AVSIM Commercial FSX Scenery Review

FSGlobal 2010 X

Product Information

Publishers:  Pilot's GesmbH

Description: world terrain mesh.

Download Size:
N/A

Format:
DVD
Simulation Type:
FSX & FS9
Reviewed by: Etienne Martin AVSIM Staff Reviewer - February 6, 2010

Introduction

FS Global 2010 X is a worldwide terrain mesh product for Flight Simulator 2004 / FSX. It adds 20 gigabytes of high resolution terrain elevation data to augment the fidelity of the virtual landscape features. This version follows FS Global 2008 which we looked at here on AVSIM back in February of 2008.

Like its predecessor, FS Global 2010 adds detail to the visible (above water) landscape features such as mountain ranges, fjords, peaks, gorges and other geographical points of visual interest. The product includes coverage the entire world (based on available data) in one package. There is no subset available for separate purchase. FSG 2010 includes data from new and updated data sources that are available commercially or in the public space, and converted to a format usable by the simulator.

Limitations

FSG does not change the type of terrain (landclass) nor does it add new scenery features such as vector graphics (such as, streams or rivers). It only modifies the elevation of existing terrain. As with any product of this type, when elevation data is changed from the default scenery, a few visual artifacts can occur when the new elevation no longer lines up with vector objects populating the ground in the FS world. FSG’s source data is compiled from accurate surface scans of the surface of our planet, it uses different algorithms and design compromises from those used in the base Flight Simulator. This sporadically causes raised or sunken lakes and airports, some rivers may not exactly line up in their banks, and coastal lines may clip terrain incorrectly.

Is this a problem? I don’t think so. First, I found the aberrations actually hard to come by, noting that this is based only on my experience with the product in select areas given the size it covers. Second, the simulator itself makes compromises. Its visuals are an approximation of the real thing to start with. For example, the Lukla strip in Nepal has a 12% incline to its one runway – and the default in FSX is rendered flat. Third, there is so much data that must be lined up and blended across different sources; it seems natural that some errors and gaps will occur from a statistical standpoint. Those gaps exist in the base FS product.

Regardless, FSG is up front with the issue of possible artifacts, the documentation explains the technical reasons as to why they exist. FSG 2010 version includes a demo copy of Airport Facilities X, and add-on for FSX. This is a special demo edition of AFX. It only lets you modify and save the elevation data for any airport, in case a gross error isn’t already fixed in the custom mesh that also comes with FSG 2010. While AFX is not the only utility available to modify airports and scenery objects in FS, I appreciated that it was included with the FSG 2010 distribution. It provides “in the box” the ability for you to make fixes beyond what FSG provides. We will not spend time on AFX here although it was functional in my test.

Elevation data in Flight Simulator

The level of detail (quality and fidelity) of the terrain in FSX varies widely by geographic location. This is determined by the amount of data included in the base product (by edition, Deluxe has more than the regular version), the type of data sources available at the time the product was designed, and the reasonable size of the distribution media at the time. FSX didn’t come with 6 DVDs of only terrain data. FSX has more detailed scenery than FS 2004, and the Gold (or Deluxe) versions of FSX include yet more data over the base FSX product. The quality of the data improves over time. In other words, the terrain data in FSG 2010 is improved primarily because it is based on the availability of more detailed information.

Coverage in FSG 2008 (from documentation) Coverage in FSG 2010 (from documentation)

The elevation data is measured by its level of detail, or LOD: The higher the LOD, the higher the resolution of the data. Here’s a table showing the approximate LOD values and respective data point densities:

Level of Detail (LOD) Approximate resolution (meters) Approximate resolution (feet)
LOD 6 600 m 1,968’
LOD 7 300 m 984’
LOD 8 150 m 492’
LOD 9 76 m 249’
LOD 10 38 m 125’
LOD 11 19 m 62’
LOD 12 10 m 33’

For example, LOD 7 includes one elevation point every 300 meters (984’). LOD 12 has one data point every 10 meters (33’), so scenery rendered at LOD 12 will have thirty times (30x) the level of detail of LOD 7, and almost eight times (8X) that of LOD 9. FSG includes mostly LOD 9 data, and some places up to LOD 12.

Packaging and documentation

The product comes on six DVDs, all of which are needed for the install. No download version is currently available, although it would be nice in the era of more widely available broadband Internet service to have the option.

I had complained in my previous article about the packaging for the 2008 version, chiefly because it didn’t hold the DVDs securely. The new plastic case used for FSG 2010 fixes that problem and this is a welcome improvement to avoid scratched discs during shipping. The case includes a registration card - a rarity these days - and a one page quick start document. The main documentation is on disc 1 in the form of two PDF documents, one describing the installation process, the other going into some detail of how the product is designed. The PDFs are also available online.

The technical behind-the-scenes document is a good read as it explains how the data was derived, what areas of the world are covered, and covers the limitations of the product. The document is available on the publisher’s web site online.

