Prepar3D v5 Update

Yesterday I discussed the latest version of Prepar3D.  Within about 15 minutes of publishing that article, I went ahead and pulled the trigger on P3Dv5 along with FSUIPC 6.  If you’re not familiar with FSUIPC (and many flight simmers are not), well FSUIPC is a little utility which allows many add-ons to connect to P3D and also allows for better external flight control support in the sim.  Most users can get by with the freeware version of FSUIPC.  However, if you are like me and want to customize your 3rd party add-on hardware (throttles, joysticks, yokes etc.) then you need FSUIPC.  But I digress…

It Is EVERYTHING and a box of chocolates

Of course, at this very instance the only thing installed into my new P3Dv5 setup is of course P3Dv5, FSUIPC and ActiveSky.  As a matter of fact, ActiveSky is the main reason I went ahead and pulled the trigger on P3Dv5 now.  Currently, ActiveSky for Prepar3D v5 is available as a beta at zero upgrade cost.  The new version of ActiveSky is called ActiveSky P3D and if you owned the previous version for P3Dv4 (ASP4) then for the next 2-3 weeks you can upgrade to ActiveSky P3D at no cost.  ActiveSky P3D will work for both P3Dv4 and P3Dv5. Once installed, it will prompt you to choose which simulator you want to use.  Pretty slick.

But back to my statement,  “It Is EVERYTHING and a box of chocolates”, the new Prepar3D v5 is truly amazing.  While even in its vanilla state, I can see the benefits of the upgrade and I’m very pleased to have made the purchase. 

One Step at a time

As I’ve mentioned before in other blog postings.  If you truly want the best out of your sim experience, only install 3rd party add-ons which have been ported over by the developers.  Don’t try to hack something into P3Dv5 which hasn’t been updated as you’ll likely only cause yourself issues and a lot of headaches. 

All major developers are working as quickly as they can to get their add-ons available for P3Dv5.  Spend some time just enjoying the vanilla sim and as add-ons are made available, install them.  Until that time…continue flying in P3Dv4.  This is my plan. 

If I were to guess (and a lot of this is based on my move from P3Dv3 to v4) it could be several more weeks before we have everything available from the devs.  Just be patient. 

If you yourself are currently making the move to P3Dv5 or planning to, FSElite has a really good P3Dv5 Compatibility Database.  They are documenting everything from add-on aircraft, airports, scenery and utilities.  

More to Come

I’ll provide updates as more add-ons have been made available to P3Dv5.  I’ll also share my settings as well.  Currently, I have my P3Dv5 settings adjusted to mirror what I have set in P3Dv4.  I figure this was a good starting point.  I’ll tweak to get the very best performance and will share them. 

Of course, at this very moment my FPS is phenomenal.  But this is expected in a vanilla sim.  As more add-ons are installed including scenery, airports and aircraft…the FPS will drop.  As I’ve always said….don’t drive yourself crazy chasing 60FPS.  I’ll be happy if DX12 and the enhancements made to v5 will give me a solid, smooth experience.  This is what I have with v4 and it’s all I need in v5.  Once I have made my tweaks, I’ll not pay much attention to FPS. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog postings. 

Until next time….

Happy Flying!

Jerry

New REX Environment Force

As most will already know, the new REX Environment Force add-on was released a few weeks ago.  Over the course of this article I’m going to share some opinions, show some evidence and basically discuss how I moved from the Envtex/Envshade products to REX and what my overall impressions are.  Spoiler:  I’m happy as a pig in mud!

If anyone tries to tell you the industry built around and supporting the flight simulation hobby is dead, dying or even stagnant…..they are wrong.  In addition, if anyone tries to tell you the industry supporting Prepar3D is dead, dying or stagnant….They too are WRONG!  The level of creativity coming from our 3rd party developers is very much alive and kicking.  The proof is certainly in the pudding and boy does this pudding taste good. 

