that feature and runways will slope in steps or possibly ravines if not unchecked.  This is a known issue and not for lack of trying, RC Simulations advise that there is no development kit available for X-Plane 10 to "iron" the problem out.

vista 1
Vista 1
vista 2
Vista 2
vista 3
Vista 3
my new desktop picture
My new desktop picture!

Some people may not like the flattening effect that photoscenery has but it acts as an excellent base for 3D objects and trees. Indeed, if you wanted to place some generic buildings and plant some trees then you can use the freeware OSM2XP along with Openscenery X  and generate and place accurate 3D objects. It made a big difference to my enjoyment but you can't do the whole scenery volume at once, you have to do it in smaller regions.

Add your own trees
Add your own trees
And buildings too with OSM2XP
And buildings too with OSM2XP

Now I am flying with great quality photoscenery and very acceptable trees too!

Performance

Performance wise, I cannot imagine anyone having a problem running this software, if anything, It will make for a smoother flight experience. Even flying at low altitude I had no stutters, even more impressive are those distance textures don't seem blurry in the distance.

To the simulator, the fact that you are flying over central London will make no difference to performance to, say, to flying over the sparse moors so you can be assured that the overall experience will remain constant.

If you do go the trees and objects route, then you may have to compensate in the rendering settings, but I have my settings on maximum with no problems. I must point out however, the manual advises that if you have the detail level set at a higher level that your machine can't cope with, and you load up straight into a flight, then X-Plane may crash.  My advice would be start at a medium setting and build up. 

Night / Seasonal textures

There is only one season, I would put it about late summer and no night textures. 

The creation of night textures would require every tile to be duplicated, darkened and light spots manually added.  This would increase the disc space dramatically and not be cost-effective.  One could argue that you shouldn't be flying VFR in the dark anyway!


At dusk and dawn there is just enough brightness to navigate but you are better off getting a cup of coffee and watch the sunrise or sunset.

Water masking

The coastal regions are fabulous, the colours are just right, I could could spend all day flying around the coast with the sun glistening off the water, you can't help but daydream of taking a dip! 

The water colour of estuaries, large rivers and inland lakes are very acceptable too. I didn't come across many larger water areas that weren't textured correctly.
estuary
Estuary
mud banks
Mud banks
flying up the estuary
Flying up the estuary
lake district
Lake district

Overall, the water textures are a definite selling point, the coastlines are superb with beautiful detail and colouring and the inland lakes and waterways are well detailed and positioned too.

Value for money

As mentioned above, this product is a four for three deal, it doesn't get much better than that unless you can find a sale on somewhere.

If you are saving, you could buy one volume at a time, but that would be far less cost-effective.



Verdict



This is a very classy product. If you are serious about expanding your X system for the UK then this is the way to go.

The colours are natural, the detail is high and the performance exceptional, I would definitely recommend it.

    • Level of detail:
    • Performance:
    • Quality of buildings (if applicable)
    • Documentation:
    • Value for money:
9.0/10
9.0/10
na/10
9.0/10
9.0/10





Final Mutley's Hangar Score 9/10


Joe Lawford
Review machine Spec:
Core i7 Extreme 965 @ 3.6 Ghz | 12Gb Corsair DDR3 Ram |GTX690 Graphics |Windows 7 64bit