AVSIM Freeware Scenery Review
Description: A highly-detailed airfield constructed with reference photos take on site by the developers and accurately recreated with beautiful textures.
FSX, FS9 & X-Plane
|Reviewed by: Drew Sikora AVSIM Staff Reviewer - March 31, 2012|
I was drawn to this scenery immediately after I looked through the gallery on LHSimulation's website and saw what they were offering for free. A relatively new group of developers, LHSim was officially formed back in 2009 and follows the goal of faithfully re-creating Hungarian airport sceneries for FS2004, FSX and X-Plane. To date they have created 3 - first LHSM, then LHDC and finally the recently released LHPP. I chose to look at LHDC being that it's the largest of the three sceneries and is situated right next to a major city, Debrecen.
Debrecen International Airport (LHDC) has had quite a history, switching roles many times from civil airfield to military airfield and back again since its founding back in 1930. It's been used in WWII as a bomber base and was controlled by the Soviets for almost 50 years after the war was over. When it was handed back to the Hungarian government in 1991 the city of Debrecen worked over the course of 10 years to build the airport up to international status. It now services destinations like Turkey and Bulgaria as well as connecting with Hungary's capital, Budapest, for farther-flung destinations around the world. You can learn more about the airport from its official website.
In addition to the airport, LHSim offers a library pack that consolidates several re-usable library objects so you only have to install them once when you use their airport scenery to save space on your hard drive as well as their servers and bandwidth costs. LHDC is also compatible with AES (base pack) versions 2.14 or higher.
Installation and Documentation
LHSim is the provider and host for all their files, and as they are obviously on a budget their bandwidth isn't what you'll find when downloading from an e-commerce shop like PCAviator. However neither are their airport files extremely large for this day and age so a little extra patience and you'll have everything on your machine ready to install.
Installing the scenery is extremely straightforward since you don't need to worry about any piracy controls or payment windows. Simply launch the installer, agree to the license, pick a directory (it will point you towards your default installation directory but you can change it) and go.
Once the installer is complete it will launch the manual, which I like popping up after I install a product as it saves me from having to go looking for it afterwards. When you look in your Start Menu you'll find a folder for LHSim web links along with the LHDC manual, uninstall link and charts PDF.
The final step is to manually add the scenery to your scenery library in the simulator. While it would have been nice for this process to have been done by the installer, it's also a process very familiar to almost anyone who's added a freeware scenery to their simulator at some point. To their credit, LHSim provides very detailed instructions for activating the scenery in their manual, including the Windows Vista/7 issue of the OK button not choosing the scenery until you click the white area in the file window.
If you prefer to install the scenery outside of your FSX folder, this is permissible however you should be aware that effects files still need to be placed in the default directory's /Effects folder and if you do this manually the uninstaller will be unable to find and remove them. So the best thing to do is point the installer at your default FSX folder and let it run, then move the LHDC folder from the /Addon Scenery folder to your location of choosing. This way you can use the uninstaller to remove the effect files and just manually delete the airport folder.
Neither the airport or the scenery library will show up in your Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel but links to the uninstallers are provided in your Start Menu. Once you agree to the uninstall the process will run itself and remove all files from your system that remain in the location where they were originally installed, retain the same file name as when they were originally installed, and are not currently being accessed by any programs. Any files that don't match these three criteria will need to be deleted manually, and the uninstaller won't let you know if any were left behind. The LHSimulation menu will remain in your Start Menu with web links.
Manual and Documentation
You'll get a PDF manual in both Hungarian and English as well as a PDF containing all the charts for the airport, which you can access from the Start Menu.
The manual contains an informative backgrounder on the airport, the LHSim group's mission and the usual license and developer information. A good set of tips are included to help you boost performance of your simulator, although they incorrectly state the RAM limit of x86 (32-bit) operating systems as being 2GB, when it's actually 4GB of memory. While you do get all the necessary charts in the PDF, they are mainly from 2009 and 2010. This may reflect the state of the airport as it was developed, but still it would have been nice to know where to go for more up to date charts.
Buildings and Objects
Within the Airport
The developers had full access to the airport from the management staff and they used it very well. Extremely well. You'll find payware scenery with less texture detail than what's available at this airport thanks to the ability of the developers to directly photograph buildings and objects and use those photos as the base for their textures in the sim. Checking the web for reference images to compare with the sim I almost didn't really care as everything looks so good you're instantly convinced that that's the way it has to look in real life. And really, it is.