Installation

Test System

Intel QX9650 @ 4GHz
4 GB memory
ATI 5870 1Gb
Seagate Barracuda 1Tb
CH Products/TrackIR
Windows 7 x64
FSX Acceleration/SP2

Flying Time:
25 hours

There are multiple warnings of long install times during the install process in the materials and in the setup program itself. Thus it wasn’t a total surprise that I spent the better part of four hours swapping DVDs. The setup program caught the fact I inserted the wrong DVD at one point so it seems fairly robust. This is without doubt one of the lengthiest product installs I have come across, comparing in recent memory to the upgrade process of Windows Vista to Windows 7.

I thought I was going to be smart and do something else with the computer while the install was going on. This was not to be. My computer was nearly useless for the entire process: my hard disk was pegged moving data around, making anything else extremely sluggish and largely useless.

In the end, FSG 2010 confiscated 55% more space than its predecessor, the verdict coming in at 19.1Gb for FSG 2010 (12.3 Gb for FSG 2008). That is indeed a large footprint considering this is elevation data only. FSG 2010 installs in a separate folder from FSG 2008, which means you can have both setup at the same time. This was convenient for the purpose of this article as it allowed me to compare the products easily, although I wouldn’t see why you would ever want to keep both since 2010 includes all of 2008. The first thing to do would be to remove FSG 2008.

The only change needed to the FSX configuration was to check that the maximum terrain resolution was set for LOD 12 (10 meter terrain resolution), and that the scenery library included all the FSG2010 libraries, the later happens by default. The first time FSX is started, the scenery will need to re-index, and it is curiously speedy considering the number and size of the files involved.

The DVDs include installers for FSX and FS 2004. Countless warnings of a long install time. They are not kidding either. A special version of AFX demo can be optionally installed.

The last optional step is to run the AFX demo setup program, which is a standalone install. That was straightforward, although AFX has a dll that is loaded by FSX and it isn’t code signed, so you will get the warning of dire things to come by loading an unsigned module the first time, which thankfully can be turned off, thus the warning only occurs once.

I also took the additional step of running my disk defragmenter after the install because this much data can easily cause havoc with file fragmentation on the hard disk. This in turn can impact performance in the simulator. This is not suggested in the manual, but it is my de-facto practice when installing large files for Flight Simulator. For additional safety, you may want to defragment your unused space before installing the product, as it will make the post defragmentation quite a bit faster. I would not install the product on a heavily fragmented hard disk.

Experiencing the FSG 2010 visuals

As we already looked at the 2008 version in the previous article, we’ll concentrate on the new features in FSG 2010. The screenshots are taken from the same saved mission and settings, and I’ve cleared the weather so we can see the terrain unobstructed by clouds. Double click the image to view the high resolution version as the thumbnails do not do justice to the visuals. The comparison shots were done by either including, or excluding terrain layers via the simulator’s library manager. While FSG covers the entire world, I will only present here but a sample, hopefully representative, of what to expect.

In this first example, we go to the state of New Mexico in the United States at a landmark called Shiprock, a unique rock formation in the middle of the desert. The deluxe version of FSX includes a high resolution mesh of the United States, and we can see how FSG 2008 didn’t do much. The new LOD 12 mesh in FSG 2010 for this area makes quite the difference.

Shiprock, New Mexico, USA. FSX Deluxe. Shiprock, New Mexico, USA. FSG 2008. Shiprock, New Mexico, USA. FSG 2010. This is LOD 12 at work.

The same is true for other areas of the world covered in more detail in FSG, such as Hawaii and Norway.

Maui, Hawaii, USA. FSX Deluxe. Maui, Hawaii, USA. FSG 2008. Maui, Hawaii,, USA. FSG 2010.
Molokai, Hawaii, USA. FSX Deluxe. Molokai, Hawaii, USA. FSG 2008. Molokai, Hawaii,, USA. FSG 2010. New data sources at work.
Norway. FSX Deluxe. Norway. FSG 2008. Norway. FSG 2010.

If we now travel to areas of the world decidedly data neglected by FSX’s base scenery, we continue to see that FSG makes a whopping difference, although the 2010 version does not add anything to the 2008 version: both appear to use the same data set. In other words, there is a lot of overlap between the two products.

Caucasus mountains, FSX Deluxe Caucasus mountains, FSG 2008 Caucasus mountains, FSG 2010. No difference with FSG 2008, looks like the very same data set.

There are some areas where the 2010 version includes higher resolution data, such as the High Tatras mountain range in Slovekia.

High Tatras range, Slovekia, FSX Deluxe High Tatras range, Slovekia, FSG 2008 High Tatras range, Slovekia, FSG 2010. Not that different from FSG2008 from this point of view.
High Tatras range, Slovekia, FSX Deluxe, at closer range. Same in FSG 2008 FSG 2010. This closer view reveals that the peaks and ridges are a bit more detailed, as are the mountain sides (look to the right).