I’m Getting Old

I can’t remember much about the selection of add-ons available for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) nor my direct involvement with them.   When FS9 was the sim of choice, I was super busy traveling and had many irons in the fire.  But I do know (at least for me) with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) and certainly through each of the iterations of Prepar3D I’ve owned (P3D 2.x, 3.x and 4.x) I’ve literally poured hundreds of dollars down the ole proverbial rat hole in an attempt to achieve maximum eye-candy.  It’s truly a constant struggle and balancing act as I explained in a recent writing titled “Flight Simulation – The Struggle for Balance”. 

Choices & Decisions

In the area of visual add-ons to help stimulate your visual senses, there’s a lot of choice out there.  This is certainly the case for Prepar3d version 4.4/4.5, slightly less for earlier versions of P3D and FSX.  But still a lot of choice in this category of visual enhancing add-ons. 

There was a time (not too long ago) where I pretty much believed they all did just about the same thing.  Of course, each camp will have their fanboys and each will have their haters.  Remember, “haters gonna hate”, right?

I’ve honestly tried them all…well, most of them.  For the record, as I pointed out in a recent article titled, “Shaders – What’s the big deal?”, I haven’t tried Tomatoshade.  While there are plenty of Tomatoshade fanboys singing its praises…there are many others who are sitting in the corner crying because something catastrophic happened to the their sim.  I discuss some of these pitfalls here.  Yes, yes…ABSOLUTELY YES…I agree that most who are sitting in the corner crying either didn’t read the “destructions” or have/had some other issue going on which became a bigger issue when they attempted to implement a product they didn’t understand in the first place.  Bottom line for me, I just don’t like Tomatoes  LOL  and I guess I’ve never taken the time to fully understand and embrace its use and full potential.  Anyway….I digress.

Should I Stay or Should I Go…

You know how I like to intermix popular 80’s music lyrics into my writings…I had my own decisions to make and I spent about a week reading the accounts from others and literally drooling over the images I was seeing as a result of this new REX Environment Force add-on.  However, I kept flying with my previous setup using Envtex/Envshade along with ASCA/ASP4 and closely comparing what I saw on my own screens versus what others were showing in their screenshots.  The results/comparisons were almost night and day differences.  I couldn’t resist and I shelled out my hard-earned money and purchased both the new REX Environment Force and also REX Sky Force 3D.  These were on sale in a bundled deal direct from the REX store

Out With The Old…

and in with the new.  While REX Environment Force states it supports and will work along side all add-ons, there’s always a risk.  I also truly wanted to see exactly what my sim would look like with only the REX products installed and without Envtex/Envshade etc.  So the task I set out to accomplish was to remove Envtex/Envshade from my sim without blowing a hole in P3D as a result.  I said a quick little prayer and got to work. 

Step 1.  Removing Envtex/Envshade

I had done my research and had read accounts from others who had done the same thing I wanted to accomplish.  The first step was to restore the original P3D textures.  This is easily done from the Envdir program by clicking the Restore button.  This process re-installs your old textures from the backup made when you first installed/configured the Envdir/Envtex/Envshade programs. 

Step 2.  Delete P3D Shader Folder and start P3D

After restoring the P3D textures in the above step, I located my P3D shader folder (located under Users\YourUserName\AppData\Local\Lockheed Martin\Prepar3D.  Just delete the entire folder.  Launch P3D and in the process P3D will add a new shader folder and will reset shaders. 

Step 3.  Install REX Products

I installed and activated both my new REX Sky Force 3D and Environment Force products.  While REX Sky Force has a built in weather engine, I wanted to continue to use Active Sky.  So once Sky Force was installed, I simply deactivated the real-time weather function in Sky Force. 

Step 4.  Reinstall ASCA

If you’re using ASCA (Active Sky Cloud Art) with Envdir, you’ll want to reinstall it as it will error when it can’t locate certain files related to Envdir. 

Step 5.  Read, Read and Read

Both the REX products have comprehensive documentation found in the .pdf files which accompany both products.  If you’re anything like me, you want to get going as soon as possible.  But I would encourage you just the same to do some reading about these products, their settings and how to use them.  But hey…I get it. 