I really like the fact that there is a hangar open for user aircraft to park in, as well as a helicopter trailer that you can land on. However the developers forgot to disable collision detection on these objects so if you have crash detection switched on the in the sim you won't be able to use them.
There's also the problem of the airport being so empty without any AI traffic. I'm a big proponent of static aircraft. AI traffic is great but it can be a pretty noticeable hit to your frame rate when you're putting extra burden on the CPU. The extra burden on the GPU from static aircraft is largely shrugged off on modern day mid-range graphics cards and is a good option to have for people who tend to fly without AI. The airport does show some static ground service vehicles, which is nice to see.
If you have ground shadows enabled you will get proper object shadowing in and around LHDC, however some ground objects also have baked shadows in the texture, and other objects won't cast shadows at all, as you can see in the image above (the apron light towers are a good example, and the signs to the bottom left). Ground shadows are great to have when flying at dawn or dusk when they are long and noticeable, but otherwise the performance hit usually isn't worth it.
The 3D taxiway reflectors look great, and are placed all around the airport and on both taxiways - however looking at the included airport diagram it specifically shows taxiway edge markers for the ramp area and taxiway A only, not taxiway B. However this is also a chart dated 10/22/09.
The last omission I noticed was the lack of grassy berms around some of the ramps extending off of taxiway B. Most of the berms had been leveled away but some were still plainly visible on the ground textures yet they were still flat. Some 3D objects would have been nice here similar to the grassy hills covering the bunkers around the airport.
Around the Airport
When we move outside of the airport the most obvious scenery attraction is the large city of Debrecen right next door, which is all default scenery, however there's much more to see in the immediate surroundings:
As you can see, there's plenty to look at as you fly around the airport or approach on final from either direction. The train is an especially nice touch - its animation ends and restarts close to the runway so you are pretty much guaranteed to see it as you fly your final approach to Runway 05R.
The incredible texture work extends to the detail given to the ground polygons as well. The exact resolution isn't specified anywhere that I could find, but the airport ground is very high resolution, with a more moderate resolution of ground texture surrounding the airport before turning back into default terrain (UTX Europe is not installed on my machine).
It's also fully compatible with season changes thanks to the aforementioned season texture switcher utility, which can be run in-between flights and you don't have to reboot the simulator. Just end the flight, load a new season and re-start the flight after you change the date accordingly.
For the most part the airport does a great job of blending into the default textures surrounding it, although the fall textures tend to stand out a little more than the rest thanks to the somewhat snowy textures bumping harshly against some still-green fields. In all the texture sets you can also see a very sharp defining edge to the left of the image that makes the scenery look "cut out" from the default textures. Closer to the center of the airport thought the change isn't quite as noticeable, as you can see in the images below.
The ground resolution is so good in fact that it appears some of the lighting is actually misplaced.
And then I also tend to have issue with ground markings not being smooth when curved. Unless I'm mistaken, these are rendered into the textures, not drawn in real time by the simulator - therefore there's no reason why extra polygons shouldn't be used to show smoother curves. Given that not all the markings are hard-edged in their turns it's possible that's how they are drawn in real life, but I doubt it.
As nice as the ground textures are, I wouldn't have wanted them replacing the FSX water and thankfully the developers did a great job of masking out the various water bodies to let the dynamic water show through.
There are several issues that affect the operations of AI and ATC at the airport, although there are also some key items that the developers did well on. It may seem like a simple thing, but remembering to label your parking correctly to match with the gate numbers they are supposed to be assigned has been forgotten or erroneously assigned at other airports I've seen. Furthermore, runway 23L has a displaced threshold, and this is accurately depicted in the underlying runway that AI use to determine landing distance so they don't come down for a landing on the threshold itself, again as I've seen at other airports. Another thing I love about this airport is the idea that when you ask the simulator to start you on the active runway, the start location is actually located at the hold short on the taxiway instead of on the runway itself.
There's a small issue with the hold short markings for runway 05R, and I was initially confused when AI aircraft taxied well beyond the marking until I checked the included airport ground movements chart and noted that the location they specified for hold short was indeed past the markings, in fact there is a STOP sign next to the taxiway to indicate where you should hold. A mention of this in the manual would have been nice, as with the hold short node in the airport file past the markings a user aircraft that holds at the markings will not be able to use the default ATC window to radio the tower for takeoff clearance as the option will not appear until the user is closer to that invisible node (although the Progressive Taxi option will show them they have a bit farther to go if used).
