External or portable GPS
According to the SimWare website; “The VRinsight GPS-5 features a Control Display Unit for providing terrain information and for warning terrain hazard of potential conflicts. It is the most fundamental approach guide into the airports inaccessible in IFR conditions. Real shape & full functionality of GPS-5 supports all default aircrafts & add-on aircrafts. It is completely interfaced with FS9 and FSX through interfacing application software “SerialFP2” (supplied).”
The stand-alone unit requires a USB 2.0 port, unregistered FSUIPC and a free DVI or VGA port.
During this review, Emutech (Emulation Technology) showed their GarSim GNS530, a new and interesting competitor. It’s slightly more expensive, the supported aircraft are not mentioned, and it only works, if I’m right, in combination with Reality XP Software. Unfortunately I’m not in the position to compare these since I’ve only seen their GarSim GNS530 from the website. Looking closely at the specifications it tells me that it can also be used in combination with Mac OS X operating systems. The reason for this OS is because of X-Plane compatible. Anyway, it can be used with FSX, FS2004 and X-Plane. The latter is not applicable for the VRinsight GPS-5. Back to our VRinsight GPS-5.
Because the real Garmin GPS 500 and her smaller brother the GPS 400 are discontinued products, I didn’t see a reason to add some background information here from Garmin. By the way, that’s not really helping me and you in relation to the reviewed product. For those who want some “real Garmin GPS 500” background, find here for your convenience the Garmin GPS 500 discontinued link.
What do you get?
The VRinsight cardboard “black box” – no, that’s something else – contains:
GPS-5 User Manual
Remembering the VRinsight DVD with all the stuff on it, what we need from that DVD is the GPS-5 User Manual and the SerialFP2 software. The software part will be discussed after we’ve prepared the GPS-5 unit, so it’s now time to have a closer look in the User Manual.
For the moment I’ll leave the contents of the manual as it is. Curious about the contents? Find here a direct link to the VRinsight GPS-5 manual. Because there’s a free link to the manual, I don’t see why I should show you some screenshots of it. Where needed, I’ll refer to the page number if something is not clear or missing. Together with the link, you’re able to understand what I mean when I explain something. After the “GPS-5 Hardware and Preparations” section, it’s time for me to install the SerialFP2 software and see if the manual contents is enough and/or helpful.
GPS-5 Hardware and Preparations
The GPS-5 housing is completely made of metal and that means it’s heavy. It looks like a Garmin unit although that name is not used. For an optimum view, an angled bracket should be attached on the backside with two screws, which are of course supplied with the package.
At the front of the GPS unit, as you can see on picture I, you’ll find two rows of buttons along the right hand- and bottom. All the buttons have transparent plastic covers on them; however, the identification plate/tag is still missing. Difficult to see on this thumbnail, but just left of the lower row of buttons there’s a small “user programmable” button. I’ll come back to this later.
On the right hand side of the same row you’ll find an outer- and inner selector knob whereas the inner knob functions also as a pushbutton. On the real Garmin 500 and the simulated MSFS version this simulates the PUSH CRSR function. Most important is of course the large LCD screen. It measures 15 (cm) x 8.8 (cm) or roughly 5.9 (inch) x 3.5 (inch).
On the side of the GPS unit you’ll find the fixed USB cable for connection to your PC or USB hub. Be sure that the USB connection is USB 2.0 complaint else – according to the vendor – you could expect compatibility problems when using USB 1.1. Right above this you’ll find the power cord connection to supply the unit with 110-240V 50-60Hz. VRinsight provides plug adaptors to Simware for US customers. Anyway, last but not least there’s the VGA connector. The supplied VGA to VGA cable measures approximately 2 meters or 6.6 feet. A DVI-I adapter is included in case your graphics adapter only has DVI-I connections.
Although the manual doesn’t say anything about where you should put the identifications underneath each button, it’s not difficulty to understand, but a quick look in the User Manual helps. I will not write a complete tutorial on how to get the identification placards underneath the buttons, but instead, I will give a short explanation. I can tell you already; it’s easy!
Ok, here we go and for the necessary clarity, see down below the three screenshots.
Next step is mounting the angled bracket to the backside of the GPS unit with the supplied screws. Then connect the VGA cable – it doesn’t make any difference which side of the cable you use – to the GPS-5 unit (see picture VI), followed by the power supply cord.
When you’re done with this, you can connect the USB end to the PC or an USB 2.0 hub, but feel free to do this later after the SerialFP2 software installation. Depending on your PC graphics card, you either connect the other end of the VGA cable on your graphics card or use the VGA-DVI-I converter to make it suitable. It’s obvious that using the GPS-5 unit in combination with your Flight Simulator PC, your graphics card should have two monitor connections, so checked that before buying this VRinsight product.