Step 6.  Launch REX products before P3D

I know there are various schools of thought on this.  But it’s just a habit I’ve been doing for many years.  I first launch REX Sky Force, then REX Environment Force, then ActiveSky (ASP4)/ASCA and then finally P3D v4. 

Step 7.  Fly and enjoy….

Obviously some configuration is required with the REX products.  But the real beauty of REX Environment Force (EF) is these tweaks and changes can be made while P3D is running.  So you can choose if you want to run EF in auto mode or in manual mode and tweak to your heart is content.  I’ll be honest, I’ve done a bit of both and will play around more in the manual mode.  But here’s a series of screenshots I captured on a recent flight from Miami down to St. Maarten. 

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Taxing out to the active runway (08R) while watching a company 738 land on runway 12. 

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Blasting out of Miami.  The weather is perfect for testing the new REX products. 

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Beautiful clouds and water textures.

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The PMDG Boeing 737-800 decked out in the American Airlines livery.  This is my favorite add-on aircraft.

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Getting ready to punch through the clouds.

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One of my favorites.

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Just another minute before we fly over Maho Beach and land safely at Princess Juliana International Airport.  I love this approach and landing. 

Well there you have it.  I’m truly pleased with the experience I’m getting from the new REX Environment Force and REX Sky Force products.  I’ve used REX products in the past.  Specifically REX Soft Clouds and the older REX Texture Direct.  While I moved away from these older products for something better, I believe the best at this time is these new REX products and I’m happy to be a REX Customer once again. 

Until next time…

Happy Simming!

Jerry

Top 5, Must Have Add-ons for Prepar3D v4

If you’re new to the world of Prepar3D v4 or just new to flight sim in general, you might be wondering which add-ons I would recommend purchasing to enhance the flight sim.  Yes, P3D is pretty awesome just by itself, out of the box.  But after a while, you might want to take your flight sim experience to the next level.  When that time comes, there are a few add-ons which I personally believe (my opinion) one should own to help give you that additional level of immersion we all seek from our flight simulation experience.  Here’s my Top 5, Must Have Add-ons for Prepar3D v4 which I believe will enhance your flight sim experience.

FSUIPC

I’m really not sure when this wonderful little add-on was developed and released to the flight sim community.  I’ve known about it and used it since the FS9 or FS2004 days.  Considering FS9 was released way back in 2003, it’s one of the oldest, longest serving add-ons that I know of.  When I build or rebuild my flight sim machine, FSUIPC is one of the very first add-ons I install.

What is FSUIPC?  FSUIPC stands for Flight Simulator Universal Inter-Process Communication.  In a nutshell, FSUIPC essentially allows various third party applications to communicate with and in some cases even control the flight sim platform (FS9, FSX, FSX : SE and all versions of P3D).    I often just refer to it as the Swiss Army Knife of the flight sim world.  In my opinion, FSUIPC is the hardest working, third party add-on EVERYONE truly needs and it’s why it ranks at the top of my list.

For the most part, much of what the casual flight simmer will need out of FSUIPC can be handled in the freeware or unlicensed version.    However, if you want to truly open up all that FSUIPC can do including far better third party controller (yoke, pedals, throttles) support, flight auto-save functions, networking multiple PC’s together and much, much more…then you’ll want to purchase the license to open up this additional functionality.  An FSUIPC license for P3D v4 is available at simMarket for 29.99 Euro.  Trust me, it’ll be the best ($36.49 US based on current exchange rate) you’ll spend on P3D.

ActiveSky

A really huge part of my overall flight sim enjoyment comes from the enhanced immersion levels that add-on applications provide to P3D.  Yes, while P3D (just like FSX) has built in weather functionality…most find it to be rather weak.  I’ve been a user of ActiveSky for a very long time.  While opinions may differ regarding what third party application is best for displaying cloud textures, there is rarely any argument that ActiveSky is the very best on the market for real-time depiction of weather in the simulator.   I also love using it to recreate flights using historical weather.  For example, let’s say it snows in Denver but I’m not home to fly in real time.  I can fire up P3D and set ASP4 for a specific day and that will be the weather I see in the sim.  Pretty cool.  ActiveSky for P3D v4 (ASP4) is available from several online retailers for 49.99 Euro ($60.83 US based on current exchange rate).

