Table of Contents
Introduction - Part I
Part I ... what, part I! What does this mean?
To keep it all a little normal and not producing a review of 20.000 words, I've decided, in consultation with John Venema, to split the FTX experience review into two parts. Part I covers the Australian continent from north to south, and from east to west including Tasmania. This means it covers all the FTX AU scenery products and with that, I'll try to give you an overview of what FTX products do with your default Australia scenery. Despite of great video on their website, I have to admit that the Full Terrain Experience is awesome and that’s for a reasonable price.
I invite you to join me with my virtual Douglas DC-2 on a trip from Darwin - New Castle Waters - Cloncurry - Charleville - Narramute to Melbourne, which is the same flight which was made in 1934 by the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The KLM Royal Dutch Airlines crew flew this stretch as part of the London-Melbourne Air Race and now it's my virtual challenge to do it again with the help of the Flight1 Douglas DC-2 and the FTX products from Orbx Systems. This is followed by a special celebration flight to the island of Tasmania, the largest island on the south coast of Australia.
Altogether to give you a well balanced and open view of the FTX Australia products, know as the GREEN (Tropical North), the RED (Central Outback), the GOLD (Subtropical East) and BLUE (Temperature South).
Where shall I start this time and why have I chosen Australia? This is not strange since my Dutch ancestors immigrated to Australia and New Zealand. With that in mind and the challenge to cover one of the most realistic FSX Australian sceneries there is, and the fact that the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines became famous by participating in the London-Melbourne Air Race, brings it all together.
Part II will cover some of the payware airports - YSCH (Coffs Harbour), YPEC (AeroPelican), YWVA (Warnervale) and YMAV (Avalon) and I will be visiting all those during one of my favorite cross-country trips. Apart from the payware airports, there’s a bunch of other freeware general software titles and even a few Australian airports downloadable from the FTX website, but that's freeware and we will not discuss those here.
First we could ask ourselves what is FTX (Full Terrain EXperience) anyway? FTX introduces a radical new modular design with a level of visual fidelity unprecedented in Microsoft Flight Simulator since its introduction over twenty years ago. For the first time ever it is a pleasure to fly low and slow and take in the depth of features that our ground terrain textures provide.
So once more ..... FTX products offer replaced ground texture tiles for the Australian continent and thus offers a highly realistic representation of the landscape. Apart from the autogen implementation, ground texture tiles are based on photo-realistic material. However, FTX packages should not be confused with photo-realistic sceneries like MegaSceneryEarth, for example.
MegaSceneryEarth is in that respect a totally different product since it offers a full replica of the ground surface with a certain quality. While within FTX, although photo material is used, the offered tiles are of a much higher quality.
John Vennema put it like this "To get a good understanding; FTX products could be loosely compared to the combination of UTX and GEX, although there is a main difference. GEX replaces the ground textures only, and UTX adds computer-generated landclass and vector roads and coastlines. They are separate products which can work well together. FTX on the other hand, has been built from the ground up to completely offer a single solution of 1m/pixel photo based textures, tightly integrated with hand-placed custom landclass and in many areas, polygon landclass to define individual parks, towns, golf courses, rail yards and much more. Combined with accurate roads, moving traffic, 3D lights, hand-made coastlines, lakes, rivers and vertical obstructions (TV towers, wind farms, lighthouses, chimneys, power stations) - you get the first package available for FSX which includes everything you need in one installation. The final key difference is that FTX autogen is hand annotated to within 1m accuracy, which makes all trees, buildings and other objects perfectly positioned on the ground. Finally, add in full seasonal color support and the tight integration of all these elements, and you can see how FTX is so unique and feels so real".
FTX is hand-crafted by John Venema and his team of texture artists using source aerial photography licensed from world class data providers. Additional digital low altitude images have also been taken by the Orbx development team using rented aircraft and 10 megapixel exterior mounted cameras.
The advantage of using low altitude aerial digital photography versus satellite images cannot be overstated. The results are evident in the much higher level of intricate detail which can be found in each texture, and by using efficient resampling from 15cm/pixel down to 1m/pixel images, nearly all of the source information is preserved. If you can imagine flying over a golf course at 500 ft and seeing golfers and their carts on the green, then you can imagine what using FTX will be like!
Install and fly.
complex interfaces? Yeah, so does Orbx. They think FSX has enough
sliders, buttons and options to last anyone a lifetime.
You want to
endowed FSX with all you need to tune the sim to perfection.
When you install FTX Region Packs, all you get for your money is a little bitty desktop icon, which you are free to move wherever you want. Places such as another folder, the quick launch area - it's up to you. When you run the installer, some important files are replaced with Orbx ones to make FTX perform its magic tricks have been safely backed up for you. Finished with FTX? Just click the icon, confirm you want, turn FTX Mode off, and your files are restored in about 1.5 seconds. Presto!
When you use FTX, set FTX Mode to ON otherwise when you're done with FTX, set FTX Mode OFF! That’s it! Install and fly. Just the way we like it.
With it’s scalable performance does all this increased fidelity come at a performance cost? The answer is a resounding no! You see, FTX is designed to use fewer, more varied textures to deliver higher visual detail, meaning that loading times aren't longer because FSX is actually retrieving fewer textures into your graphics card. That's the first benefit. More importantly, if you have autogen turned on, you'll still enjoy great frame rates since they have optimized the placement of autogen objects and they’re using their unique Orbx custom Gmax low-poly library objects, resulting in a smoother flight experience with more accurately placed autogen objects.