Ok, the GPS unit won’t work till we’ve installed the software. Anyway, this was the hardware including the necessary hardware preparations.
Magical SerialFP2 software and configurations
Before you start with the SerialFP2 installation, it’s a good habit to double check the manual. One thing is for sure, you need to connect the VGA connector to your computer graphics card while the PC is OFF. The USB connection isn’t needed yet, only after you’ve installed the SerialFP2 software.
Let’s start from a certain point, which is my current situation and of course the beginning of the SerialFP2 installation. What you will read below in this section is the same way I did it, all in chronological order or at least, I tried!
Before I connected the VGA (in my case with the DVI adapter) cable to my EVGA GTX-285 and fired up my PC. It all ends up with two monitors connected to the PC namely my own Dell 27” and the VRinsight GPS-5 display, and remember, till now I didn’t install the SerialFP2 software. It means that the VRinsight display seems to work or at least, my Dell wallpaper is also available on the VRinsight display. Hold on …. I passed several “monitor configuration” steps, so time to step back!
The manual tells you all about the necessary monitor settings for Windows XP. That’s great news but what if your operating system is Vista or Windows 7? Vista or Windows 7 monitor setting “window” looks totally different. When you have enough experience doing these things between XP, Vista and 7, then you’ll find your way, but suppose you’ve never seen or worked with Windows XP!
In that case, VRinsight GPS-5 Windows XP explanation feels like a total stranger to you. Therefore it’s a shame that the manual doesn’t offer these steps for Vista and/or Windows 7 users. I’m not sure how many flight simmers still use Windows XP, but I bet that the majority use Windows 7, some Vista and the minority Windows XP.
Whatever, since I’m a Windows 7 user, I’ll add that additional information about monitor settings down here. By the way, as far as I can remember, monitor settings for Windows Vista is the same as for Windows 7 or was it the other way around?
Anyway, here’s the way to adjust/verify the added monitor under Windows 7:
Now it’s time to install the magical VRinsight SerialFP2 software. Magical because I can remember this software from my previous VRinsight review. Then it worked flawless, and so will it be this time or not?
From the supplied DVD or via this download link, start the SerialFP2/PCT setup file. The installation process is more or less straightforward and no complicated questions or settings are asked. By the way, leave the suggested install directory as it is, unless you insist on installing it in either FS2004 or FSX. At the end with the “Finish” button already available, it will quickly install the USB driver needed for the display. When you click the Finish button, it will do that within a split second and you’re done!
Let’s take a short moment to summarize what I’ve done so far:
The only thing that’s left is making the VRinsight display a MSFS GPS instrument. Therefore we need to connect the USB cable to the PC or USB 2.0 compliant hub, start FSX (or FS2004), load the default Cessna 172, bring the Garmin GPS500 into view and undock it. Now it’s the right moment to start the SerialFP2 software via for example the desktop shortcut. More important, print out this procedure from the user manual on pages 18 to 20. So let’s go for it!
The moment you connect the USB cable, all the buttons on the GPS-5 unit illuminate. So far so good! Now it’s time to start reading page 18 and follow these steps. Most likely you’ve done all the steps mentioned in “Step 1: Initial Check Up” since this deals with software installation, hardware connection etc. In other words, go to step 2, 3 up to and including 7. The example shows the necessary steps in combination with Flight Simulator 9, but that shouldn’t be different for FSX. Therefore I use my explanation in combination with FSX.
As expected, the SerialFP2 software works flawlessly with FSX, but that’s the same for FS2004. Before I continue; make sure you leave FSX in Windowed mode otherwise it doesn’t work or at least, that’s what the manual tells us. More about this Windowed or Full screen mode later on.
The SerialFP2 software, when everything goes right, will automatically connect to a COM port. I’m aware that we have a USB connector, but one part of the installed software is a USB to COM converter. The SerialFP2-GPS software has hopefully detected the COM port where the hardware is connected to. But what happens when the SerialFP2 can’t detect the GPS-5 unit? I didn’t have this problem and probably nobody will face the problem, but suppose it doesn’t work at all?
No problem, look in the manual for the FAQ or a trouble-shooting section. Oops, here’s a problem! There’s nothing of this in the manual at all. It seems that whenever you’ve got problems, you need to look at the VRinsight Forum.
As mentioned before; I have no problems so let’s continue aligning and sizing the MSFS Garmin to fit in your GPS-5 display. What happens when you click the “Load Module” button on the SerialFP2 software? I tried to visualize this procedure. Find below four screenshots telling you what happens and what you need to do to get it aligned and sized on the GPS-5 display.
