X-PLANE: (sold separately) By Laminar Research, this flight simulation, Microsoft's sole remaining competitor, has been around since mid 1990s. Its name is an honorary reference to a series of United States experimental aircraft called X planes, such as the circa 1959 hypersonic X-15, the VTOL test bed X-18, and the more recent (2010) hypersonic scramjet X-51.
Two of the stock planes that come with the 35 aircraft included in the X-Plane simulation are in fact borrowed designs from real X-planes; the X-15 and the X-30. There are also some experimental designs not by the US Air Force, but by programmer/aerospace engineer Austin Meyer, X-Plane's creator. There are about 1500 aircraft models available elsewhere on the internet made specifically for X-Plane, both freeware and payware.
A demo version is available. At the time of publishing this review, X-Plane was at version 9.55rc. You can freely download the 231-page operating manual at the X-Plane support page. AVSIM has dedicated forums; The X-Plane Forums Subforums, of which there are three subdivisions.
Weather in X-Plane: With downloadable METAR, real world and real time weather conditions are available covering any situation from clear skies through to thunderstorms and zero-visibility approach conditions. The faithful reproduction of these conditions into the X-Plane environment is limited. You will not find the weather engine is as good as the one in FSX, (which is also not that great).
REX: Most of you are probably familiar with the REX products made for FSX and FS2004 by Real Environment Xtreme. The only previous review at AVSIM is Philip Wilson's extensive description of REX for FS2004. There is no review as yet for REX for FSX. Since I do not have these products I cannot make a valid comment on them. I use FEX available at Flight1.
Briefly, REX stands for Real Environment Extreme, and as its name suggests, enhances the visual environment of the simulator. I am not certain what the "extreme" stands for. The manual describes it as a manipulation program from which you can choose the textures for sky, weather effects, clouds, sun, etc... along with a weather monitoring tool to help you get the most appropriate textures to enhance the pleasure of the scenery as it surrounds you.
REX for X-Plane: The version I have is that of SP1, which became available May 20, 2010. As its manual states: "REX is an environmental add-on, and manipulation program which includes a robust selection of beautiful user-selectable sky and cloud themes, an advanced weather spotter search feature, archived data weather, enhanced METAR smoothing/probing features, real-time weather reporting & updating and weather avoidance features."
INSTALLATION AND DOCUMENTATION:
I got my reviewer's copy by download. You can also purchase a download with DVD-ROM copy for a small additional fee from the FlightSim Store.
Unwrapping: Once you have your license details and your product downloaded, installation progresses using a familiar unwrapper system, which first requires entry of the three items of information supplied (see photo). Once you have passed the registration key internet authorization, you need not do this again if you decide to re-install or if installation is interrupted. You can then proceed to choose your installation path if you wish to change it from that initially given.
The unwrapping does not take long and there is no pop-up window once finished. In the Program Files list (above) you gain access to the manual. A shortcut to REX is also placed on your desktop. The folder tree of the installation itself is composed mostly of images of 5 categories with 13 to 18 subsets each, as partially shown above. These are: Cirrus, Cumulus, Overcast, Sky, and Stratus, which all contain the replacement textures.
CONFIGURATION & OPTIONS MANAGER:
The first time you open the program there will be a short pause while the path to X-Plane is verified. Note the weather server IP on the general settings page. I deleted this line by error and could only get it back after a re-install. It may be a good idea to copy this down somewhere. Do not forget to back up the X-Plane textures before you start to substitute clouds, which is easily done on this page.
Also notice the lower pop-up where you can decide on the performance your computer will be capable of. This will simply change the options configured to meet your requirements, which can be individually altered as well.
Also found on this page are texture install options for the various cloud types and themes, as well as the resolutions to be used (2048x2048 (HD); 1024x1024; or 512x512). I ONLY used the HD resolutions for review purposes.
There are also four configuration settings to the right relating to auto start and minimizing REXPlane, with an option to "Enable Weather Sync with X-Plane". In order for this to work you must disable X-Plane's options to “DOWNLOAD Real-Weather file METAR.RWX from the net" and enable the option called "SCAN Real-Weather file METAR.RWX to set weather" (these are within X-Plane).
THEME CREATION/SELECTION: REXPlane comes with six themes (see picture). These are made up of 4 sets of cloud textures and one set of sky textures. Personal creations from combinations of the 5 sets can be chosen to suit your own weather needs or tastes. You can save these new sets which are then listed alphabetically with the others, as shown. You could delete any preset theme, or user theme, from the list too.