For those of you who want to enjoy the amazing richness and depth of the textures, you will find that turning autogen completely off will not diminish your flying experience in any way at all. In fact, many testers of FTX prefer how Orbx’s textures look with autogen completely disabled - resulting in frame rates as smooth as butter, and allowing you to max those scenery complexity, traffic and effects sliders and turn the bloom effect on as bonus!
Orbx challenges you to try FTX without autogen and tell them if you really miss it! Want to see the level of detail that they've shown in their screenshots and videos? Well, if your PC can run default FSX with the autogen sliders set to "Dense", then you'll have the same experience. Just use the FSX in-built sliders to tune the performance to suit your PC.
I mentioned it already, but just some words about the bonus freeware airports. Almost every payware FTX Region Pack will have a complete series of region-matched photo-real, high quality freeware airports available for anyone to download. These will be released using satellite photo ground terrain and will seamlessly blend into the FTX textures. Included in each of these airports will be lots of macro details such as some modeled buildings, hangars, static objects and a huge variety of FSX native scenery objects such as flying birds and moving traffic.
I think this introduction is more than enough. It's time to move on to the products themselves and see how it installs, which manuals are offered and what the scenery impact is, but first a short Australian story.
The Australian Legend
Australia, officially known as the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the southern hemisphere comprising of the mainland of the world's smallest continent, the major island of Tasmania, and numerous other islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Neighboring countries include Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia to the northeast and New Zealand to the south-east.
For around 40,000 years before European settlement commenced in the late 18th century, the Australian mainland and Tasmania were inhabited by about 250 individual nations of indigenous Australians. After sporadic visits by fishermen from the immediate north, and European discovery by Dutch explorers in 1606, the eastern half of Australia was claimed by the British in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales, founded on 26 January 1788.
The population grew steadily in the following years; the continent was explored, and during the 19th century another five largely self-governing Crown Colonies were established. On 1 January 1901, the six colonies became a federation, and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since Federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and remains a Commonwealth realm. The population is just over 21.3 million, with approximately 60% concentrated in and around the mainland state capitals of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. The nation's capital city is Canberra, located in the Australian Capital Territory.
Shall I continue with the Australian legend or shall we start with the FTX products. Continue with it's history is worth exploring Australia, but exploring Australia from the sky at or between 2000 and 500 feet is much more fun, so let's go for it.
Installation and documentation
The installation of the four FTX areas via the FlightSim Store wrapper is simple, straightforward and without any problems. Also the separate SP2 is done in the same way. By the way, this SP2 solves certain bugs and applies to all sceneries or at least for those you've installed. Anyway, the installation is done before you know it and when finished, you've got a shortcut on your desktop as well as new shortcuts under the Start menu button.
Ok, via the start button you will find a manual for each scenery, which is discussed in detail right after this. Then there's the Uninstaller but more important, links to FTX Mode and FTX 3D Lights Tweaker. Let's split this and explain those in detail.
The FTX Mode is the same shortcut as can be found on your desktop. These are green FTX icons which allows you to activate/deactivate the FTX scenery library and nothing more than that. Don't expect any complicated settings which must be done before starting and using the FTX scenery layers.
Basically there's one minor problem with this "standard" button and that's you've got no idea if the FTX scenery is activated or not unless of course you start the FTX Mode program. In other words, the FTX icon is a standard green irrespective of the FTX scenery status. To solve this problem you will find a separate program in the Orbx folder which allows you to correct the icon color in relation to the scenery library status. Simple, when the FTX scenery or sceneries is/are active, the icon is green otherwise it's red. A simple solution and to be honest I've got no idea why this is not a standard implemented. Anyway, it's available and once it’s installed it's very handy.
The FTX Lights Tweaker is a very small tool and allows you to change the default lights whatever light bulb you're dealing with. It allows you to choose between different halo styles and additionally the diameter of the selected one. The overall output is a much more realistic - for example - street light or lamp post. I could add the descriptive screenshots but that would be too much, so I’ll guide you to AVSIM's FTX YMML Melbourne review, where we made a evening flight. Together with a certain halo style and diameter, these screenshots - just above the interview with John Vennema - shows you how it will look.
This is it and as I said before; once you've installed the scenery or sceneries, you are ready to go explore the Australian landscape.
Documentation: AUGREEN, BLUE, GOLD and RED manuals
Although the FTX manuals are more or less the same, it's more or less a compilation of the overall manual impression. There's no table of contents but the setup of each manual is very clear, and all the different parts are well separated from each other. Apart from the introduction section, some general information about the four scenery areas and the final words, the recommended FSX settings is probably one of the most interesting parts.
Not only are recommendations given but every FSX Settings-Display window is discussed and what impact it could have on your system. This is and stays a problem. There's so many possibilities and thus so many changes are needed to get the best out of your system and of course this manual can't describe them all and therefore I strongly advice you when you buy one of these FTX products, have a regular look at the Orbx FTX forum.
Although my questions were always answered quickly and "to-the-point", many other flight simmers or Orbx team members are always willing to help you and/or share their knowledge with others.
Anyway, after these instructional pages there are also some tweaking suggestions for advanced users and again for this, when you want more information, just have a look at the Orbx FTX forum. The manuals continue with some general flying tips in combination with the FTX software. Then there's another page with the necessary information about tweaking or adjusting the 3D light system.
