AVSIM Commercial FSX/FS9 Scenery Review

Juan Santamaria International Airport

(MROC)

Product Information

Publishers:  Latin VFR

Description: Costa Rica scenery add-on.

Download Size:
43 MB + 533 KB Patch

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX & FS9
Reviewed by: Philip Wilson AVSIM Staff Reviewer - January 8, 2010

Introduction

Located in beautiful San Jose, Costa Rica sits Juan Santamaría International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría) (IATA: SJO, ICAO: MROC). It is actually located in Alajuela about 20 km from San José. It is named after Costa Rica's national hero Juan Santamaría, a courageous drummer boy who died in 1856 defending his country against forces led by US-American filibuster William Walker. The airport, which is Costa Rica's primary airport, serves a great number of tourists from Canada, Europe and the United States. There are three other international airports in the country but only the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste is served by major airlines.

Currently, Juan Santamaría is the second busiest airport in Central America after Tocumen International Airport in Panamá. The airport's major airlines are TACA/Lacsa with its international network and TACA's subsidiary Sansa for domestic flights. The airport's long runway allows for operations of large, wide body aircraft. Currently some scheduled flights are operated with Airbus A330, A340; Boeing 747 and 767, for both passengers and freight. A Concorde landed in the year 1999 for that year's air show.

The airport has a small hangar (called the "NASA" hangar) where they keep research aircraft that operate in Costa Rica. Among the most relevant aircraft operated from this hangar is the WB-57F high altitude aircraft. MROC has the usual assortment of duty-free shops and well-crafted local goods (e.g. premium Costa Rican coffee, cigars, artisan work). Unlike most other airports, arriving foreigners can purchase goods to bring back into Costa Rica. It also has a food court that includes some major fast-food restaurant chains.

An interesting note here is the Government of Costa Rica charges a USD26 departure fee, which can be paid in cash (U.S. dollars or equivalent in Colones) or may be paid by Credit Card. The fee can be paid at the Airport or in advance at most Hotels and Banks.

Juan Santamaria is currently served by 23 airlines, 4 charter, and 13 cargo operators. In addition to Latin based providers, there are no less than 10 North American airlines with daily service to MROC.

(Source- Wikipedia, Costaricaweb.de)

Two Airbus from TACA at (SJO), Costa Rica (Courtesy Mariodo)

Installation, Documentation and Support

The installation is painless. From LatinVFR’s products page you can choose to view the MROC product information page, or purchase either the FSX or FS9 version. Clicking on the “Purchase” tab takes you to SimMarket for the actual transaction. I have used SimMarket and have never experienced a problem. You will receive a download link to the 43MB file. Users who purchased the MROC (FSX) scenery before December 7th, 2009 will need to download the 533KB patch which corrects some texture discrepancies.

The MROC information page has a nice YouTube video of their scenery. It was created using their FS9 version, but I think creating one from their FSX version would make a world of difference.

For those with a close eye on their flight simulation budget, you will be happy to know MROC comes in at a very reasonable $26.53USD. International customers are looking at around 18EUR, 16GBP, 29AU and 28CDN.

For your hard earned money, you receive:

• Airport buildings and terminals completely designed with the most accurate attention to detail.
• All surroundings completely modeled accurately.
• Land class for the entire central valley region of Costa Rica
• Photo-realistic textures in the surrounding areas.
• Photo-realistic textures in the buildings.
• SRTM Mesh for the entire central valley region of Costa Rica.
• Animated birds (FSX only)
• Excellent night effects.
• Fully AI compatible, with their respective AFCAD for FS2004 and FSX.
• Excellent frame rates.
• In a future release of AES will become compatible.
• Numerous static objects, pushback trucks, stairs, containers, etc.
• Custom vehicle traffic and airport animations.
• Manual, PDF file containing maps and charts.
• (Source-SimMarket)


Once successfully installed, your Juan Santamaria Intl. airport will come alive with ground traffic and an extremely accurate rendition of the real thing.

Documentation consists of a five page PDF manual (598KB) and eight navigation charts (5.99MB). Five of the charts are PDF’s, while the remaining three are JPG’s. Although these charts are a definite enhancement to the scenery package, they are in Spanish. Since I don’t speak Spanish, I couldn’t review the accuracy of the charts.

