As our hobby develops and grows, one of the improvements is in the visual detail of aircraft. The smallest components of undercarriage, door and control surface are reproduced in the finest detail. Even close up, airline liveries such as the PSS "Gulf Air" Airbus A330 shown above look as good as the real thing. Fully-clickable virtual cockpits are becoming the norm, the most recent versions matching 2D cockpits in terms of visual clarity. Even larger aircraft are coming with cabins full of passenger seats or cargo pallets.
The basic FS9 product, however, doesn't really allow us to see this "eye candy" in its full glorious detail. We do have the "Spot View" to allow us to look at the outside of our plane. It is, however, awkward to use when we want to get up close or check out an unusual angle. Virtual cockpits can be as crammed with switches and dials as the real thing, yet the View commands have their limitations, and myopic pilots like myself often have a problem reading the gauges. And the cabin interiors are difficult to move around, unless, like the forthcoming Flight 1 ATR 72-500, there is a special facility provided.
These limitations provide the opening that Active Camera 2004 addresses. Originally developed as a freeware offering for FS2002 by a small company operating from Belgium, it has now been enhanced as a commercial product for FS2004. It lets you look at those places that the basic FS2004 "doesn't reach". It's a product that, once you've tried it, you may well find yourself addicted to.
Installation & Documentation
Installation is by download. You don't even need to spend any money at this stage. You can check out a trial version that's fully-functional, in a limited geographical area. For many of the features, it's worthwhile having a 3-button mouse or a mouse wheel.
The download can be accessed from the Anticyclone site. (Make sure you also apply the separate update if you are using the patched version of FS2004). Various components are installed in either the main FS9 folder, "Modules", or its own "Active Camera" folder.
Once you have started up FS2004, you can configure Active Camera by going to "Options", "ActiveCamera 2004" and choosing from the various configuration options. You can now check out all its features, within the Seattle area.
Once you have checked out the trial version and decided that you like it, this menu is also where you go to register. First you need to pay your $15 at the Anticyclone site. Then you go to "Register", where you'll be given a User Registration Key. Mail this off to Anticyclone, and they'll send you back an Authorisation Key Code. Go back to "Register", enter the Code, and you're in business.
Documentation consists of a well-illustrated 41-page Adobe Guide which is very clear to follow. If you have any problems, there is a support email address, and also an active support forum where the developers' responses are prompt.
So now we've got Active Camera 2004 fully installed, let's see what it delivers....
Virtual Cockpit and Pilot Views
Many of us love virtual cockpits. What we're not so keen on is the inability to look quickly at the part of the cockpit we're currently interested in, be it the overhead, throttle quadrant or whatever. Yes, with standard FS2004 it's possible to move one's virtual head around and get up close to some switch or dial, but it's very laborious. Then when ATC calls up we can't quickly switch to the autopilot controls, so we get told off for not responding. To me, the whole sensation is like flying the plane while wearing a neck brace.
Active Camera addresses this in a number of ways:
* pushing and holding the mouse wheel whilst moving the mouse allows you quickly to pan your view around the cockpit
* you can use the wheel to zoom in and out (although this can be disabled if you use your mouse wheel to rotate dials)
* the numeric pad allows you quickly to move from side to side, forwards or backwards, or rotate. Hold down "6" and you can quickly move over into the co-pilot's position. Swivel to face backwards, move ahead with "8", and you can walk along the aisle of the passenger cabin. "Ctrl+Home" and "Ctrl+End" will allow you to move up and down, invaluable for getting down to the lower deck in the Ready for Pushback 747-200!
* you can store a number of preset views for each plane, so that moving to regular viewpoints is automated with a simple key depression. Below I've shown a number of my presets for the PMDG Beechcraft 1900.
I've also included a set of views from the new Flight One ATR 72-500.
The effect of all these facilities is to throw away the neck brace! Now we can move quickly and accurately around the virtual cockpit, just like a real pilot.
In addition to all this, Active Camera uses something called "Head Latency". This means that your virtual head won't always look at a fixed point, even when the mouse is at rest. Instead, as in real life, it will lag behind the movement of the plane in turns (particularly aerobatic ones), reflecting the inertia and delay in your neck muscles. It also shows itself in ground and air turbulence, and in the pre-stall buffet, when it gives the appearance of the cockpit shaking around you. Bouncing along the runway with Active Camera and a Force Feedback joystick is as close as you'll get to the real thing, without being in a real plane or full-motion simulator. You can set the degree of "shake" to suit your own preference (and stomach!) It's difficult to show it in a screen capture - here's my artist's impression.