Speaking of cloud textures etc.  I’ve been very happy with ActiveSky Cloud Art.  It works seamlessly with ASP4.

Orbx

There will come a point in time where you’ll want to further enhance your ground textures.  Orbx (again my opinion) is the very best scenery add-on you can buy for P3D v4 and they offer a lot of awesome scenery.  If you’re on a budget, I recommend starting with the Orbx FTX Global Base Pack.  This add-on pack includes upgraded textures and autogen for the entire world.  While the Orbx FTX Global Base Pack will set you back $99.95 AUD ($74.61 USD), you’ll find a couple of dozen freeware airport add-ons available from the Orbx website which work with FTX Global.

Then as you continue to build out your Orbx collection, I would recommend FTX Global Vector as this product will begin to introduce accurate coastlines, rivers, lakes and roads.  Then as you begin to round out the collection, add the various regions such as Central Rockies, Northern Rockies, Southern Alaska etc.

A2A Cessna 172/PMDG 737-800

A brand new (out of the box) install of P3D will give you access to a few different general aviation aircraft including the Carenado Beechcraft Bonanza, Mooney Acclaim and Mooney Bravo just to name a few.  However, if tubeliners (passenger airliners) are your thing, then you’ll need to seek these out as either third party freeware or payware add-ons.  A few weeks ago I wrote about default/freeware aircraft options available for P3D v4.  Please review that for details regarding freeware aircraft.

Most new virtual pilots will either be interested in general aviation or jetliner type flying.  If both of these interest you, excellent.  Unfortunately, I really don’t know enough about helicopter options to provide any level of detail as it’s just not something I’m really interested in.  But I absolutely love both GA and jetliners as there are times I enjoy flying high and fast, and other times low and slow.

The A2A Cessna 172 and the PMDG 737-800/900 are two payware, study-level aircraft which are both extremely fun to fly…but at the same time fairly easy to learn.  Both will provide hours and hours and even more hours of entertainment regardless of your primary fixed-wing interest.

The A2A Cessna 172 for P3D v4 (depending on P3D license level) will cost you $49.99 – $79.99 and is a professional level simulation of the real C172R.  The feature list is quite extensive including an immersive pre-flight inspection system, maintenance hangar, visual real-time load manager and my favorite is it’s designed to be flown “By The Book” simulation.

The PMDG 737-800/900 for P3D v4 will cost you $89.99.  The Boeing 737-800/900 base package will allow you to experience an airliner simulation unlike any in the history of simulation with this feature rich and magnificently detailed simulation of the Boeing 737NG.

Navigraph

While there are hundreds of different scenery, aircraft and utility add-ons to consider adding to P3D v4 to enhance your simulation experience, the last add-on I’m going to recommend is a Navigraph subscription.   Navigraph provides the international flight simulation community with tools and software like those available to the real world aviation industry.  I personally recommend the Navigraph Ultimate subscription which runs 75 Euro paid annually.  While this may seem like a lot of money for an annual subscription, it provides unlimited access to BOTH their FMS data service and to their charts applications.

The Navigraph FMS data is available for all addons (including the above mentioned PMDG 737) during all AIRAC cycles in one year.  An AIRAC cycle is 28 days, so you’ll receive 13 updates in the calendar year ensuring all your add-ons stay current based on real-world data.

Access to Navigraph Charts provides professional, worldwide and updated Jeppesen charts for the flight simulation community.  These charts are accessible in their suite of Charts Apps including iPad, Android and their Charts Desktop client which works for both Windows and MacOS.  All the charts, in one easy place.

In Summary

Like many other hobbies, the flight sim hobby can become a very expensive hobby very quickly.  I often compare it to photography.  It’s been proven many times that a beautiful photographic image can be made with just a pin hole camera, yet once the photography bug bites you, you soon find your camera bag stuffed full of accessories you just can’t live without.  Flight Sim is pretty much the same way.  Just pace yourself and enjoy.  I hope this list helps you “take off”.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!

Jerry

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