The PDF manual is somewhat on the “light” side, with only the minimum amount of information available.

This was a difficult area to critique. I recently read an interesting study by a highly regarded university on the reading patterns of both web and print viewers. Rather than bore you with the complex analytical and scientific testing processes, I’ll summarize by saying our current society, regardless of industry, spends significantly less time actually reading web based material then any time in recent history. We all spend more time online, but in an effort to separate the internet garbage and marketing fluff from the truth, have developed a natural habit of scanning rather than truly reading. How many times have you scanned to the bottom of a review to see the Closing Remarks or Likes & Dislikes section before reading the complete review?

Granted, if you are the proud owner of a PMDG or similar complex aircraft, you want as much detail as possible. But for a scenery product, unless there are numerous user controlled animations or “must-see” eye candy, a complete history of the scenery, airlines serving the airport with actual gate assignments, and associated navigational aids are all most people will need.

I think a more complete MROC manual would have been a great idea. There are several wonderful sources for images and information on MROC, and the introduction I provided at the top of this review contains more history on the airport than the actual manual. Although for most users, they will be too busy flying to read anyway.

Terrain Obstacles MROC Airport Chart

Textures

Before I open Pandora’s box, I would like to say a few things about the ground textures. I have never been a big fan of “photo realistic” ground textures because as we all know, they are anything but realistic. Flying at 5000ft and 150kts they might look good, but drop down to 500-2500ft and things become really blurry. Living in the American Pacific Northwest, I purchased the original MegaScenery Pacific Northwest Photo Scenery for FS9. I was completely disappointed. MegaScenery is a good company, but photo texturing was pretty new and they clearly outlined what to expect from their product.

That being said, photo texturing has come a very long way in a few short years. Some of the products coming across our desks are extraordinary. The Avsim review staff are currently reviewing some pretty amazing scenery packages so keep posted.

LatinVFR optimized the ground textures surrounding the airport for 2m in FSX and 10m for FS9. At low level they are blurry, but no more so than many of the other “Photo Sceneries” on the market. But MROC is more than just ground textures, and the textures on the custom scenery is good, and in some places, great.

Topping the list are runway and most building textures. The runway detail is excellent with scuffing, fading, cracked paint and expansion joints clearly visible. The ramp area is modeled to include the concrete parking spaces imbedded in the asphalt ramp. The concrete slabs have visible oil stains and erosion from heavy use. In addition, many areas of the custom buildings definitely have the WOW affect. Near the tower LatinVFR modeled the beautiful multicolored wall textures and also did a commendable job on the jetways. Many of the smaller airport buildings have a nice stucco texture to them, modeling their real world counterparts.

Nice concrete slab textures Pushback without the tug

This product is not without its issues where the textures are concerned. If you look close at the bottom left picture, you will notice the warped textures on the small building above the private jets left wing. There are several instances where this problem exists around the airport. It saddens me to say this, but that problem is pretty pronounced and does take from the overall experience. The support guys at LatinVFR told me the source files had been corrupted so no immediate fix is in the works.

Check out the wall detail Excellent runway detail
The taxiway and runway textures are great Luggage cart details are frame rate friendly

Another area where problems persist is some of the tree textures and the way FSX handles them. I asked about this and was told “This is caused by a known bug of FSX which handles the drawing order by which transparent things are displayed on FSX. I am afraid we can’t do much for now.” Since this falls in the same category as the well known propeller and cloud texture issues, I accept that as a valid response.

Take a look at the “magic” trees The light poles look good

If I were to choose one area that needed more tweaking, it would be the area surrounding the airport. In the images below you can see where roads are “painted” over the photo imaging and the clear limit of the 2m textures. I understand the need to compromise in order to keep the frame rates low, but the quality of this part of the MROC package is well below the package as a whole.

Notice the texture limits The custom objects are not aligned with the photo textures

Traffic & Animation

When you load up MROC for the first time, you are greeted with flowing ground traffic. There are busses, cargo trucks, cars, airport vehicles and fire equipment. The commercial vehicles have authentic names and logos, and the busses have real ads on their sides. There are even taxi’s lined up in front of the airport to whisk your passengers to their destinations.

