AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

Mega Scenery - Southern California Version 2

Product Information
Publisher: PC Aviator
Description:  Photo realistic scenery for Southern California, USA.
Download Size:
N/A
Format:
DVD
Simulation Type:
FS 2002 and FS2004
Reviewed by: Joseph Ellwood AVSIM Staff Reviewer - Aug 23, 2006

Introduction

The skies of Southern California (Socal) can be some of the busiest in the world. LAX is the gateway from the west to America, and a major hub to many domestic and international airlines. On top of this, it is also a visually spectactular part of the world.

As we all know, Mega Scenery are synonymous with providing detailed photo real scenery packages for the US. This package brings us Version 2 of the popular Southern California product and from the comparison screen shots at the product webpage – the improvements from Version 1 appear to be quite substantial.

Installation and Documentation

Crammed inside the box is a wealth of helpful and useful documentation:

• 1 full colour sectional chart for Los Angeles (full kit only)
• 1 full colour sectional chart for San Diego (full kit only)
• One bulky little booklet of 231 pages worth of instrument approach charts (full kit only)
• Pilot's Operating Handbook (full and lite kit)

Test System

Intel Pent 4 2.66GHz
512MB RAM PC2700DDR
ASUS A9550
40 GB HD 5400RPM

Flying Time:
25 hours

The sectional charts appear to be real world ones, but of course it features the “Flight Simulation use only” banner displayed at the top. The charts are in full colour, and have everything that they should have. Navigational aids and their frequencies are clearly labeled, along with the appropriate colouring for high elevation areas and all airports and their names are there. Although these are very handy, perhaps it would have been a good idea to include some pocket sized sectional charts instead, as these charts are too big to have resting on your knee or beside your keyboard.

The instrument approach charts and airport diagram booklet is very handy. All SIDS, STARS, instrument approach plates and airport diagrams for the included airports are faithfully reproduced in a professionally organized book. It’s a simple matter of flicking to the airport you need and finding the relevant plate.

The pilot's operating handbook (POH) is 16 pages long and features product info, graphic tips, install notes and general information that you’ll need. Buyers of the “lite” package receive this bit of hard documentation only, while purchasers of the full kit receive all the other bits and pieces mentioned above.

What Does Mega Scenery Do?

For those who are not familiar with the technology behind photo real scenery, I’ll explain briefly. In this instance, the product has been created from high resolution aerial photography provided by Air Photo USA. So basically what you see in the real world, you’ll see in the virtual counterpart in your sim.

The amount of detail here will surprise many. Developed with 1 foot per pixel photos, this pretty much means you can see your own rooftop. Amazing how far we’ve come since the old days, huh?

Familiarizing Yourself With The Area

For those who are not familiar with Southern California (like me), a good idea is to take some time to get to know the region. Get your favourite single GA planes out for some good VFR flying.

You’ll need to spend a few hours exploring the area and getting to know various landmarks. If you opt to purchase the Full kit, included in the box are two large VFR charts – so it’s handy to have these next to you as you explore the area, as these will help tremendously with the process of getting familiar with Socal.

How Does It Look?

Amazing. Every aspect of the eye candy of this package is just awesome. As I will stress below, I would not recommend this to fast flyers and/or simmers who have medium to low end systems.

The mesh, textures and autogen work in perfect harmony, simultaneously. Of course, the question has to be asked “since this product has been developed, does it look real”? Simply put, yes. Even with my video card, the scenery looked very realistic. I sometimes suffer from bad anisotropic filtering (which causes that shimmering effect on textures) and it creates a very ugly looking image. However, I didn’t note any cases of the shimmering effect I experience when viewing ground textures. Whether or not this is because of the high resolution textures, or perhaps my video card decided to be good to me while testing the product, I don’t know. Of course, I have never been in this area in real life and can only speculate as to how the colours appear in real life. With that said, I am confident that residents in Southern California will say that there are no serious mistakes compared to the real thing.

The mesh helps the mountains jump out at you Isn't that amazing? Notice the shading in the crevices, something that default textures cannot replicate

There is a huge amount of diversity from one particular group of mountain ranges to another, and they are quite enjoyable as you aren’t faced with repetitive textures we sometimes experience in the sim. Socal obviously includes the densely populated areas such as San Diego and Los Angeles, but also has a variable array of mountain ranges to the west. Unfortunately, this product's area does not include the famous Edwards AFB, which would be a nice little bonus for military simmers.

The textures here look a bit unorganized and muddled

This title also contains some lovely mesh, and with the ever important textures, these two create a distinct look and definitely helps bring the scenery to life. The mountains seem to jump out at you when you fly just a few thousand feet above the terrain, something that I thoroughly enjoyed and I think is sometimes overlooked when such scenery enhancements are developed.