According to Orbx Simulation they tell you that "FTX uses a new 3D lighting system developed by Orbx and exclusive to our products. This system creates multi-coloured lighting for all roads in urban areas and major roads in rural townships. The lighting system is also implemented as autogen in the textures themselves, so you will find cities are depicted very accurately and you can actually see towns approaching during night flights over remote areas".
A long sentence but I can tell you once adjusted correctly, it makes a huge difference compared to the standard FSX lighting system. I tested this already when I reviewed the YMML airport scenery and the results where stunning.
Furthermore, there's some information about "custom landclass" and things not yet implemented in this particular AU scenery. This depends of course on which scenery you’ve bought. Altogether it’s the most important information needed for flying above this FTX scenery. Remember, once you’ve installed one or more FTX sceneries and have it activated, there’s no need to do anything except flying and explore the Australian country and that's what we're going to do now.
FTX Australian Air Race (VFR)
Covering the Australian continent can be done in many ways. For many reasons I've decided to find somewhere in the hangar my old Flight1 Douglas DC-2 and fly the Aussie continent as the pilots did during the good old days. For those having no idea where I'm talking about; I jump into my Douglas DC-2 and fly the stretches starting at Darwin airport and from there via the official route to old Melbourne. Since my virtual pilots do have some time to spend in doing nothing, I invited them to fly along the BLUE AU coastline to the Island of Tasmania.
Oops, it's time to hurry else the aircraft will be flying without me and that means problems ahead of us so let's go; follow me on my virtual trip across the GREEN, RED, GOLD and BLUE Aussie territories.
Before arriving at Darwin airport, located at the north west coast of Australia coming from Indonesia, we've decided to fly initially to the south of the FTX AU GREEN software, and from here along the white beaches to Darwin. Although every computer is different and knowing that even this FTX scenery from Orbx Simulations is heavy, I've still got very good FPS but above all, a wonderful landscape below me.
I haven't been here in real life but looking at the ground below me it gives me the feeling I'm flying above the "real" Australian west coast. OK, I know it's not a photorealistic scenery, thus it means not every square kilometer or if you wish square mile, is like the real thing but it fits all very nicely together and gives the enthusiastic flight simmer an impressive idea of the FTX landscape.
The landscape is especially impressive when flying at low altitudes. This means somewhere around 2000-4000 feet AGL. Ok, if you want, you may climb a little bit but not too much, with to the high resolution it's worth enjoying the detailed ground with all what's found down there.
I started somewhere in-between mentioning the FPS impact and want to write some words on this. Keep in mind that due to the very high resolution, there's a FPS impact. Not high but it’s there. It's not as bad as their YMML Melbourne airport scenery, for example, where with all sliders at the correct or suggested position and a blue sky, even then your frames run down. Regarding this FTX scenery and with my new PC, I'm still able to get around 25-50 FPS, depending on the landscape, urban, trees, the autogen activity or in the vicinity of large cities.
Frames like these - 20-30 FPS - are more than. I know, everybody wants to see a FPS figure as high as possible and everybody becomes frustrated when looking to the RH upper corner of your FSX screen when this figure is not as expected. The trick is as Nick Needham writes to many flight simmers - do you have a smooth motion/movement of your virtual FS world? If the answer is YES, than there's no need to see higher frames than needed.
It's time to move on. We’re approaching the Darwin area and while our virtual pilots are doing their job in bringing the passengers save from A to B, we're able to make some pictures from the FTX ground below us. It's very impressive and detailed. Final call for approach to runway 18 at YPDN. Remember, we're flying a DC-2 and a longer runway is not needed.
In 1934.... that's when the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was flying and participating the London-Melbourne air race, the whole Darwin International Airport was totally different than today. Anyway, flying over the bay, downtown Darwin, and along the northern Darwin coastline, we make our final turn for landing and oops, don't forget that Darwin airport scenery is not modified thus it's more than is was before. Remember, part I covers the Australian landscape!
This means we need to refuel as quickly as possible to continue with our journey to the next stop: New-Castle Waters. No idea where this is? I don't know either but we can find that. It's probably somewhere in the GREEN or RED FTX scenery. I'll see and since we don't use GPS or other modern navigation equipment, it could be that we're not flying the optimum direct connection to New-Castle Waters. Refuel is almost finished and before I know, we're ready for takeoff from runway 29. One of the reasons to choose this one is that after we're airborne, we decide to make a nice northeast turn and fly along the AU GREEN coast. After some miles of flying, we decide to turn to a more southerly direction which gives us a good idea of the different parts of the FTX Australian landscape.
Since it's early in the morning with some clouds, the landscape and thus the realistic factor is great. Together with the Douglas DC-2 cabin comfort I'm jumping from left to right in the cabin, making the necessary screenshots. Because of our low altitude, it's really nice to see how the Aussie country looks. The only thing that is missing is the smell of cattle. And not only that, I don't see any cows, horses or other animals running around.
Is there a need to see all those things? First of all, I don't think FSX can simulate this and on the other hand, why should we! What's already down there is great and nothing more is needed, especially when flying at those low altitudes. Personally this landscape can be used in combination with VFR and IFR flights but its power comes forward when flying with a GA aircraft, low altitudes and seeing what's coming. With IFR flights, the final approach and/or following a SID (Standard Instrument Departure) is nice but once you're at higher altitudes, the great FTX landscape with all it's details is slowly lost. How far lost, that's what you will see during an IFR flight from Brisbane to Perth.