I noticed the vehicles don’t always stay in their lanes, but then have you ever noticed real airport ground traffic? Some of those drivers are as wild as a New York Cabbie. I really liked the amount of baggage handling and operations equipment. It gives you the feeling of being there. Since these objects are made to look good, and give you an acceptable frame rate, they are imperfect when viewed up close, but from across the ramp, they look great. The airport signs are in Spanish and at first glance, the taxiway sign ALFA1 raises an eyebrow.

ALFA1 Taxiway sign Ground objects galore

It is my understanding the tugs are supposed to work correctly for pushback, but in my installation I couldn’t get that to happen. I loaded up my default 737 at gate 7, and looking out the window noticed I didn’t have a tug positioned in front of me. Gate 8 had one so I ended the flight, and reloaded it with the aircraft at gate 8. Now the tug was at gate 7 and I had no tug. Hmmm. Must have been a sneaky ground crew member from a competing airline.

One more note on parking. When selecting some of the cargo spots, FSX will actually place the aircraft well off the centerline. Unfortunately coding changes within the product to make it compatible with other software changed the assignments. This won’t be addressed as it is only a few parking spots.

Ramp vehicles Noon lineup

Night Textures

If there was one surprise here it was the night lighting. Although it is mentioned in the marketing material, you need to experience it to believe it. After my disappointment with the textures surrounding the airport during the day, I switched to night and was blown away.

From the flood lights on the airport cargo ramp, to the entire valley, the night lighting was superb. One thing I did notice though was the busses don’t have any night lighting. The other vehicles do, but not the busses.

Excellent Night Textures

Support

I would like to compliment the LatinVFR team on their excellent customer support. During the course of this review I did come across a few anomalies. After forwarding my findings to the developer, they worked throughout the weekend to finish the previously mentioned patch. They have been fantastic to work with and when things didn’t get accomplished, I was given a comprehensive explanation as to why.

In addition to this scenery package, I’m also going to review their MKJP package for both FS9 and FSX. The developer states the newer product in my review queue incorporates many of the lessons and techniques learned since the MROC scenery was designed. I truly look forward to the next review.

Test System

Dell XPS720 DuoCore2.66MHz
Windows Vista Ultimate 64bit
4Gb RAM 667MHz
nVidia 9800GTX+512M
SB X-Fi Extreme Music
CH Fighterstick, Yoke, Throttles and Rudder
FEX, UTX, GEX MyTraffic2010

Flying Time:
30 hours

Performance

My test system is moderate by today’s standards. The alternative to shelling out thousands of dollars in search of the perfect FSX system, is to make what you have 100% efficient.

As a result of many hours testing, tweaking and overclocking, my gaming system can run with every slider at 100%. This means while I didn’t see any noticeable performance impact, users with similar or lower computer specifications might indeed experience a hit. Another significant factor is mesh and texture resolution. Maximum resolutions in FSX are 7cm for texture and 1m for mesh. Since MROC is optimized for 2m, my performance is actually a bit better with the Juan Santamaria scenery.

I tested this scenery with various weather schemes and traffic loads, with the resulting frame rates better than the default KSEA in similar conditions.

Will many see degraded performance going from the default MROC to LatinVFR’s version? Of course, but the penalty is well worth the sacrifice.

Summary / Closing Remarks

The Juan Santamaría International Airport by LatinVFR is a great product for the price. I think the development team learned a lot from the design process and their future products will benefit from it.

The daytime textures surrounding the airport leave a lot to be desired, and the manual should have been more informative, but overall I believe the positives far outweigh the negatives and recommend this scenery to anyone with a dream of flying around Costa Rica.

I believe great customer support is as important as the product itself. LatinVFR’s support is excellent and when possible, ensures fixes are made available for most issues customers’ experience.

 

What I Like About Latin VFR's MROC

  • Price
  • Excellent night textures
  • Extremely immersive experience
  • Photo real building, taxiway and runway textures
  • Numerous ground objects
  • Minimal effect on frame rates
  • Great Technical Support

 

What I Don't Like About Latin VFR's MROC

  • Poor and blurry ground detail surrounding airport
  • Warped textures on several small buildings
  • Manual
  • No working pushback tug

 

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Juan Santamaria International Airport (MROC)

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