The only bad thing I noted with this product is some of the suburban areas. Sometimes the ground textures can appear very mushy, and are not clear and do not replicate real life features. Although the custom autogen minimizes the clarity of this, it still has a bad appearance. Perhaps it would be a good idea to re-do these particular textures to show evidence of roads and buildings etc.

How To Enjoy This Product

This product covers the perimeter of 150x150 nautical miles, which gives you plenty of scenery to enjoy. If you’re thinking jets, stop there. Bad idea! As I will explain later, this product can be punishing.

Southern California is a beautiful part of the world, so naturally you’ll get lots of enjoyment absorbing the colours of the scenery. I strongly recommend forking out an extra $10USD to get the full kit, which includes the sectional charts for Los Angeles and San Diego. These are especially handy for times when you’re faced with extreme weather, or you’re just a hardcore instrument pilot.

Note the detail along the coast line

The best way to fully utilize this product to its fullest, is to use something slow. This will give you plenty of time to enjoy the views outside the cockpit and won’t give you any blurries. Your equipment is up to you. A good option is to use the Real Air Cessna 172 (freeware) available from the AVSIM File Library, or perhaps use your own payware plane that is suitable.

Start off from any airport of your choice, and then plan a rough route. This is where the sectional charts are best put to use. Take off, follow your route (restrict it to VFR) and enjoy. Using your charts, guide your way through the terrain below and stay out of some of the restricted airspace. Of course, if you want to keep it free and simple – put the charts aside, and don’t worry about any airspace which you should stay out of.

All roads clearly created, even the smallest hills visible Same place - different time. Note how clear the roads are in the distance. Night VFR flying is possible with this addon

As I mentioned, be prepared to spend a few hours getting to know the area. Go by the old pilots saying “never point the nose of an aircraft where you haven’t been 5 minutes before”. Of course, this is a little hard considering we want to try something different and wander into an area that we haven’t seen before.

Performance

Due to the fact that we’re dealing with photo real textures here, a rule of thumb is that we are going to have some problems.

The most notable is loading times. Once you’ve created a flight from an airport in Socal, the terrain will take a while to load. About 7 or so minutes in my case. That’s running about 27 processes after killing any unwanted ones. The progress bar appears to be frozen at times, but rest assured, your PC is working hard to load the scenery. Once the flight has initially loaded, the textures will be as clear as you want them to be, based around the parameters of your video card of course.

The reason I recommend flying reasonably slow aircraft is due to blurries. Generally, the faster we fly in normal scenery, the faster your system has to work to load the textures. Since this product has been created from high resolution photo real textures, when you encounter a blurry it’ll take some time to load back up. This usually spreads to about a 5nm radius around your aircraft. In this case, the best thing to do is to pause your sim and patiently wait for them to reload. If you don’t, the blurries are going to continue to spread and eventually all ground textures will look like mud. Remember, no scenery enhancement such as this is designed to look good when blurry.

Ehhh, blurry textures flying at 95 knots! Ahh, that's better!

Here are the minimum system requirements:
• FS2004
• 1GHz CPU
• 128MB system RAM
• 3D video card with 128MB of RAM

Now, look at my computer specs above. I would not recommend anything lower than my system. As I said, I did have some problems with blurries and loading times. It may not be a wise investment to purchase this product running anything lower than what I have and I cannot stress this fact enough. The truth of the matter is, photo real scenery looks amazing. But, (and there always is a but!) unless you have a reasonably good system, this product can cause frustration. Experiencing large amounts of blurry textures will defeat the purpose of purchasing the title altogether. Please take this into account before buying this product.

Final Comments

Simmers that are familiar with Southern California will get a lot of enjoyment out of this package. This title is perfect for low ‘n’ slow VFR flyers, as the level of eye candy here is amazing. This scenery product makes hours on end of exploring the fine lands that is Southern California. A notable attribute of this product is that this title features both heavily populated cities and the mysterious rugged terrain out west.

For the price asked, this product is a worthy purchase. I do ask that you take into account my comments on performance before buying. If you think that your system can cope with the highly detailed textures, then by all means, go ahead and buy this. Mega Scenery’s Southern California Version 2 package can get you accustomed with a visually amazing part of the world and produces some lovely flying experiences.

 

What I Like About Southern California Version 2
  • Crystal clear textures
  • Realistic mesh
  • A wealth of awesome documentation

 
What I Don't Like About Southern California Version 2
  • Slow loading times
  • Blurries can get punishing
  • Some textures look unclear or “mushy”
  • It’s too damn hard to close the box with everything in it! (joke)

Printing

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Southern California Version 2

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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order to provide you with background information on the reviewer and any connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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