As said, the first stop is New Castle Waters which is just a fuel and toilet stop. Nothing more than that and since it's still situated in the Northern Territory, the landscape has not changed much. Ok, it's different than the western coastline but it's still pretty green over here. That's why it's called the GREEN AU scenery.
During our descent as with the others as well, we slowly drop to 1000 feet and depending on the airports AGL altitude, in between 1000 and 0 feet. These lower altitudes offer the power and force of this Australian scenery from Orbx Simulations. Since there's hardly anything here at this airport ... oops ... an airstrip with nothing except fuel facilities, we move on as quickly as possible heading for our next stop; Cloncurry.
Having all the four FTX sceneries active, it's a little difficult to judge if I'm flying in the GREEN or RED Australian scenery. Therefore our virtual pilots decide to fly initially a little in the southeast direction, which gives us the opportunity to face the RED landscape. The RED area is dry, hardly any green plants, trees and maybe we will be lucky and see a lake, river or a well, if these are not dried out.
Together with the sun and some clouds here and there, it's great meeting this FTX AU RED inland landscape for the first time. There's not much time to enjoy it since I've got the idea that the pilot has changed his heading towards Cloncurry. A heading change means in this case turning towards a heading of 90°. That's strange; I though we needed to fly in a more northeasterly direction. Wrong thought! After our takeoff from New-Castle Waters, the pilots took a very southerly approach, bringing us very quickly to the RED zone. Then they decided to fly in a more or less easterly direction and fly straight to Cloncurry.
I'm not able to look out or check every detail of the Australian landscape, but so far I've got a good idea of what they have made. Apart from your PC specifications and the settings you're able to adjust and depending on which graphics adapter you use, I'm very impressed with this piece of pure FSX FTX scenery. Oops, is that correct FSX FTX? Oh yes, there's nothing wrong with that so let's continue.
As said before, it's pure scenery and no airports. Orbx Simulations offers several great payware airports as well as smaller ones but nevertheless great looking freeware airports. Also for these, I can't offer every airport in its full glory because of the review in-depth story and thus the length of it.
Anyway, I'll try to visit some of those payware airports and give an impression of these as well and now you know why I've decided to split this review into parts I and II. This airport was - without the Service Pack - already awesome. Unfortunately at that time I had an older PC, which couldn't really handle the extremely high quality textures.
Oops, we need to go back to prepare us for the upcoming approach and landing at Cloncurry, located in the midlands. We've not even landed but it's a good idea to tell you what to expect after this. After a good night’s rest, we're heading further to the east and to be more precise, to the city and airport of Charleville. This should be somewhere in the GOLD or BLUE AU area. From here we move down to Melbourne in a more or less straight line, but what they didn't do in those days is something we can do today, fly via an alternate route to Melbourne. First we need a rest and the next day we're heading to Charleville in Queensland.
I'm a lucky person since the weather forecast is pretty good for this VFR stretch to Charleville. The aircraft is ready but I'm not sure about the passengers - me included - and the pilots. What's important is that we will discover another part of Australia and there's more good news. Depending on the actual wind conditions, it could be that we fly towards the east and along the coastline in a southern direction to Melbourne and passing all the other medium to large airports. I'm going too fast again; we haven’t even lifted off from Cloncurry.
The last preparations are done and now we're taxiing to the runway or at least what is left from the good one and here we go. The land below us is changing constantly. It's dry, there are hardly any trees, with red sand at some spots and some green vegetation or whatever that is. In general, not very impressive but I need to clarify this. Not impressive means that this area of the Australian midlands is exactly like this. Not 100% correct since it's not a photo-realistic scenery but nevertheless, it's very realistic particularly at very low altitudes.
Slowly the ground textures are changing; more and more green is taking over but green without hardly anything on it. I'm wondering how something can grow in these conditions and with those high temperatures. So the landscape is changing, which can be seen on the following screenshots. While looking ahead of me it seems we're approaching forests, thus there could be also some rivers or lakes. Probably I'm wrong and while looking on the map, I was indeed wrong.
I need to ask one of the pilots what those white lakes are. The answer is something I didn't except; dried lakes or salt lakes. Oops, I thought we had that only in the USA but apparently that's a total wrong assumption. While looking outside via one of the many cabin windows, I take pictures and I'm quite impressed by what I see.
We're heading towards Windorah (YWDH) so let's hope we can see something of this small airport and the surrounding nature. Nice or not, for a non photo-realistic scenery it looks awesome. Let's hope these sands, rocks and salty lakes are ending quickly and that the ground becomes more friendly.
We’re about 100 miles from Charleville (YBCV) and finally the landscape is changing from a desert into something with much more green and thus trees, trees and even more trees. I'm happy but is this true and should I be happy? Suppose you get a problem here in the middle of all these trees and you decide to find a landing spot; where should you land, on top of the trees? Not a good idea, so let's hope that if a problem arises, it will be close to Charleville.
What to say about these overall ground textures, the trees, forests and grass? It hardly looks like grass by the way or is it due to the high virtual temperatures. Whatever the reason is, flying at 1700 feet AGL is great and makes the Australian sensation even better. There's hardly anything down there. I don't see any cattle around down there, but I do see some ranches and that's it.