The AI pathing is also very basic so you have aircraft driving alongside taxi lines instead of on them and cutting corners around turns. This is an airport that uses drive through parking for some of its gates, which means the aircraft is meant to arrive from the rear of the parking space and depart out the front. FSX parking is not designed to do this by default and requires a special setup of the AI network to implement (and even then the chances of doing so successfully are dependent on the airport layout). Given the basic network layout you will see aircraft arriving and departing from the gates in an unrealistic manner.
Parking is also an issue, as there are some parking spots close to each other that are too large and overlap, potentially allowing aircraft to spawn next to one another with wings touching or passing through each other. Some of the gate parking that is supposed to handle large airliners is sized too small to allow any aircraft of these dimensions to arrive or depart, which means if you hook in the World of AI aircraft that are supposed to service the airport they'll have nowhere to go without modifying the airport file to increase the parking size.
When communicating with the default ATC, there is a lack of airport name and taxiway identifiers. This is really Microsoft's fault, as they created the default LHDC to use a multicom frequency instead of a tower frequency. When the developer switched the comm type over to a tower FSX's default voicepack had no matching record to use to identify the airport, hence a blank space is inserted into the ATC window text. The only way to fix this is with a 3rd party add-on, Edit Voicepack, which could have been noted in the manual. The assignment of taxiway designators however is a task that does fall to the developers and was most likely an oversight, as the designators were present in the airport file, just not assigned. Also when making a visual approach to Runway 05R ATC will put you in a left traffic pattern instead of a right one, as indicated by the included VFR approach chart.
As mentioned beforehand, LHDC is compatible with the base pack of Airport Enhancement Services, which means you can install and use it for free. Given that I only fly GA aircraft I don't have much use for the program but seeing that it's free I decided to install and test it to the best of my ability. I found no issues with the functionality of AES, although when parked at Gate 1 AES vehicles can sometimes pass through nearby static vehicles. Also AES vehicles arrive and depart along the grass thanks to the program taking a general approach to vehicle movement and assume that you are at a typical gate parking layout. Minor squabble and nothing the developers can do about it anyways.
I've gushed a lot about the object and texture work so far but if you really want to be impressed bring the sun lower towards the horizon and watch the airport light up beautifully. I'll let the images do most of the work:
There are three minor flaws that become apparent when the sun goes to sleep - two are depicted below and the third is that the airport diagram indicates there should be lighting that exists to mark the threshold of runway 23L but is not represented here in the scenery. It's possible these could be out of service presently, but no light objects at all are located at the threshold.
Cranking my machine up to 4.5GHz I loaded up my Carenado V35B for a pattern flight around the airport and then hopped into the Dodosim 206B for some low-level buzzing of the surrounding area. The V35B is a fast enough small aircraft that it can stress the surrounding area as I zoom around the pattern circuit and the Dodosim set at the highest reality settings requires responsive control input to handle properly, which you can't get if your framerates drop too low.
In both instances while flying around I did not see my framerate dip below 15fps for a period long enough to cause any serious stutters to the display or delays in my control inputs. I ran both flights with autogen and scenery density maxed out, UT2 daily and weekly traffic set to 100%, road traffic at 50%, aircraft self shadows and ground shadows on as well as object ground shadows on. Water was also at its highest settings. The biggest performance hit always came whenever I had to change my view to look back towards the city of Debrecen, which is understandable. Pulling my scenery density setting down to normal didn't really have any impact on my framerates. The city of Debrecen wasn't noticeably smaller, and the airport itself didn't seem to be missing any objects either. So you will have to adjust autogen, shadows and traffic to net a few FPS if you need them - there's not enough water around for lowering that setting to have much of an impact.
Summary / Closing Remarks
This scenery, and in fact the entire current lineup offered by the LHSim group, is easily the best bang for the buck you could ever ask for being that it's completely free. You can think of it as a gateway drug into Hungary - if you never had an excuse to fly there before I guarantee you do now. And once you're hooked you can continue to support the development of more airfields by buying the new ones that are released, as LHSim has just recently announced that they will be transitioning to a payware model for their upcoming and future projects. I don't think they'll have any problems getting people to open their wallets after the stunning portfolio they've built themselves so far.
Being an open group of developers and still learning a lot about the design and development of airports, I posted my concerns regarding the airport operations on a thread of theirs over at FSDeveloper and they were very open to feedback and improvement. Given that, I spent a weekend working on some drive through parking and correcting many of the flaws I noted in the review above. I have already sent them the changes and we're working together on hopefully incorporating them into a new release. They are also working on their own AI aircraft objects and flight plans to use with their airport scenery.
Now, if you'll excuse me I have some flying to do around Hungary!
What I Like About LHDC
What I Don't Like About LHDC
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