Thursday, October 20, 2016

F-35 Avionics Update to version 3.16 (PREPAR3D ONLY)


Following user feedback I have been working on small updates to the F-35 project. As some of you are aware of, the source files have been lost, so - while I am slowly rebuilding them - some of the cahnges requested cannot be implemented.
I will not have much time to work on the F-35 for a little while, so here is a small .zip file that contains some minor improvements to the F-35 avionics:


Installation: the .zip file contains two folders (F-35_MFD and Tactical) - copy and paste these folders included in the .zip file into the F-35A\panel folder and allow the existing files to be overwritten
The typical location is C:\Program Files (x86)\Lockheed Martin\Prepar3D v3\SimObjects\Airplanes\F-35A\Panel\

NOTES: THIS UPDATE APPLIES ONLY TO THE PAYWARE F-35 VERSION FOR P3D - Do not use it on other versions, or in FSX!

Changes are as follows:

Version 3.20
- Fixed a bug in all previous version that made it so that Air-to-air track no.3 was rendered in a wrong position on the radar screen
- As reported by user Ariel, changed the power up order of the MFD screens. Now the RIGHT MFD will power up first (on Battery power only) and the LEFT MFD will power up second (on generator power).
- Changed ENG page so that FF, HYD1 and HYD2 are reported as digits rather than "bars" - this should be the same as real life (reported by user Ariel)
- Changed FUEL page so that fuel quantities in tanks are reported in pounds rather than in gallons - again this should be the way it works in real life (reported by user Ariel)

Version 3.16
- Fixed a bug in version 3.15 which prevented the air-to-air radar functions to work as intended in Tacpack
- Fixed minor bug in FCS code

Version 3.15

- Solved minor graphic flaw when the Function Access Buttons are SWAPped
- Restored "virtual speed brakes" indication in FCS page
- Implemented FAB-fuel function - fuel quantity, is now reported as magenta bars in the FAB section, Joker and Bingo are reported as white lines.
- Fixed position of transfer pumps in the FUEL page
- IPP switch now also drives engine starter (in reality, the switch has three positions: OFF-AUTO-START and should be spring loaded to the AUTO, in the sim it is just OFF or START)
- Left half of the MFD works on battery power only, Right half does not (as in reality) - when the generator is not working, the right MFD will turn off
- Increased startup time for both halves of the MFD to 15 seconds (as in reality)
- TFLIR and DAS now require generator power to run
- A/S and Tacpack radars will not work unless engine is running

You can download the .zip file by clicking HERE

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Virtual Reality at home... Impressions after one week with the HTC Vive...

I have been playing with the HTC Vive for a week now, and I really like it... so I thought it may be useful to give my impression on this whole Virtual Reality hype, especially for those who may be considering to purchase it.

First, it is not cheap. You need a good computer to run it, and my 3770k with a GTX970 is barely considered sufficient. Then the headset... in Italy it is 599€ for the Oculus Rift and 849€ for the Vive, plus taxes and shipment.
The two headsets have similar resolution and characteristics, but while the Oculus ships with an XBox 360 controller, the Vive comes with two "motion tracking" controllers... which are really nice and work well - but at first they look quite strange. The other big difference is that the Vive supports full "room-scale" VR, which means that you can actually stand up and walk through your room - up to 5m x 5m.
The last big difference (maybe not that big for us simmers) is the software availability - while both can work with software distributed in other ways, the Oculus has its own store, while the Vive relies on Steam (which also has a VR mode). The Oculus at the moment has more games and in general a better support - and its content is (supposed to be) locked, so you cannot play it with the Vive...although of course you can find hacks on the internet for this.
Reason why I picked the Vive over the Oculus is simply that, apart from being a simmer, I am also a technology enthusiast and a gamer... and I really liked the idea of room-scale VR. If you plan to use your helmet only, or mostly, for simulations (that means for "seated" experiences), the Oculus is perfectly fine and significantly cheaper.

The only word of warning on the Vive is that if you want to use it a room-scale, you need to have 2.0mx1.5m minimum free space, although some applications require 2.4x2.4 or more - I had to move some furnitures to make room for it - by the way there is a safety "chaperon" feature that will prevent you from hitting the walls by projecting virtual walls when you are getting too close to the real ones...very well implemented IMHO.
You will also need to drill some holes in your bookshelves or walls to fasten the two motion sensors.
Then...after the setup (which takes one hour or more) comes the magic. You are literally transported in the virtual world. You can walk, kneel, jump look around and you really "feel" you are there. The biggest drawbacks are:

- the resolution is not great: 1080x1200 per eye...not enough to read some instruments.

- if there are "judders" (which may be due to both the software implementation and/or the hardware) you may feel a little dizzy...this can become motion sickness if you use it for too long.

- Anything less than 60-90 frames per second may induce motion sickness... which happens (of course) more often in softwares like flight simulators. You may want to avoid too much acrobatic flying at 15-20 frames per second...