Before closing this section, some last words about the VRinsight SerialFP2 software, the manual and FSUIPC.
Regarding Peter Dowson’s FSUIPC. As well as on the VRinsight website and page 3 of the manual, it seems you need at least an unregistered FSUIPC installed. It surprises me that this is not repeated later on in the manual. Failure to have at least an unregistered FSUIPC means a failure to recognize the GPS-5 unit. I could imagine that this important item should be added somewhere on page 18 of the “Preparing GPS-5 before flight (with Cessna 172)” section. For now these things aren’t included and hopefully the manual will be updated soon.
Testing, testing and even more testing
Honestly, there’s not much to test. The GPS-5 can only be connected and thus tested with the default FS2004/FSX Cessna 172. Furthermore, once the MSFS Garmin GPS500 is moved to the VRinsight display, it behaves like a normal MSFS software Garmin. I will add for your convenience some photos, but they show you more or less the same as on the software Garmin version.
The VRinsight display buttons and selector knobs feel good and of course are much more realistic compared to the software one. Together with the pages 11, 12 and 13 of the manual, you should find your way through the GPS-5 unit. On the other hand, both MSFS versions offer enough background information of the Garmin 500 and since the SerialFP2 software turns the software version into a hardware version, it should be too difficult.
Pressing the buttons or keys on the GPS-5 feels solid with a nice clicking sound and depending on the button/key, an action – logically - can be seen on the screen. The silver colored inner- and outer knobs – not a realistic chosen color – turn easily, and with every turn a small resistance is felt, which is good. This is the same for the PRESS option available for the inner knob only.
Because of the four rubber pads on the bottom of the angled bracket, the display won’t slide when pressing one of the buttons/keys. While writing this, I’m wondering why they haven’t positioned the connectors at a different location. They could have chosen for connectors on the backside and not on the side as it is now. It would look a little better.
I still don’t believe that this VRinsight GPS-5 unit can only be used in combination with the default Cessna 172. To be sure what happened with my default C172 panel.cfg file, I check the contents and indeed some software is replaced.
Let’s show it you.
Original panel.cfg “Window02=GPS section of the default FSX Cessna 172:
Modified panel.cfg “Windows02=GPS” section of the default FSX Cessna 172:
I don’t understand every sentence, but one thing that is changed due to the modification is the disappearance of the lower- and right hand Garmin frame. Probably the SerialFP2 software makes it possible to move the Garmin software image to the VRinsight display. With this knowledge I decided to experiment with the default FSX Cessna 208B.
This default airplane offers the same Garmin 500 unit, so I copied the modified Windows02=GPS section from the Cessna 172 in the C208B panel.cfg section. The result was astonishing. So easy and so quickly to do. Ok, probably not every flight simmer is able to do this, but I just want to prove that modifying the Windows02=GPS section isn’t that difficult. Ok, probably I had some luck!
If all the settings I entered are correct for this plane, I’m not 100% sure, but what I know is that the result looks good and it works flawless. You don’t believe me? See some screenshots below to prove it!
Some FSX default airplanes are also equipped with the Garmin GPS295. Compared to the GPS500 is looks totally different, but that doesn’t mean the display is different. Looking to the overall model I believe with some modifications, the GPS295 can be modified as well and used on the VRinsight display. Only problem is that only the default Cessna 172 is supported and no the other default aircraft. Not even add-on types are included.
Anyway, I could make the necessary panel.cfg modifications, but I don’t think that’s the idea of this review. VRinsight offers the GPS-5 with –as far as we’ve seen – only one airplane support. That’s not much is it?
Summary / Closing Remarks
Let’s start this time with what the VRinsight GPS-5 package costs at SimWare. The overall package including VAT will cost you €390.00 or approximately US$ 400.00 excluding VAT.
Honestly, I think that’s a lot of money for a Garmin GPS repeater and keeping in mind the supported airplanes. On to SimWare’s dedicated GPS-5 website, “this GPS 5 seems to supports all default Microsoft Flight Simulator and add-on aircraft. It is completely interfaced with Flight Simulator 2004 and Flight Simulator X through the VRinsight SerialFP2 software.”
The latter is absolutely correct, but supports all default MSFS airplanes and add-on aircrafts? I probably missed something and this is just default text applicable to other VRinsight products? I’m not sure now, but after downloading the “latest” software from VRinsight - setup_2010.Apr.26_full.exe – I found out that what I have is newer.
