410: Should I … X-Plane?

by Michael Basler (http://michael-basler.net)

Michael is a veteran flightsimmer, who started playing Flight Simulator 4 back in 1991.   About 2 weeks ago, while we were discussing various issues regarding compatibility of my FIP gauges in X-Plane, an idea of inviting him to write a guess piece for his impressions and thoughts on the new X-Plane 11 came to my mind suddenly.   Thanks Michael and here’s the piece.

xp11_logoAt first: No, I am not one more X-Plane evangelist trying to persuade you to “convert”.  But I don’t think it hurts to look what’s going on elsewhere.

At second: Do you think this is misplaced at FSX Times?  It’s not – as you’ll find below.

Honestly, I like Prepar3d3 quite well, as a pure GA flyer mostly for the visuals, even though I could do without a few “features”: The hard-coded LOD limit, the sharp autogen boundary, stone-aged navigation and runway data…  You won’t miss these in X-Plane, but – you guessed it – might get a few other annoyances in exchange.

Besides, comparisons like these are pretty unjust at this point.  Let’s face it: XP11 is the first (still beta – have this in mind!) incarnation of the next XP generation while Prepar3d3.4 is supposedly the last representative of the 32 bit Prepar3d run.

My personal X-Plane history is rather short.  I have been simming in any MSFS/P3D version and a number of alternative sims since 1991 (FS4).  I tried to make friends with X-Plane based on the demo several times over all the years – and always failed miserably.  The (then) 10 min demo was enough to show me: It’s just ugly.

X-Plane 10 was the first one I bought, but X-Plane 11 is the first one I might start taking more seriously for several reasons:

  1. It’s got a really slick user interface.  Now, who cares for the UI? While I could cope with the old UI, this seems to have been a pitfall for many beginners, though.
  2. It’s got new European autogen.  Default scenery around my German towns looked crazy with the US-based buildings.
  3. Airports are no longer empty, planes are moving and there is ground traffic (at least where implemented).
  4. Last but not least, here comes the real killer: The X-Plane community managed to develop a host of global as well as local freeware sceneries which Prepar3d would be proud to have available:

* alpilotX’s (Andras Fabian) FREE HD-Mesh/UHD Mesh (https://www.alpilotx.net/).  Keep in mind Mesh does mean much more than in the P3D/FSX world, namely: Mesh(X-Plane) = Mesh(FSX/P3D) + Landclass(FSX/P3D) + Vector data(FSX/P3D) + more.

* World2Xplane (http://simheaven.com/?page_id=3260), a FREE scenery generator by Tony Wroblewski, effectively substituting landclass/autogen by OpenStreetMap based scenery, where possible.  And no, you don’t have to fool around with the tool, Simheaven has ready to use W2XP scenery available worldwide – again for FREE.

* Ortho4XP by Oscar Pilote (http://forums.x-plane.org/index.php?/files/file/29120-ortho4xp/) creates photo scenery out of Bing Maps, Google Maps, and friends.  Unfortunately, most of these photo sceneries cannot be redistributed for legal reasons, thus anyone has to do his or her own homework.  But believe me: A short (German language) tutorial got me started within 15 min.  And again, the tool is FREE.

* There are a number of POI/VFR object collections emerging, based on models from the Sketchup 3-D gallery, mostly for European regions, under X-Plane.org (http://x-plane.org/) and Simheaven (http://simheaven.com/?page_id=14460)

As a side note, while all these addons are free, it’s always a good habit to send donations to the authors where requested, as I did.

Details on combinations and settings of these tools are beyond this outline but I’ll show you a result based on World2Xplane + Ortho4XP for my hometown Jena/Germany (close to EBDJ) instead.
jena_xp11s
And this is the corresponding area in Google Earth.
jena_google_earth
This is the best representation of my home town I have ever seen in a Flight Simulator, by a wide margin. I doubt ORBX Germany South will come close, but we’ll see. It’s the real, photo-based thing, houses are aligned along roads where they belong and no, there are definitely no roads cutting through houses.

Now that’s too good to be true? In a sense, yes, as a closer look reveals a number of loopholes:
– There are no seasons.  It’s just the point of time when Google or whoever made the shots.
– Quality of the original imagery varies, there may be clouds, steep color gradients, and more.  Can be corrected, you can try different sources – if you have time, the required tools, and motivation.
– My hometown is a high-tech city.  Students and the like feed OpenStreetMap.  My native city 30 km North with an average age of 60+ looks – meh.

Even worse, let’s make a hop to Vancouver, BC:
vancouvers
Vancouver? Downtown Skyscrapers? Canada Place? Coal Harbor? Lion’s Gate Bridge? All gone, and the golden tools don’t help, except, perhaps, with elevation mesh.

Fortunately, by far not all North American Cities look that poor – it just depends on the OpenStreetMap data sources.  The default demo area around Seattle / KSEA – actually a few kilometers South only – looks much, much better.

However, let’s face it, most of P3D land without ORBX Regions or other hand-made sceneries doesn’t look that great either.  Besides these more globally oriented addons I should mention:

* Airport/Region sceneries, again available under X-Plane.org (http://x-plane.org/).   Look for MisterX’ KSFO and San Francisco City, KBOS, KPDX, and more. These are real masterpieces, comparable to the best FSX/P3D sceneries. And they are all FREE.