Oops, there's a road, some trees and a wonderful landscape. Well done Orbx! Just a few miles to go and then we're at our destination. While the pilots start with the descent, I'm making the necessary pictures of Charleville and I can tell you, there’s not much here. No, there's no McDonald's, no Kentucky Fried Chicken or Pizza Hut but lots of other nice restaurants. Looking at the small virtual town which is situated around the strip, I think we can survive here for one day. It's all nicely simulated and with my FSX settings, it's almost a painting on the wall.
Tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow is our stretch to Melbourne and thus leaving the GOLD area behind us and entering the BLUE AU FTX scenery. By the way, the BLUE scenery is more or less stretching along the whole south coast of Australia, including Tasmania and because of this, we will make a separate trip to Tasmania. But first, a nice rest here in Charleville and preparing for what's coming tomorrow.
As usual, it's early in the morning. The weather forecast is good and good means in this case that it will be a sunny day with some clouds and there's a chance of some thunderstorms while flying towards Melbourne. We will see but because we're flying at low altitudes, this will not harm our great FTX scenery view.
This part of the FTX Australia is characterized by green, green, green and even greener country full of farms, roads, and very small villages. There are hardly any hills or mountains except when we approach near south, close to our end destination Melbourne. Anyway, although the stretch in-between is nice, there's not much to see. Ok, there's a lot to see since it seems to me that Orbx Simulations didn't leave any detail untouched. And because of this, the FPS impact is visible but you get something in return for that. What do you get? Awesome scenery of the great Australian continent. While the purser or first pilot is serving coffee with sandwiches, I'll make a few other shots from the outside virtual - almost real - FTX world.
While we're approaching the mountains in the south we're coming close to our final destination. More and more villages appear on the map and I can tell you, they look great. Remember again, this is not a photo-realistic scenery and thus not every house is like the real one, but it still looks very realistic and although I'm flying at around 1600 feet, it's unbelievably sharp. I'm impressed by this.
If this is a direct result of my FSX settings, I'm not sure but it's really great to see this. Does it mean it's all 100% perfect? No, there are certain places - not important where I've seen this - where the road suddenly stops or where different ground texture tiles are connected to each other, which seems a little odd and not fully correct. The Australian continent is huge and by huge I mean that it's almost the overall size of Europe and probably even bigger. A very small amount of ground texture tiles are not fully integrated, that's nothing compared to the huge amount of others that are perfect.
It's time for us to continue with the last part of the flight. The landscape isn't changing much anymore. It's very green over here, with small villages growing and growing and becoming small cities. Far ahead of us I can see the skyline of Melbourne’s business centre. It look awesome to be honest and while still flying at 2000 feet, for one or another reason the pilot starts climbing to 4000 feet. For me and the others, this is great because our vision range increases and more can be seen of this FTX Australian scenery.
Approaching the Melbourne area and this means every part of it, thus the small villages, industrial area, forests and others do result in a FPS drop but are still within limits and flyable. I only tell you this to warn you of the fact that too high an FSX slider setting could result in non-flyable conditions. I've said it before; as long as you have a smooth flight of between 20-30FPS, then there's no need to see what the actual FPS are. And by the way, not only the FSX settings are important, also direct editing into the FSX.cfg file is possible.
Before starting our final approach, the pilots have decided to make a side trip around the greater Melbourne area. This means the business center and the harbor. While flying around the business center it seems not every detail is forgotten. It's unbelievable how detailed this is. Ok, all my scenery sliders are set to the maximum but still, a lot of work has ben done to create this highly realistic scenery and where ever I look, it's so sharp, with so many autogen components. Let's have a look to the following screenshots. They tell you 100 times more than my words can.
Unfortunately this historical stretch comes to an end. While trying to follow the old roots of the London-Melbourne Air Race across Australia, I've seen an add-on scenery with unbelievably high quality where flying at low altitudes is suddenly fun. I used my old Douglas Dc-2 KLM Uiver for this trip, flown between 500 and 4000 feet.
Ok, 500 feet is a little low for this beauty but still, it's possible and offers so much fun. What I've seen is incredible but I need to add a few things; remember that you need a heavy system to get the max out of this scenery, although I have to admit that older systems still work fine and enough help is offered via the manuals or the FTX forums.
What without FTX Aussie?
Looking at the Orbx website, there's no need to tell you what you're missing when you think you can live without FTX sceneries. Still I think it's worth showing you by exact latitude/longitude locations what the impact is and with impact I mean, FPS loss, ground texture impression and thus the overall Aussie look. Ok, Microsoft didn't forget Australia, but they didn't have a detailed close look at how this landscape really appears but at Orbx Simulations they know.
I can't make hundreds of screenshots since that's useless but I will show you several shots from all four different areas and believe me, you won't believe what you will see. Is it fake or not? No, it's real! Those shots are made at an altitude between 1000 and 6000 feet AGL and all at exactly the same spot. The default FSX versus FTX ground texture depends a little bit on where you're flying in Australia and I have to admit that not every spot gives the same impressive result. In general, looking to these different outputs but from the same locations/spots, it's absolutely worth your money, no doubt about that.
When you've got no idea that this is possible, there's probably no reason to buy it but the moment you've seen Australia FTX, you’ll want nothing else and won’t be willing to fly over this continent anymore based on the default MSFS ground textures.
To keep it as clear as possible, I've divided the FTX areas and when needed, add some comment to it. What said before, not every shot is as impressive as the other. The other thing we need to keep in mind is that it's just enough to give you an idea what it does with the default FSX scenery and of course, I'm not able to make from every square mile a comparison. Enough, let's start with my virtual tour.