These features of Active Camera definitely help you to get the best out of your Virtual Cockpit and Virtual Cabin.
The External Inspection
Active Camera allows you to do a full external inspection of your plane. When in the Virtual Cockpit, pressing "X" will put you outside the plane, on the tarmac. The numeric keypad will now allow you to walk (or run, if you really want to) forwards and backwards, from side to side, and to swivel on your heels. Using the mouse wheel as before lets you rotate your head in any direction. This means you can do a full external inspection, and get into all the nooks and crannies that are impossible with FS2004's Spot view. As you walk along, your head bobs up and down slightly. You can even crouch down, ideal for checking the undercarriage hydraulics.
The only problem with this view is that scenery tiles can go missing, so that scenery objects appear to float - this can be seen in the first two pictures above. Anticyclone say that this is due to FS2004 conflicts in an area not covered by the SDK. However the external view has proved so popular with virtual pilots that, rather than take it out, they would rather continue to make it available in spite of the problem. I would agree with their judgement call on this; after all, in this situation, one is looking at the plane, not the scenery.
This is a very useful feature, especially when doing visual circuits in GA planes. It allows you to select a point on the ground with (Ctrl+right click), and then to lock the pilot's head to that position, or unlock, using other keyboard combinations. In the circuit, you can select the runway threshhold, and your head will keep looking at it, or can click to it, so that you can judge when to turn base and finals.
This is a feature similar to that found in combat flight simulators, where you need a swivelling "Exorcist"-type head to keep track of all the bad guys who are trying to shoot you down. Various key combinations will lock you onto the nearest AI aircraft, or even cycle through them all.
So what's its value in a civil flight simulator? Well, how about those ATC messages that give you advisories about nearby aircraft, and ask you to "Report traffic in sight"? Well, some of them you can't see because you're in thick cloud, or because you're asked to report something at 6 o'clock! Not much you can do about them. But what about the ones you should be able to see? Confession time, how many of us haven't actually spotted an aircraft, but lied, just to get ATC off our backs? Me for one. But sin no more with Active Camera. Press (Ctrl+Shift+A), and your head will immediately switch to centre on the aircraft in question, and continue to swivel as it tracks by. Invaluable. Needless to say, it's also useful in a busy terminal area to be able to cycle through all those aircraft, and be aware of potential conflicts if you don't have a TCAS.
Active Camera allows you to pan and zoom in Spot Plane mode. It also provides an additional Fly-by mode, where you can see a fly-by view as the aircraft passes your viewpoint, and repeats the process as often as you want; you can set the duration and direction in the "Options" screen.
Approach View is a nice feature that allows you to watch your own landings from a fixed position by the touchdown point. In theory you could do it while actually flying the plane, but it's probably better to land as normal from the cockpit, and then watch your landing on the Video or Action Replay. Here's one of my better landings, with the PMDG Beechcraft 1900D. It's a bit complicated to set up, but very rewarding, especially if you've done a good landing.
There's lots of ability to customise Active Camera in the Options screen. It's also possible to set up shortcuts for virtually every feature.
I have not noticed any significant performance impact from Active Camera. However, it comes into its own with Virtual Cockpits and Virtual Cabins, and these can be great consumers of resources. Therefore it's more likely to be found on the more powerful machines.
For $15, Active Camera is an absolute bargain. It's worth that alone for the ability to get around a Virtual Cockpit, and its simulation of turbulence and head movement. Added to that, it has a number of goodies that all add to your flying enjoyment. Do a walk-round inspection of your aircraft, visit the toilet, fly a faultless circuit, admire your own landings, and more!
I am a committed Active Camera user, have used it for dozens of hours in all sorts of VC. It has never given me a moment's trouble, and I would recommend it to any reader. It would not surprise me if some of its features appeared as a standard part of the next MS Flight Simulator version, and there would be no greater accolade than that.
The team at Anticyclone are to be commended for this unique and ground-breaking product, that has introduced a whole new dimension to the "View" capabilities of FS2004. It is one of those products which meets so obvious a need, but which no-one else had thought to design and create. The rating reflects this imagination and innovation.
*To buy this aircraft package, go to Anticyclone
|What I Like About Active Camera 2004|
Makes Virtual Cockpits really usable
|What I Don't Like About Active Camera 2004|
There is nothing I dislike. It delivers what it promises and is totally reliable.
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