In Antarctica, the ridge lines near the sea in particular tell a visual tale of how scenery is rendered in flight simulator, and the mesh density is clearly visible in this extreme case.

Antartica. FSX Deluxe. Look at the ridge line closest to us, and notice the low density jagged edges (wide spaces between points). Each point is a terrain elevation mesh point in the default FSX scenery. FSG 2010, same shot, although with a slightly different camera angle. The same ridge shows the difference in the number of points in the new FSG the mesh.
Using the FSX SDK terrain viewer, we can visually see the terrain mesh, in this case, a small region in Antarctica as it appears in FSX Deluxe. The colors represent differences in topography. The blue color is the sea, white is the highest elevation. This is approximately the same area with the FSG 2010 data set and magnification level. The image is crisper and we can see additional levels of detail, especially near in the edges of the highest area (white), and more gradiation in the greens. Note how the coast line is different as well, even if the shot is slightly to the right of the FSX shot.

Lastly, we can see areas of the world where the FSG data closely parallels the default FSX terrain mesh. In this situation, there is no clear advantage to FSG. The FSG documentation points to the fact that while this may be true, the algorithms used eliminate errors in the base FSX scenery.

Mount McKinley, Alaska, USA. FSX Deluxe. Mount McKinley, Alaska, USA. FSG 2010. No difference I could see here. The base data is already high resolution.

Performance

Twenty additional gigabytes of scenery data is, even by today’s terabyte sized drives, a lot. Some of it must invariably be loaded as you fly around, on top of the rest of the data that must be loaded as well. Initial load times from flights starting in high density areas such as the Swiss Alps or the Rockies in Colorado were slightly longer to load than flights in low density areas. There were significant longer pauses during the initial load progress bar when it is “loading terrain”. By this, I mean up to 10 to 20 seconds longer. During flight, I noticed my hard disk was getting a workout, especially as I was flying low with a fast aircraft – a visual experience that simply cannot be passed up with this product. Of course, that always gives the hard drive a workout, FSG or not. I didn’t see any difference in FPS between FSX scenery only and FSG 2010 only, so only the initial load time was noticeably longer and worst in LOD 12 areas.

The nature of the product will put more strain on the IO system of your gaming computer, and if you currently are experiencing stutters and scenery “pops” with the simulator today, it’s hard to say how the new terrain data will impact this as I have no frame of reference for this.
All I can say on the subject is that FSG was transparent to the FPS on my test system and didn’t register the type of FPS hit I see with certain aircraft or scenery add-ons. I also do not experience stutters or pops.

Conclusion

FS Global 2010 X is an improvement over its predecessor in many areas. Using recently improved data sources means more areas of coverage worldwide, most notably at latitudes nearing the poles were good data sources were unavailable before, or areas where improve source data is now available. A clear benefit of FSG 2010 is its all inclusive nature. No purchase of separate continents or area necessary, you get it all.

I value that FSG 2010 went the extra mile by including a special version of the AFX demo that lets you fix airport elevations, even if I did not run across that need. I think that it’s this kind of nice touch that demonstrates customer care.

The value of the product largely depends on what add-ons you already have and where you normally fly. If you already have a high level of detail terrain in some spots, FSG will add little, unless you get into the new LOD12 range where it’s nothing short of spectacular.

I note here that all terrain products in the end get their data from the same free or commercial sources. What distinguishes them in the end are how many sources were used, and how recent the data is, how good the algorithms to correct the data issues are, how they are priced/packaged, and when they were released. The later is crucial because more recent data sources will be more accurate, thus making more detail possible.

If upgrading from FSG 2008, you can expect an evolution, not the revolution FSG 2010 brings to the base FS scenery. FSG 2010 manages to improve over the high resolution meshes in FSX Deluxe/Gold edition as well. I highly recommend a look at the online “behinds the scenes” document to make an informed decision for an upgrade, noting the vendor offers a discounted upgrade cost if you already own the 2008 version.

FSG 2010 is a drastic improvement over the base flight simulator scenery, creating mountains and hills totally missed by Flight Simulator. It merits a good look if you already have terrain mesh add-ons due to its overall coverage quality up to LOD 12.

In the end, I find it a solid and complete product, and FS Global brings the flight simulator experience ever closer to the real thing. It truly deserves a gold star.

 

What I Like About FS Global 2010 X

  • Covers the entire world in one product.
  • Includes up to LOD12 topography in many places for some stunning detail in the visuals.
  • Compatible with other add-ons, including other mesh add-ons, thanks to the ability for FSX to change the layer load hierarchy in the scenery library manager.
  • Includes in the box a special demo version of a third party tool to change the elevation of raised/sunken default airports.
  • Includes local meshes to blend some of the default scenery better with FSG

 

What I Don't Like About FS Global 2010 X

  • Nothing that can be done about it, but count six hours of install by the time it’s all said and done if you include the three hours to install the product, plus two hours in disk optimization that followed, plus the coffee breaks.

 

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