Orbx FTX AU GREEN.
From the Orbx website, "This is the "top end", as the locals call it. Wild coastlines, lush tropics, harsh, tough desert country and the home of cattle stations (or ranches) which are bigger than some countries. Welcome to the wonder and nature of the Australian tropics, and a region no less interesting than the populated coasts."
These three dual screenshots are enough to show you the difference between FTX active and deactivated. It seems without FTX - the upper three screenshots - it's a totally different world and it could be anywhere on Earth. There's a need to add something to the RH screenshots; these are from the northeast coast and although the FTX shot (lower RH corner) looks very nice with the beautiful beach, the water color is not a direct result of it since REX is installed as well. Anyway, the lower three shots are made on exact the same latitude/longitude position.
Orbx FTX AU RED.
As they say at Orbx "If you've ever flown from one of the eastern Australian cities and overland to Singapore or elsewhere in Asia, from your window seat you may have thought that you were on a mission over Mars. The outback is a vast, red place and certainly the least boring of all the places to visit in Australia. With sometimes alien landscapes and stunning vistas, there is so much to find in this massive inland region. Huge craggy mountain ranges, salt lakes and a rich palette of colors that can change overnight after the wet season, the outback is what makes Australia one of the most diverse and unique places on earth. Visit Uluru, Alice Springs, the wonderful west coast at Broome and Shark Bay. There's so much to explore that you could spend a year and not discover it all."
Exploring the RED area with a Cessna 152 is not really a problem except that this area is huge. It runs from the west coast to the east side of Australia, and covers many different places. A large part of it is only desert but there are still parts mixed with green, sometimes only a few trees while other places are a little more greener than normal thus a lot to explore. The screenshots below don't need any more explanation except their location ... if I still recall where I made those shots and the upper three are from the default FSX, while the lower ones with FTX active.
Orbx FTX AU GOLD
At Orbx they confirm this is the smallest are but "South East Queensland is in fact a VFR flyer's dream and sports some of the most enjoyable terrain to fly over in the simulator. Crammed full of small airfields and with a very diverse geography, you'll experience rainforests, the outback, hinterland ranges, lush rural landscapes, spectacular tropical waters and countless islands to explore, all with that typical Queensland look and feel. Visit Brisbane International Airport, the city and up along to the Sunshine Coast. South you'll discover the vibrant Gold Coast and rich pastoral farming areas, all superbly rendered with their unique crops such as bananas, tobacco and of course, sugar cane."
Keeping the same spirit and enthusiasm it's not that difficult to find nice spots to show the differences between Microsoft's default FSX world and the one modified by Orbx. One note here; the Brisbane Bay water color at the FTX screenshot is produced by REX (Real Environment X) but the rest is pure FTX modification.
Orbx FTX AU BLUE
Last but not least "Experience the majestic beauty of the temperate southern and western regions of Australia. From the rugged mountain wilderness of Tasmania, to the Victorian central highlands, the terrain variety will delight and intrigue you. It's like flying over a brand new country for the first time. Discover the southern capital of Melbourne, the central hub of Sydney and the western cities of Adelaide and Perth. This region covers an area larger than western Europe and is just as diverse in its geography".
One of the largest areas and thus difficult to find the right spots, but I think these and all the others, especially Tasmania, has given me and I hope you, a good idea of the huge impact. Just look for yourself at Perth. The default FSX city of Perth looks horrible but the moment FTX is alive, it's awesome. Anyway, see for yourself and than you’ll know what I mean.
Altogether, these direct comparison screenshots of the available FTX areas should give you a good idea of what FTX can do with the default FSX Aussie scenery but above all, the small amount you have to pay for such a large covered area. Due to the overall continent size, these screenshots are absolutely not enough to cover every corner of the four regions, but with all the other VFR and IFR trips, you should have a good idea of the FTX impact.
Together with this personal review and the many things on their website, you're able to judge for yourself if this is something you're looking for. Not 100% convinced? No problem since Orbx offers a free AUBLUE Tasmania file.
Anything else? No, not really but I'm not finished yet. I'll invite you on my second VFR tour from YRRM (AUBLUE Farram Airfield) to Hobart Tasmania.
Exploring Tasmania and the south coast of Australia (VFR)
I'm still impressed by what I've seen so far and thinking back to the comparison between default FSX and FTX, wow, that's huge. Ok, I also know that this is not only applicable for Australia but also for default USA. If you’ve you've installed UTX (Ultimate Terrain X) and/or additionally GEX Enhanced (Ground Environment X), you will see the same difference except the level of detail is different.
While words escape me for sceneries like this and although I've never been across Australia, it seems to me that it's a highly realistic ground scenery. No, it's not a photo-realistic scenery like MegaSceneryX or MegaSceneryEarth packages, for example, it's useless to compare these although lots of tiles used in this FTX scenery are photo realistic material but not a 100% representation of the real Australian areas. With that in mind, our first Australian experience was a success so let's go for the second trip.
Our Douglas DC-2 Uiver was flown in the day before to YYRM (Yarram), which is the closest airstrip to the southern Australian coast and thus the shortest distance to Tasmania via the west coastline of Flinders Island or via NDB FLINDERS (FLI 296.0), via Cape Barren Island and Clarke Island to the northeast coast of Tasmania.