Note that nothing as yet has been loaded into X-Plane. You have to press the green "INSTALL" button for this to take place. This overwrites the textures in X-Plane which are then lost if you did not make a backup during the initialization steps. Original X-Plane textures can be RESTORED from those you made a BACKUP(s) of on the Configuration page 2.
Be careful with this backup option; it is very easy to highlight your backup and accidentally push "create", which will erase the backup and replace it with what you have, which could be some theme. Best to have two backups made of your X-Plane default textures in case this happens.
WEATHER: To help you decide on a set of textures depending on the weather at an airport you plan to fly at, you can consult the weather page (third page). Clicking on this page from the navigation bar will initialize downloading of the current weather from REX's dedicated site server.
Typing in the ICAO code for your airport will display its current weather or a chosen date from the pull-down ARCHIVE WEATHER at the bottom of that page. A little Icon is displayed in the upper left that can show you at a glance the type of weather to expect there. The weather can change, as can be seen by the comparison picture below which were taken about 60 minutes apart.
Now let's say you just want to try some thunderstorms, well you can do a search from the metrological data which then list all worldwide reports of that condition. Scrolling down to the ICAO listings for that country, you can then go see the weather page for that specific airport, and load weather related textures for that airport if you so chose.
A weather search for thunderstorms turned up CYBW near Calgary. Shown above are the search results, the MEATR for CYBW, the thunderstorm using default X-Plane textures, and finally the result you get from installing REX's choice of textures (at 9000 feet).
WAS: Weather Avoidance System; Within the weather page is a weather avoidance system page accessed from the purple button on the lower part of this page. It is powered by the familiar Google Maps which is a sliding map with a zoom in/out bar, and adds areas of weather interest. The upper row of selectors gives views as a map, satellite or as elevation terrain. There is an option to show/hide street info to de-clutter the map if needed.
Of the four options buttoned in the lower right of the display, only one works at any one time, unlike another popular weather display that shows all weather system types from which you can activate/deactivate each individually. These show radar images, areas of turbulence and icing, and stormy areas. It can be used to choose where to go or not go.
Presented here are pictures I took under identical weather conditions for some of the 3D cloud and overcast textures of REX-Plane. I departed Grand Rapids Michigan enroute to Milwaukee, and I took comparison shots at 5000, 7000, 9000, 13400, and at 18000 feet during my climb. Snapshots are for default textures of X-Plane (above) compared to REX's installation choices (below) for an area departing from KGPZ. Resolution is set to HD.
There may have been some errors with the reloading of the default textures in the above shots, but for the most part I think they are accurate comparisons.
The nice prop spin is from the payware Mitsubishi MU-2B Marquise, a very beautiful aircraft that surpasses anything I've seen in FSX in terms of visual artistry. It is authored by Tom Kyler and distributed by X-Scenery.
Summary / Closing Remarks
Did I cover everything? Absolutely not. This review is just enough information to give you an idea of what REX-Plane is about and for you to decide if it is a purchase choice for you. I will not get involved in the myriad of complaints and praises birthed in the forums relating to this product.
REX-Plane does not do what you would dream of, but it does do the job you need done, and done right. Due to limitations on the part of X-Plane's weather rendering engine, only so much can be accomplished. What REX-Plane is, is a choice of texture sets, not a weather engine. It can deliver a metar sheet to X-Plane, but once inside X-Plane's weather engine it has no influence on layers etc..., only textures that are pre-loaded. There is no on-the-fly substitution of textures. but there is some kind of updating of the weather metar list by REX-Plane and delivered to X-Plane on-the-fly.
In closing I admit I admire the wondrous improvements in textures afforded by REX-Plane, but I must again re-emphasize that the weather deployment in X-Plane is very limited and this can reflect negatively on REXPlane, but this is really without due demerit. Forum rumor has it that a totally revamped X-Plane (version X-10) is on the not-too-distant horizon (Dec 2010?).
So until then, this is a good upgrade to get the highest of texture's resolutions and quality, with an added increase in the varieties available, along with some fun toys to play with. Some say the newer versions of X-Plane after version 9.21 do not fair favorably for REX-Plane due to an excess of cloud rotation and the removal of a user's choice of 3D cloud sizing. I cannot know this as I used version 9.55rc3.Regardless, REX-Plane delivers the meat to the bare bones that X-Plane alone gives you.
What I Like About REX for X-Plane
What I Don't Like About REX for X-Plane
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