Here is what I tried, in no particular order:


The latest version of Prepar3d has native support for the HTC Vive, along with the Oculus. Unfortunately, the implementation is not great - apparently there is no Asynchronous Time Warp nor any other technique to prevent judders... so the experience is shaky and a little unpleasant.
On the good side image is well filtered looks good... let's hope that P3Dv3.5 has a better implementation.

PREPAR3D v3.4 with FlyInside P3D

Now, there is this nice software called FlyInside, available for both P3D and FSX, which not only renders the simulation with Asynchronous Time Warp, but also provides a number of functions and shortcuts to operate the simulator within the virtual environment. Albeit the image quality is a little more jaggy than the default P3D support, the difference is day and night. The experience is much smoother and you can actually enjoy flying in the virtual cockpit with an unprecedented level of immersion. Also, you can use it in Avatar mode too... and walk around your aicraft (albeit this mode is a little buggy especially if you hop-on, hop-off the aicraft a couple of time).

NOTE - FLYINSIDE P3D has some issues with  Tacpack experimental features (HMD and TFLIR imaging)... the HMD will not work as intended, and TFLIR sometimes works and sometimes not. It may be better to turn those features off.


The magic of FlyInside works very well with FSX too... and it is even more valuable given that FSX does not support Virtual Reality natively. Also, the performance is really good and is smoother than P3D - although P3D has better shadows that result in a more realistic image rendering...


As per my previous post, I also tried AEROFLY FS 2... And I was not super-happy as I thought. Sure the frame rates are stellar, and there is native support of the Vive... but, at least on my configuration, the head tracking suffers from occasional judders... resulting in a little discomfort in some flights. Still, cockpits are amazing - and so is the scenery. 


Assetto Corsa does not support the Vive, but, as I said, there is a hack on the Internet which allows you to use Oculus compatible games with the Vive. It works great...and you can even walk out of the car and be amazed by the level of detail of the modeling. No judders - very smooth performance and amazing immersion. 


We simmers have an headstart with respect to the rest of the "gaming" population... we have been building virtual cockpit for years, and it is awesome to finally "feel" there. But Virtual Reality has a huge potential for games and education. The Lab (directly from Valve) is a collection of mini-games / experiences that will make you fully appreciate the potential of these devices. Some of the games are really funny... but the whole interaction with The Lab is amazing. Really cool - try it (it's free)!


Yes, there is a official free minigame of Star Wars. Yes you can wield a lightsaber (cool!)...but the game is disappointingly short. Just few minutes and it's done - and not much of a challenge. It is free, but I unistalled it immediately.


Another free game, Quanero is a cool experiment in storytelling... basically you are a CSI guy in a futuristic bar in which a bomb exploded and a guy has been killed. You can rewind the time and look around and your scope is to find who has done what. Really cool and quite well done... it suffers a little from the fact that it is an indie games and so some 3D assets are not top-notch... but don't get me wrong, it is well done and a very interesting experiment.

I made a quick test just to see how difficult it would be to develop virtual reality experiences... and a look at the Unreal Engine VR support. It is quite good - and it would be possible to create something in a reasonable time...unfortunately, there is my real life job...


Well... it is a lot of money, and a pretty cool technology. Strictly speaking of flight simulation it offers an unparalleled level of immersion. For the first time in my life a computer program made me feel into the cockpit. It is great...unless you do a lot of IFR, then the resolution is a problem. Also, if you plan to use it with FSX/P3D you will have to face the poor frame rates - even with the magic of FlyInside you may feel a little uncomfortable.

The best things is to try before you buy. Don't get me IS AMAZING. But it is also very expensive and my guess is that, in a couple of yearsm these devices will have better resolution and cost less.

In any case, Virtual Reality is probably the next big thing in home entertainment.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

AeroflyFS 2 - First impressions

Yesterday I invested some money into an HTC Vive... Yes I am one of the early adopters which pay a lot of money for a new technology that will be outdated, or cost half that money, in a year or so. Fact is that I believe that, at this point, flight simulation developers should really start looking into virtual reality. The helmet will arrive in a few days and I cannot wait to test it.

Now, given that I know in advance that I will be disappointed by FSX/Prepar3D due to the insufficient frame rate, I have also decided to buy Aerofly FS 2 - as it should deliver a convincing VR experience.
For the few that may not know it, Aerofly FS 2 is the new version of a simple flight simulator developed by a Swiss company named IPACS.
In this new version, you can fly over a photoreal scenery that depicts a large portion of the south-western United Stated (mostly California, Nevada and Arizona) in a variety of aicrafts - from the classic C172 to the Boeing 747.

As I have read some enthusiastic reviews saying this is "awesome", "the next big thing in flight simulation" and "way better than FSX/P3D" here are my two cents for people that may be considering buying this.

General thoughs

First and foremost, this "simulator" is clearly meant to give you the "illusion" of flight, rather than simulate an aicraft in a complete and realistic fashion.
The "illusion" of flight is the weak spot of FSX for one big reason, IMHO... and it is frame rate. With just a few good addons, FSX and P3D can easily fall below 25-30 frames per second... and you can say goodbye to the illusion of flying. We got used to it - and we still use it for its fantastic add-ons and its the flexibility... but let's face it. In terms of frames per second, it is rarely as good as you want it.