From here we try tune for NDB ST. HELENS (STH 392.0) and following the coastline to the south where we jump into the Great Oyster Bay via Cape Tourville. From the bay we just follow the rocks, beaches and hotels towards the south where the Frederick Henry Bay is waiting for us. From this spot it's just a few miles before reaching the tri-angle Hobart-Bridgewater-Sorell. It seems miles and miles away but it isn't that far.
The weather forecast is pretty good, not too much wind so we should be able to see a lot of this virtual created FTX landscape. As I did with the previous trip, I'm looking around at the airport but stay within the vicinity of the Douglas DC-2. It seems the pilots are more or less ready with their preparations, so I hope we'll depart in a minute or so. The airport where we are is just a default but modified FTX airstrip. I can't even call it an airport since it's just so simple but that's not important for now. For now and later when we're in the air , it's important to explore the FTX scenery or if you wish, the FTX implementation of how it should be.
Before I know it, the DC-2 is climbing to 1500 feet and making a nice left hand turn, thus flying 270° towards the coast. Due to our altitude it's not that difficult to see the coastline with it's beaches. Although I know it's not a photo-realistic scenery, it looks so unbelievably realistic that you forget this completely. The land, roads, farms, small villages, trees and much more to see and it's all so great. When I want, I could grasp those tiny things, but I can't since the DC-2 is moving away from the country side.
Looking ahead of me is only water, water and even more water so not to become afraid for this, I turn my head aft to see the great Australian south coastline. And believe me, even at those low altitudes and from an even more increasing distance, it still looks great and the frames? I don't have to complain about the FPS since those are very high but this is, of course, also the result of less impact of FTX since it's no longer highly detailed due to our increasing coastline distance.
Since it's a little more than 100NM from the southern Australia location to NDB FLI, it's time to do something else; like typing this review. Although it's all virtual writing, flying the aircraft and a cup of coffee with cake, that doesn't fit together but I have my fellow virtual pilots who do the job. Within less than one hour we're approaching the northern parts of the island and while the pilots are descending from 4000 feet to 2000 feet, it gives me the chance to see all the available details which are made visible by the AU BLUE FTX scenery.
Remember; Tasmania and the surrounding islands belong to the BLUE AU scenery pack! Ok, land in sight ..... although this part of the island is very simple, it offers a lot of things like trees, grass, here and there houses or farms, very nice detailed coastlines and much more. It's so much, that it's difficult to express this all in just a few sentences. Let's have a look to some screenshots which I made when approaching the island and moving further south.
Hurry on, there's much more to come and see from this
FTX island. Strange when writing this ... FTX island
correct. What was applicable for the mainland is
also applicable for Tasmania.
Without the FTX scenery it's horrible and again it
seems Microsoft had no clue about how it really looks.
we have John's
team who've created this marvelous scenery package.
No, I don't have
any shares in the Orbx Simulation Systems and no
he's not a family member, although John is born in the Netherlands
no, I don't
get any money for this review.
While flying along the west coast, you've got a good view of a large part of the island including the other side to the ocean. There's not much to see but what's there is very realistic. Small hills look realistic including a kind of 3D effect and that from an altitude of approximately 2000 feet. Most of it is just green, probably grass with some trees or forests. At those places where it seems you've got small villages, some vegetation is visible but for the rest, a lonely island but well created by the FTX makers. Oops, I forgot the coastline with the long white beaches. Even though it's not the same as Google Earth, it's still very realistic and with pleasure I'm looking around from the left to the right hand side of the cabin.
The moment we pass NDB FLI, the landscape is changing, more and more mountains are ahead of us. I'll try to have a look backwards but it isn't that easy. What I can see looks very nice. The virtual FTX island looks even from this distance sharp and that means all kind of details we had seen before, are still visible. I know that this also depends on your FSX adjustments and additional fsx.cfg file changes. While I'm staring outside looking at nothing, the airplane is moving on.
We've passed the islands and it's time to pass the last small corridor before approaching Tasmania. It's too early for me to judge that the northern part of the island looks very similar to the previous ones but it seems far, far away and look there, some mountains with snow. Snow, that's impossible but beaches? No, no beaches since I've never seen a beach on top of a hill and it looks so bright. No, that must be snow. Hopefully we get a better view when we're flying along the east coast of Tasmania.
According to the pilots we're passing Binalong Bay with in the vicinity ST.HELENS NDB. It looks like a paradise down there; white beaches, surfers, and resorts along the coast ... not bad at all. A quick look via Google Earth shows me again that the ground textures used are very well created and it all fits very nicely together.
Before entering Great Oyster Bay, there's a nice lighthouse visible, even from 2000 feet. The lighthouse is located at the earlier mentioned Cape Tourville. A corridor like this is not special except for the way it looks. On our right hand side we have Mount Dove and the rocks look so realistic that it's worth showing you some screenshots of it and again, if you don't believe me, check out Google Earth and you will be surprised about the FTX quality. The pilots decide to make a sharp left hand turn immediately after entering the bay. This gives the shortest way to the south and a nice rock view of Freycinet Peninsula. As can be seen on the screenshots, the peninsula doesn't look impressive, there's hardly anything here except trees, rocks, more trees and beaches but the way it's done, that deserves a huge applause.
From the bay it's not far before reaching our final destination but I've got some nice shots for you. Anyway, we're heading further south along the coast and finally we're entering the Frederick Henry Bay and on our right hand side we've got a great view of the Primrose Sands. It's unclear for me if this is the small village, which can be clearly seen in front of us or is it the island.
