Audio For VATSIM–OMG

Before I get too deep in the weeds with this blog posting, let me first start off by saying a BIG THANK YOU to every single VATSIM member.  Regardless if you are a pilot, ATC, supervisor, management, technical development team etc.  Thank YOU!  I say this because I believe the success of VATSIM is down to each and every one of US.  Regardless of how many years you’ve been a member, regardless of how many hours you have accumulated on the network and regardless of your position within the VATSIM network….VATSIM is and always will be successful because of each and every one of us. 

Secondly, I do want to call out a few individuals.  These are folks I personally didn’t know until recently.  But in some way over the past 48-72 hours I’ve interacted with via Facebook, Discord or my own blog site and helped me get everything going so I could participate in the Sunday session of the Audio for VATSIM test during FSExpo19.  These individuals are: Matthew Ciafarani, Aidan Stevens, Mats Edvin Aaro and Gary Oliver. 

Finally, if you missed the previous blog posting which I detailed all the issues/frustrations I experienced in attempting to get started titled “Audio for VATSIM – FSExpo Beta Bust”, then take a few minutes to bring yourself up to speed and also read the comment left by Gary Oliver.  The issues which prevented me (and several others) from joining in on the Saturday testing are explained in Gary’s comment and are all certainly understandable.  I earn my living in the IT world and yes…”Stuff” happens.  I want to once again state for the record that I didn’t write the FSExpo Beta Bust post as a way to “hate” on VATSIM.  I believe it was well received by VATSIM management and serves to document my experiences.  That’s it!

Audio for VATSIM

By late Saturday evening I had finished up my running around, completed the chores on the “honey do” list (guys you know this has to be a priority) and settled back in the lazy-boy with a movie in the DVD player and the wife happy.  With the help of the folks mentioned above had access to both the Audio for VATSIM (AFV) Discord server and the AFV website.  I had the updated vPilot client downloaded and pretty much everything set. 

The main testing on Sunday was scheduled to begin at 1330z (7:30 AM MT).  I woke up around 6:30 and made my first stop the coffee pot.  Nothing ever really happens until I receive my first application of java in the morning.  With coffee in hand, I proceeded down to the man-cave and powered on the Beast Mark V and the other PC’s I use for flight sim.  My flight sim setup is a little more complicated as I run other applications in a networked setup to offload some of the CPU processing where I can.  Anyway, I quickly got the AFV vPilot client installed, configured and installed a brand new Southwest 737-800 livery for the event. 

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New Southwest B738 in the Heart livery.  Parked at KMSY.

The Big Easy

I decided to fly the same flight/route which I had signed up for on Saturday.  I loaded up Prepar3D v4.5 and the PMDG 737-800 in the Southwest Airlines “Heart Livery” at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, Louisiana (KMSY).  While I didn’t have any ATC at time of departure, I did have company on the ground with an Air Canada Airbus at the nearby gate. 

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Pushback complete and ready for taxi. 

I completely forgot about voice UNICOM, but went ahead and typed my intentions out via text.  It wasn’t until I got airborne that I heard another pilot speak on 122.80.  I must say, if everyone remains on their best behavior, then voice UNICOM will be awesome. 

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Southwest Flight 1066 wheels up

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Making our left turn to join the departure route.  Mississippi river and Lake Pontchartrain in the background. 

Once I reached my cruising altitude of FL350 and out over the Gulf of Mexico, I was able to tune into Atlanta Center and could hear through my own headset the new “Audio for VATSIM”.  I was blown away.

AFV Benefits

There’s more to the new Audio for VATSIM than what meets the eye EARS.  Of course the major benefit has been a long time coming and I’ll discuss more about this in a minute.  The two images below represent those who (at the time) were connected to the beta VATSIM server where the FSExpo AFV tests were being conducted.  I had just departed from KMSY (climbing through 17,000 for FL350) and you can see my audio range is represented by the red circle around my aircraft position.  These circles essentially represent our VHF transceiver range. 

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Upon reaching my TOC (FL350) my audio range is much greater.  With regards to voice UNICOM, I’ll only hear other pilots which fall into my VHF radio range.  Likewise, the same applies to picking up ATIS reports.  While I initially had my reservations about voice UNICOM, after more thought on the subject I believe it will be a good thing in the long run.  Yes, it will get abused…but I also know that VATSIM will hold those who abuse it accountable. 

While voice UNICOM does slightly break the immersion for those who fly commercial jets, our level of immersion is also broken anytime we fly today with out constant ATC coverage.  Voice UNICOM will certainly be a major benefit to VFR flight, of which I certainly hope to do more of.

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ATIS Audio

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  For the past several years I’ve actually loathed the ATIS audio.  I stopped “listening” to ATIS audio a very long time ago.  This doesn’t mean I don’t pickup ATIS info, I just preferred to either receive it via text in vPilot or grab the text info from VATSpy.  I know it’s an age thing and I know my ears are paying me back from that Van Halen concert back in the late 1980’s.  But wow…what a concert and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.  But I digress….