I feel I shouldn’t hide a few points I like less about X-Plane, though.

  • Look upon the Vancouver shot. Doesn’t it appear like seen through a grey film? Laminar Research, maker of X-Plane, proudly added this haze (supposed to model Rayleigh scattering) to XP11. Now this is indeed perfect for a cloudy, misty Winter day I have to cope with at the time of this writing. However, it’s completely off on a sunny Summer day like above, even more after a cold front passing.
  • X-Plane has been accused to look sterile or artificial sometimes. I find this argument has something, although it’s hard to pinpoint the very cause. Your mileage will certainly vary on this.
  • The brand-new C172 behaves like a goatling at taxiing. I know it should draw left on ground, but it’s way exaggerated. Seems to be improved over the XP11 betas, though.
  • Some folks are angry for missing season textures, others judge the night representation superior. Just to mention, I don’t care too much for both.

I got accustomed to using Tom’s Saitek FIP gauges in conjunction with SPAD.neXt (http://www.spadnext.com/home.html) in Prepar3d in a networked configuration for some time.  No way to make that setup going under X-Plane so far, which meant re-plugging the hubs and dispensing with Tom’s gauges.

All this changed, when Ulrich Strauss, maker of SPAD.neXt, added a plugin for X-Plane support a few weeks ago.  I was literally gobsmacked to see Tom’s C172 gauges working with the X-Plane C172 out of the box!  (Just a plug: Based on work of the author of SPAD.neXt, I developed a SPAD.neXt online profile for the X-Plane C172.)
saitek_gear_spadnext_xplanes
Got curious? Make up your own mind using the Demo http://www.x-plane.com/desktop/try-it/  It’s restricted to the Seattle area (seen above) and runs for 15 min (settings, calibrations not included), but you can save your present situation and restart as often as you like.

 

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12 thoughts on “410: Should I … X-Plane?

  1. Hello Michael.

    Very impressive pictures of Jena. I have little problems with the English language, so I have not read the whole article – yet. But what you could read so far was characterized by a great passion for the flight simulation. Thanks.

    Christian

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  2. Interesting reading here.

    Good to hear X-Plane 11 has a better UI, have XP10 and tried 9 and the first thing you see of course is the UI, and it just put me off exploring the sim further really in 10.

    I think the UI front end of P3Dv3 could be better too to be honest, but we have what we have.

    It sounds like X-Plane 11 deserves a look, will likely purchase this soon.

    I read through the grapevine LM are about to spring another major revision of P3D on us, probably requiring full price again? if its 64 bit, fair enough, we’ll see.

    it is good to have choice once more though.

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  3. Can’t deny the x-plane momentum out there, flight simmers look forward to a new release or upgrade of a sim like kids look forward to Christmas morning, myself included. I’ve got $$’s wrapped up in FSX/P3D addons already not to mention $$ in hardware to get those frame-rates up. I’m much more interested in whether or not Toms gauges will remain compatible with future upgrades of P3D, including a likely inevitable 64 bit upgrade by Lockheed. (More to that point,will all my addons remain compatible with 64 bit P3D after that?) For me, X-plane 11 will prove interesting and in some ways outdo P3D, but for eye candy, stability, compatibility, and Tom’s gauges, I’ll stay the course with P3D likely for some time to come.

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  4. Having gotten the most from P3D over the past year I’m afraid I have to disagree, Tom, that X-Plane has a long way to go to catch up. Indeed, having used XP11 almost exclusively for the past two months I consider it lacking in some dimensions but superior overall. I write much more about this on my site, but the short answer is that especially with the free add-ons noted above my install of XP beats my P3D ORBX Rex install in all areas except AI traffic, and sometimes, weather. Most of all it’s far more stable and has a much more realistic flight model, and the ability to easily and freely make your own photo scenery with autogen and lighting on top is spectacular. P3D is still on my system, and I have hope for its future, but the XP11 beta has indeed caused me to switch for my day-to-day flying. I’d encourage others to try the demo and make their own judgements.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback OTG. I start to use X-Plane 11 as well (30% of my flight). It is a good product, no doubt. Probably I should do more serious tuning to overcome the issues I encountered during my test flights.
      Also, after using FSX/P3D for a long time, there are habits not easily be changed; and it will take a long time “or a long way” to find the equivalent of them. ;)
      Tom

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  5. Each simulator has pluses and minuses.
    FSX/P3D are more popular because amount of addons are great. In this case, X-plane is far beyond.
    However, in a long perspective X-plane can become no.1 on the market and x64 structure have a big advantage already. When more and more developers will decide to prepare good addons for both – planes and sceneries – I guess X-plane will be our future.
    And about P3D in x64 version – There is no official statement from LM that they are working on such a version so as long as these are speculations only, it’s a fairy tail for me.

    Regards

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    1. Well say. X-Plane still has a long way to catch up even though it has opened up a promising future.
      P3D 64-bit, I believe it is not just something many of us are longing for, it is also something critical that keeps it in the lead among all competitions.
      Tom

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