Whatever, the peninsula looks magnificent with all its realistic hills, beaches, forests, etc; in other words super! Although we've nearly reached the end of our small trip to Tasmania, it seems there's nothing wrong with this FTX scenery and all what you have read and what I've seen is super, awesome, magnificent etc. and please do believe me, it is true.
Ok, since we're dealing with ground texture tiles which are connected together, it 's not always a good looking combination. This sometimes results in strange change-over from one tile to another tile. In general, I've seen this a few times and keeping in mind the overall Australian continent, that's ok for me.
Before our final approach I think it's a good idea to have a quick look at Hobart, which is just behind the hill. We leave the Seven Mile Beach behind us, fly over Lauderdale, where we enter Hobart via Wellington. While the bay becomes clearly visible with all its FTX details, this is also applicable to Mount Willington. I've got the idea it’s a pretty high mountain since there's snow on it and during this time of the year. After a nice turn over the city it's time to move on to the airport and this also concludes our Tasmania trip. It was a great pleasure exploring this piece of FTX software and as seen during my mainland trip, there's a lot FTX scenery to discover.
Unscheduled FTX Brisbane - Perth flight (IFR)
After those VFR flights, it's I think worth checking how FTX Australia looks like from higher altitudes. I warn you already that it's absolutely not the same as flying at 4000 feet, but still worth looking at.
My unscheduled IFR flight goes from Brisbane, located at the eastern coast to Perth, situated at the western side. Our cruising ceiling is calculated for FL260 and during this stretch I've made many screenshots but a few of them can be found below. To be very honest, I'm impressed by those high altitude screenshots and thus the Australian FTX landscape. I didn't expected this and lots of small details are completely lost like the extreme high quality ground textures, the autogen function, trees and much more of that, which is logical when not flying at VFR altitudes.
On the other hand, looking to the right hand lower screenshot, which is taken in the vicinity of Perth, I'm still surprised about the ground textures and it's worth clicking this screenshot to see how it really looks like.
Anyway, with this flight I crossed three Orbx FTX areas, namely the GOLD, RED and BLUE zones. With what I've seen, it's not covering every 10 square miles of Australia, I can only come to one conclusion and that's ... great, impressive, still at those altitudes so much details ... oops, too many words ... WOW!
I could write down awesome and even that word is worth what I've seen and what you can see on these six screenshots. It doesn't make any difference where you are, the landscape stays at real as possible but with less details. On purpose I've asked the weather channel to remove all the clouds and cold fronts thus to have a maximum ground view and that worked out very well as can be seen on the screenshots.
Summary / Closing Remarks
Let’s put it simply since there's no need to add a huge summary here. The tested Orbx Simulation Systems FTX AUGREEN, BLUE, RED and GOLD add-on sceneries, which covers the whole of the Australian continent are of an awesome quality. Ok, I have to be honest that I own an updated PC system and I'm able to set almost all the sliders to the max but together with the necessary FSX.cfg and nHancer tweaks , the frames are perfect and perfect means somewhere in the range between 20-60. When I left the FPS counter in view I can tell you I that had 100, then 50 and in highly dense areas, 30 or a little lower. What helps this? Nothing, what helps is a smooth cross-country flight over the Australian landscape.
As reviewer of this Orbx Simulation software, I'm in the pleasant position to have all the available Australian parts, which are not cheap but still I would suggest in your case, buy them all! Ok, when you fly under VFR conditions, then I would suggest buying all four packages and when you only fly IFR, I would suggest - for example - buying YMML (Melbourne) and AU BLUE or still much better, add all the other three areas as well.
I had a lot of fun reviewing these titles, although it was a lot of work. The FTX support forum is very helpful and they also answered my e-mails straight away. The only thing to keep in mind is the time difference between your location and that of the Orbx team, who's always willing to help everybody with problems or whenever you've just a question about one of the FTX products.
By the way; what does it all cost? Each Australian scenery cost you USD$35.41, which equals around 27.00 Euro's. In other words, the whole Australian continent including Tasmania will cost you 100.00 Euro and compared to UTX + GEX that's not expensive. It's not my job to compare these four FTX products with GEX and UTX. For me it's just finding out if the FTX sceneries are worth the money and pleasure while flying around at this continent and that answer is already given several times and here for the last time; WOW, GREAT .. worth every penny!
Finally I would like to thank a few persons in particular, since this is my first review created on my new PC. First of all, Nick Needham for his time and advice on how to tweak certain programs to get more out of it than normally possible. Furthermore, many thanks to Lance Karsten from the Orbx FTX BETA team. He also offered many items to control and to get more frames out of the basic hardware and software. Last but not least, John Vennema from Orbx Simulation Systems for his time, patient and help when answering my questions and the belief in my writing and finishing this huge FTX review part I.
Thanks guys and now on to part II. Oops, one last thing. You think it's worth flying this stretch by yourself with the famous Douglas DC-2? Roger, find here the direct link to the Flight1 website or even better, have a look at the dedicated Rob Cappers DC-2 website. Still not convinced; find here our in-depth Douglas DC-2 review.
What I Like About Orbx AU GREEN, BLUE, RED and GOLD - Pt 1
What I Don't Like About Orbx AU GREEN, BLUE, RED and GOLD - Pt 1
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