Yea…my hearing isn’t what it used to be and the ATIS audio of the past was most like listening to the adults speak on Charlie Brown.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a listen to this

But I’m really pleased to say that with the new audio codec, ATIS audio is very pleasing and easy to understand.  Here’s the ATIS info from Mickey Mouse International…err, I mean Orlando International Airport. 

Let your ears be the judge

I recorded a short segment of my flight once I reached Jacksonville Center airspace.  In the span of approx. 7 minutes, 30 seconds you’ll hear several audio transmissions between ATC, myself (Southwest 1066) and several other pilots.  These were all flights arriving into Orlando KMCO during the early stages of testing on Sunday morning. 

What do you think?

While there was one pilot with much lower audio levels than anyone else, I could still make out what he was saying.  I believe once the new Audio for VATSIM becomes the new normal and everyone has a chance to adjust their audio levels, this new system will truly enhance all the wonderful things about flying in a multiplayer ATC environment. 

For me, this is the very best thing to happen to VATSIM in its (and my) 18 year history.  While I’ve been amazed at what my eyes have witnessed over the years, the lack of a truly powerful and supportive audio system has been been a major let down.  The team responsible for developing and bringing the new Audio for VATSIM into reality deserve very accolade we can give them.  Audio for VATSIM will propel the VATSIM network well into the future and beyond.

The Million Dollar Question!  When?

As we know, the testing which took place this past weekend during FSExpo19 was not the only testing held for the new audio system.  However, this weekends event was by far the largest.  From both what my ears experienced as well as what I’ve read on their Discord channel…I don’t think we’re very far away from having AFV into full production.  However, at this particular time there have been no firm announcements.  We can only speculate if we’re just days/weeks away, more than a month or ????  I have a feeling we’re closer than we might think. 

Well, that just about brings this posting to a close.  I will have a few blog posting updates this week (pending I find the time to write them).  I plan to document my thoughts on a few newsworthy items of recent and will be digging through all the info I can find on product news from FSExpo19. 

Until next time…

Happy Flying!

JT

Audio for VATSIM–FSExpo Beta Bust

Before I get started, I want to make clear my intentions as to why I’m writing this particular article.  While I’m clearly disappointed, I place blame towards no one. 

Like many in the flight simulation community, my time can be limited at the best of times.  As an IT Manager, I often work 45-50 hour weeks (and I call that an easy week).  The time I carve out for my hobbies (and I have several) also has to share space with the time I spend with my family and often I’ll sacrifice sleep to fit in a flight.  After all, I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead. 

Audio for VATSIM FSExpo test

I first learned about the planned large scale Audio for VATSIM beta test which was being held in conjunction with FSExpo a few weeks ago.  I even discussed it here.  I was excited.  As an individual who has been flying on the VATSIM network since the beginning and someone who has accumulated over 2000 hours (and I realize that’s nothing compared to some other folks), I’m curious to see/hear the future of this wonderful multiplayer platform first hand.  I was looking forward to writing about it and had even planned to record some snippits of the audio so you all could hear for yourself, just what we have to look forward to. 

If I’m not mistaken, I learned of the FSExpo AFV test via a Facebook post on the VATSIM FB page.  The announcement was a accompanied by a fancy graphic (see below) and the graphic linked you to a webpage which had been especially created just for the event/testing. 

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Last weekend (1 June), the organizers of this even opened up the availability for anyone who was interested, paying attention etc. to go out and book slots for this event.  Those who were successful at booking a slot would automatically be entered into the beta and could experience the new Audio for VATSIM system.  I set aside some time last weekend and promptly when the time arrived, I booked my slot for early Saturday morning (12:20z 6:20 AM MT) from KMSY to KMCO (New Orleans to Orlando). 

It’s all about the details

As a guy who truly understands “details”, I read everything I could on the AFV FSExpo website.  The VATSIM team made it clear that “Routing information would be available 6-12 hours before the event”.  I also read through the list of FAQ’s.  (posted below)

  • What is this thing?
    Beta testing of our new Audio For VATSIM solution of course! We’ll be live at FSExpo beta-testing and demonstrating our new solution, book a flight to join us!
  • Who can book a slot?
    Any VATSIM member in good standing can book a slot! You DO NOT need to have already participated in a beta test. All who book a slot will be added to the beta.
  • When is this going down?
    June 8th and 9th. Check the home page for a fancy little countdown!
  • Where can I fly?
    You can book a slot between any of the event airports listed on the bookings page. The live portion will be taking place at FSExpo in Orlando.
  • Do I need to be at FSExpo to participate?
    Nope! You can fly at home in your pajamas!
  • Why are you guys doing this?
    We want to give you, the membership, an opportunity to experience what we’ve got in store and give us valuable feedback so that we can deliver the best voice solution possible.
  • Can I have a refund?
    Nope!

Nothing in the FAQ’s or on the website mentioned anything about how/where to get the software for the beta nor did it state anything about joining a special Discord server. 

On Friday evening (the eve before the event), I kept checking the website and even as late as 10:30 PM, hadn’t received any email regarding the routing or anything else.  Since I had got up at 4:30 AM that morning, I was pretty exhausted and went to bed just after 10:30 PM.  I set my alarm for 5:00 AM Saturday morning and figured and hour and 20 minutes would be enough time to pour some coffee down my throat and get everything setup. 