Back to AeroflyFS 2, I should also say in advance it is the "Early Access" stage - which means you can buy it although it is still being developed. Now, even if the developers claim that, over time, the simulation will be as complex as FSX/P3D or XPlane, at the moment it is not. Actually it is far away from them... but you may not care (let me explain why below!).

Installation and Setup
The biggest hassle of the installation process is the download... 30Gb for the base software and another 65Gb for an optional, free upgrade that will enhance the texture resolution away from the airports.
Once the download is finished... you just need to setup you joystick (extremely easy) and you are good to go. May be you need to spend another 30 seconds looking through the options.
The interface is very simple, although it is inherited from the tablet version of Aerofly 2 and this shows... all in all if you are frustrated by the difficulty of configuring FSX or P3D, this is a much pleasant thing (...this also means you do not have much control over the sim of course)

In general, the 3D modeling is good - both for cockpits and external views. It is fair to say that it is significantly better than the default FSX aicrafts... but do not believe people that claim it is on pair with the best FSX/P3D addons.
Flight models are very basic - definitely not good if you want realism... but they are very easy and forgiving so beginners, or people who just want to fly around, may like it.
System modeling also is pretty basic but varies a lot from aicraft to aircraft. However if you compare the best of these with "out-of-the-box" default FSX aircrafts, they are not that bad.

In terms of modern military planes, there are two: the F/A-18 Hornet and the Airmacchi MB-339.

The Hornet looks good, although the VC has its weak spots... does not handle in a very realistic fashion IMHO, but I guess it will be OK for people just wanting to buzz the tower... The most disappointing aspect are the cockpit systems: HUD works, and so do the steam gauges... but apart from that there is a basic HSI and an even more basic moving map. Pretty much everything else does not work.

The MB.339 is modeled very well (but no Frecce Tricolori livery!!!! WHY?), and flight model is easy and forgiving. Systems are pretty basic too...but the aicraft has no complex avionics, so most people will not notice it.

Unlike FSX or P3D the main scenery is photoreal. No vectors, no landclass...just a big photoreal scenery covering California, Nevada and Arizona. The imagery is VERY sharp.
Some areas, like San Francisco and Las Vegas, do feature buildings and some vegetation... but coverage is limited. Same thing applies to airports... some are quite detailed, and some others are not. It is still WIP... so let's see. But at the moment, it is much like if you use BlueSky scenery with FSX. the way, the water is a "still picture" (no waves or reflections) and there is no traffic. Also, the night lighting is limited to airports and the custom buildings... the photoreal base is "day only".

Graphic engine and performance
Unlike most other games, the graphic engine is based on OpenGL. And the initial impression is that the performance is AMAZING - on my machine (3770k and 970) it easily and constatly exceeds 100 frames per second - and maybe even much more. Flying is super smooth and the scenery looks incredibly sharp. NO BLURRIES and incredibly crisp textures. Good job. it is waaaaay better than P3Dv3, for example? is not a like-for-like comparision. P3Dv3 has a more sophisticated shadow engine (e.g. no cloud shadows here!), water features, traffic, complex avionics etc. etc.
To make a like for like comparision, you should take P3Dv3, take off all shadows except cockpit and aicraft, use only BlueSky or Megascenery add-on and turn off any traffic and any other addon...and then use a simple aicraft, like my own MB.326. Which I did.
In this case, on my machine, the frame rates is between 40-70 (as usual varies a little) - while Aerofly was definitely much smoother - and with sharper textures.

I understand why some people like this. No installation or setup issues. Solid and exceptionally smooth frame rate. No thinkering with configuration and dozens options. No need to worry about flight manuals, procedures, systems, traffic or anything. Just jump into a plane and fly.
If that is what you always wanted from FSX I think you will like this a lot.

You will also like it if you are looking for a nice VR experience - in this case, as you will not be able to operate complex systems anyway, some of its shortcomings become negligible - and the smooth performance is a major plus.

...but, if you are looking for a highly realistic and complex simulation - look elsewhere (or wait). In its current state delivers a visually appealing and smooth flight "experience", but nothing close to what other simulator can deliver in terms of realism and fidelity.

Long story short: the simplicity and the amazingly smooth performance are the strong points of this simulation. If you are looking for those, you'll like AFS2.

MB339 cockpit is modeled very well...definitely the best 3D cockpit for this aicraft around.

MB339 over the Sierras.... external model is pretty good, but there is no Frecce Tricolori livery!

Most airports are quite basic, but some offer a decent amount of 3D detail.

Some of the largest cities have the major building modeled in 3D as well as some 3D detail (like the trees in the picture) - Las Vegas depicted.

C90 King Air cockpit - in general the quality of the cockpits is high. You may argue that some systems are missing, but really if you compare AFS2 aircrafts with default FSX aircraft there is not much difference.

Pitts over the Grand Canyon - the photoreal textures are much more "crisp" than in FSX, and NO BLURRIES. The Grand Canyon is a spectacle to behold.