Since starting this blog last September, I haven’t written many product review blog postings. This has been for several reasons. First, I’m not really setup as an official reviewer with any flight sim product developers. Any reviews I do are because I purchased the product, own the product and shared my feedback with whom ever stops here long enough to read the blog. Second, this blog is multipurpose in the sense I use this communication vehicle to discuss my own flight simulation experiences again with whomever stops by to read them. Since returning to the hobby I’ve acquired a lot of new toys both in the form of hardware and software. I will mix in the occasional product review from time to time to share the good, the bad and the ugly with you the reader.
Before I start this product review. Please allow me to get the fine print out of the way.
The product I am reviewing was purchased by me and for my own personal use. I receive absolutely no compensation of any form (cash, credit, discounts, promises) for reviewing this product. I have not contacted, nor have I been contacted by the vendor to provide this product review. The opinions expressed (good or bad) are my own, your mileage may vary.
Product Review – VRInsight CDU II
It all started when I purchased and began flying the iFly 737NGX. Before flying this aircraft I had never programed or used a CDU. If you are unfamiliar with the term CDU, CDU stands for Control Display Unit. It is the device depicted in many panels with a small LCD screen and keypad. I suppose I never used the CDU before since in most freeware and default aircraft, the CDU is non-functioning. As far as I know, most payware aircraft and certainly of the standard of the iFly or LevelD do come equipped with a functional CDU which can be programmed by the virtual pilot.
The more hours I spent in the iFly 737, the more I became to appreciate all that the CDU provides to the pilot. I began thinking about how wonderful it would be to have an external CDU unit in my home simulator setup. I started searching through a few forums and using the best friend a virtual pilot has and that is Google. The iFly forums have a dedicated hardware builders section and I found many who had success in getting the VRInsight CDU II setup with the iFly 737. The decision had been made based on the research I conducted, I placed an order through FlightSim Pilot Shopand the unit arrived just in time for the long US Memorial Day (3 day weekend).
My new VRInsight CDU II arrived via Fedex on Friday morning. I would be misleading you if I only said “some assembly required”. While the CDU module itself is fully assembled, it is up to the user to place the labels and button covers onto the buttons of the CDU. There are 70 labels and button covers required. The button labels come in a sheet which normally are easy to detach and are in an order that makes them easy to locate. Mine were so easy to detach that when I opened the box and pulled out the plastic bag which covers and protects the labels that the majority had already detached themselves and were loose in the package. This created somewhat of a nightmare as they became harder to find. Please Note: The CDU II can also be used to control other cockpit functions such as auto-pilot etc. So you’ll have a lot of button labels you won’t need if you only configure the CDU to be used as a CDU.
Assembling the button and labels is not difficult, it is just tedious work that took me about an hour to complete. If the button labels had not detached themselves this could have been done much, much faster. Once the labels and buttons were setup correctly came the connection to the PC. The CDU II requires a USB connection, a VGA connection and a power connection and comes with all the appropriate connectors including a VGA to DVI adapter if your video card has DVI outputs.
A note regarding power. I was a little disappointed with the power requirements for the CDU. Obviously because of the LCD screen in the CDU, the CDU II requires external power and will not operate on the standard 5 volts from the USB connection. The power requirement for the CDU II is 12 volts and it does come with a 12 volt AC wall wart type adapter. However, the plug configuration for the wall wart is not the standard US 110 electrical outlet. It is a two pin European style plug. While I don’t mean to sound like a typical “American”, I have never purchased any piece of electronic gear which didn’t come configured and setup for the country it is intended to be used in.
Now….I had prepared myself and purchased an adapter to convert the two pin European style plug to a standard US 110 outlet as I had read forum postings from others who were caught by surprise by this setup. However, I’m happy to report the VRInsight people had included an adapter with the CDU II. I’m not sure when this change was made so I suppose if you purchase this product you may receive a package that doesn’t include the adapter. But most stores like Radio Shack, Micro Center or travel specialty shops will have these adapters. The cost was about $8 USD.
Back on track. The CDU II also arrives with a CD containing the drivers and other supporting software required to make it all work with Flight Simulator. By the way, while I’ve only tested this on FSX, it does appear to also work with FS9. But I don’t find any discussion about it working with X-Plane. Sorry X-Plane users.
The setup documentation was fairly easy to follow. The CDU II can’t (at least at this time) be operated from a remote networked computer. It must be connected to your main FS machine and also can’t be operated through a Matrox Triplehead2Go type adapter. Luckily my video card came with two DVI outputs on the back. One I’ve been feeding into the TripleHead2Go adapter providing video to three LCD panels. The second DVI output was un-used. If you do not have two VGA or DVI outputs on your computer, you will need to think about either upgrading your video card or adding a second adapter.
Within a few minutes after installing the appropriate drivers I had the CDU II connected and the display was working showing a Windows background. But it’s not ready to fly just yet.
Included is a software application called SerialFP2. This very lightweight software application is what essentially bridges the connectivity of the external CDU II device to the internal CDU in FSX. This takes a little time to setup so the display from FSX is aligned correctly on the external CDU. I estimate I’ve spend several hours tweaking this to get it just right. The good news is once you get it set, the settings are saved in an .ini file and switching from aircraft to aircraft (pending you’ve setup each) is not difficult. Currently I’m only running the external CDU II with the iFly 737 and the LevelD 767. This SerialFP2 software does include panel config settings for the LevelD and several other aircraft varieties. It did not include auto panel setup for the iFly. But this is where the iFly Cockpit Builder Forum came in handy.
Are there alternatives to the VRInsight CDU II? Yes, in doing my research I also found theFlyEngravity CDU and FlightDeck Solutions CDU. I did look and research both, but at about twice the price of the VRInsight model, I decided to save my $$. A final solution for an external CDU just to give you the information is if you own an iPad check out the iDisplay App. It will allow you to extend your Windows desktop to the iPad across a wi-fi network. I did experiment with this solution but since I also use my iPad as a kneeboard with the iPad app FSKneeboard, I opted to go with the external CDU module.
VRInsight CDU II is available from many Flight Sim Stores and retails for around $450.00 USD. You can find more information by visiting the VRInsight website located here.
In Closing, I’ve flown approx. 20+ flights in the iFly 737 and the LevelD 767 using the external VRInsight CDU II and I’m very pleased with the product. I would recommend this to anyone who is building their own flight simulator cockpit and/or wants to add the extra level of realism this hardware module can deliver. The price is fair based on what you get (especially compared to other alternatives)