Cockle Doodle Doo

No, I don’t have a rooster.  But the alarm went off as planned and I got up and proceeded downstairs to the coffee pot.  Like a good coffee pot, it had already warmed up the water and all I needed to do was insert the K cup and pull the handle.  Within 60 seconds I’d have a cup of strong, black coffee.  Ahhhhhh…OK the day can begin. 

I grabbed my laptop and pulled up my email client.  I had a total of six emails from VATSIM which had arrived just before midnight.  (see below)

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The first one (booking confirmation) while only received today, should really have been received last weekend when I booked the flight and the other five emails are just duplicates of each other and instructing me of my route and a link to pre-book the flight.

Dancing in the Dark

I’ll admit, I honestly wasn’t entirely sure how this beta test event would work.  While I assumed I would need to download/install something…I also thought that it might be possible that the VATSIM folks in some “behind the scenes” process and based on my VATSIM PID could route my connection to the beta system.  Like I said…I didn’t know and I remind you of the FAQ above, nothing there stated anything which could be helpful in better understanding this. 

#BLAMEAIDAN

Things really didn’t start to go sideways until I attempted to pre-file my flight plan via one of the above 5 emails and the embedded link they contain.  When trying to pre-file, I received a pop-up error stating I wasn’t logged in (even though I was) and the hashtag of #BLAMEAIDAN.

I’m Not Alone

I don’t think I’m alone in my confusion.   In the days leading up to this event, I saw many posts on the VATSIM Facebook page asking “how will we be informed” and all replies more of less stated an email will be received 6-12 hours before the event.  Nothing was ever mentioned about Discord.

Bottom Line

I’m not upset….no, really!  I’m not.  Many of the VATSIM folks working on the beta replied to my Facebook post and offered their assistance.  However, by this time it was already 15 minutes past my departure time I realized I wouldn’t have time to install the beta client and get my flight all setup again and also fly it (assuming there would be delays etc.) and also meet my Saturday morning commitments. 

Instead, my reason for writing this is A. to document my overall experience in exactly what I encountered in the days/hours leading up to the event and I suppose B. to also set my mind (and anyone else) who feels they too were very much in the dark on exactly what to expect and when to expect it.  I have a feeling (through no fault of those wanting to participate) that not everything went off exactly as planned on the VATSIM side. 

My hope is this Audio for VATSIM test today during FSExpo is 1000% successful and I hope that the timeframe of when AFV will become reality for ALL is very, very short.  The old audio codec needs to be put out to pasture and soon. 

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a wonderful Saturday. 

Until next time….

Happy Flying!!!

Jerry

P.S.  If you are still reading (and I hope you are), don’t forget to come join my new Flight Sim Helpers Facebook community.  The goal with Flight Sim Helpers is to …..well….HELP those who might need it.  The flight sim hobby has been very good to me and I’m just wanting to give something back.  Also, take the time to bookmark the Flight Sim Helpers website where many helpful FAQ’s are being added with more to come. 

Audio for VATSIM

Unless you either have no clue what VATSIM is, don’t use VATSIM or have been hiding under a rock for nearly two decades, you know the audio codec which VATSIM has been using is truly the weakest link of the entire VATSIM system. 

While I absolutely love flying on the VATSIM network, in recent months I’ve almost preferred not to have ATC controllers logged in and just let us pilots announce our intentions on UNICOM to avoid the awful VATSIM audio.  While most ATC positions seem to have OK sounding audio, the majority of pilots out there simply DO NOT!  A new audio codec system has been needed on the VATSIM network for a very long time and I believe the future looks sounds very good. 

Audio For VATSIM

OK…you gotta love how we love to acronym everything that has to do with technology.  Audio For VATSIM (AFV) was first announced a few years ago.  Or at least, VATSIM acknowledged the need for an updated audio system and audio codec a few years ago.  I’m not exactly sure when the powers that be at VATSIM actually kicked off the project, but we all were able to hear the results of a test conducted late last year (26 September) and released in the form of a YouTube video on 26 September.  During the first 25 seconds, the video includes the poor audio we’ve had to endure from 2001 – 2018.  Then the video spends the remaining time showcasing the new Audio for VATSIM. 

I’m not sure when we can expect the new Audio for VATSIM to become available for all virtual pilots. The past several weeks VATSIM has been conducting various small scale testing sessions and from all accounts, these sessions have been very positive. 

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There is an upcoming large scale test being planned to take place on 8th & 9th June where anyone who manages to pre-book a flight will have access to AFV beta during this event.  The pre-booking system opens tomorrow (Saturday, 1 June at 1900z) and I’m sure these slots will go fast.  You can learn more and book your slot here

Again, I’m not sure when VATSIM plans to flip the switch and implement AFV for all. If I were a betting man, I would suspect it will happen sooner rather than later. I believe POSCON will be providing an update during FSExpo.  I wrote about POSCON last year.  You can read those postings here and here.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t really followed the POSCON news since I wrote those articles.  I believe a lot of the drama is over and I look forward to hearing their news during FSExpo. 

Until next time….

Happy Flying!

JT

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