I have version 2010, May 10 (RC) while I’ve got the impression that the so called “latest” from VRinsight is version 23010, April 26. According to my knowledge this is older. Long story short; I think I’ve got the latest SerialFP2 software so the latest supported list of airplanes is correct and that’s only the default Cessna 172. I sincerely hope they change this text on their website since it’s misleading.
Let’s move on with other items. I’m pleased with the hardware design although it’s not a 100% replica of the real Garmin GPS500. The buttons/keys are absolutely different as well as the selector knobs. They are silver instead of black. Apart of these differences, the unit looks good; it does have a metal casing with a metal angled bracket to mount it on. There’s no option available to mount it vertically.
The LCD display is of a high quality, great brightness which is by the way not adjustable. You can’t switch the display ON/OFF with a switch or whatever. To switch the display ON/OFF, you need to plug in or unplug the power supply. Not a very handy option to be honest. All the cables are – of course – included whereas the USB cable is fixed to the housing. The VGA-to-VGA cable comes along with a VGA to DVI-I converter. The display unit itself has a VGA connecting and for the other side it depends on your graphics adapter. The cables are situated on the right hand side of the display, but I had preferred if they were all mounted on the back. It has nothing to do with the functionally of the display. It only looks nicer!
With the display connected via the VGA cable to your graphics adapter, Windows should be able to pick up the display. Since I’m using Windows 7, I can’t judge if Windows XP is also able to detect the new attached display. The monitor settings are straightforward without any complications; however it only explains how you should do this with Windows XP and not for Windows Vista/7. Since this is different, it is a missing item in the manual. Positioning the VRinsight display during the monitor settings on the left hand side is essential. There’s a small “important” note in the manual, but there’s nothing that tells you why this is so important. It would be an idea to modify the manual for these items.
When you reach the point where you install the SerialFP2 software, I can only say that this installs without asking complicated questions and before you know, you’re done. If ticked, you’ve got a desktop SerialFP2 shortcut and a SerialFP2 group via the Start menu. The group offers all that is related to VRinsight products, but you only need the manual, the Panel Installer and the SerialFP2 shortcut. As far as I figured out, the Panel Installer is only used to modify the panel.cfg of the selected aircraft.
While writing this review – August, 2010 – the only supported aircraft panel is the default FS2004/FSX Cessna 172. This panel installation is only done once. From the original panel.cfg file a backup is made, so you’re always able to return to the original GPS500. Next action is moving the software MSFS GPS500 to the VRinsight display. Once you’ve got the idea what you’re doing, it’s a simple job. When you’ve no clue and try to follow the manual on how to do this, you could be confused. Anyway, once the MSFS software GPS500 is moved to the display, the hardware GPS-5 behaves the same as its software counterpart except that you can feel and touch it and probably smell the paint!
Pressing the buttons/keys gives me a good feeling, which is the same for the inner- and outer selector knobs. The small “User Programmable” button is not explained at all in the manual and the answer from SimWare doesn’t really help me or you any further. When you’re familiar with the Garmin GPS500, it shouldn’t give any problems since it behaves the same as the MSFS software version. Actually, it’s the software version in a hardware jacket! When you have no or less experience with the Garmin GPS500, you can either download the official Garmin GPS500 Pilot’s Guide or the Quick Reference Guide or you go for one of the MSFS Garmin tutorial lessons.
Overall impression of the manual is weak. Keeping the price of the unit in mind, you and I may expect a little more than this manual. I personally miss certain background information and why something should be done in this or that way. Monitor setting information should cover not only the Windows XP way, but also the Windows Vista/7 way. The preparing section at the end could be written more didactical.
When you’re familiar with VRinsight products and thus SerialFP2 software, then you probably don’t need additional information. Finally I miss an FAQ or troubleshooting section. I’m aware that monitoring the VRinsight forum is a much better option, but known problems could be added here.
Finally, should you buy it or not? Read my review and if you have any questions or doubts, just email me or post a forum message. As it is now, I won’t buy it myself for the simple reason that in August, 2010 only one default MSFS aircraft is supported. The fact that it’s not supporting other default airplanes, worries me to be honest. It seems with my Cessna 208B example, it is not a difficult job to make it work, but who am I? As I wrote somewhere in this review, more airplanes will be supported in the future. Honestly that’s too late. You shouldn’t bring a product on to the market with hardly any MSFS- or X-Plane support.
Did I forgot something and did I not test all the airplanes in combination with the VRinsight GPS-5? All the airplanes? … oops, there’s only one model. As far as I can see, I’ve covered all the parts from hardware stuff, DVD contents, connection problems if applicable and the SerialFP2 software. Furthermore; I checked the configuration and display functionality including the display quality. No, this is it.
What I Like About GPS 5
What I Don't Like About GPS 5
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