AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

MegaScenery USA 2005 Volume 5: Mid Atlantic

Washington DC, Baltimore and surrounding areas

Rating Guide
Publisher: PC Aviator
Description:  Add-on scenery for FS2004/FS2002
Download Size:
N/A
Format:
DVD
Simulation Type:
FS 2004/2002 Scenery Add-on
Reviewed by: Jean-Claude Bailly AVSIM Staff Reviewer

The AVSIM Commercial Rating System: 1 Star to 5 Stars (with 5 stars being exceptional) Please see details of our review rating policy here .

Introduction

This is the fifth scenery release in a series covering the following areas of the USA: Southern California, Northern California, New York and Long Island, and Pacific Northwest. Developed by Aerosoft Australia and published by PC Aviator, this product offers a photorealistic environment allowing to fly VFR in vast areas of the US. Upon each release, the MegaScenery technology progresses, bringing new refinements to the reproduction of large territories and cities. In the case of the Mid Atlantic MegaScenery, the total covered area is 210 x 110 miles.

Baltimore, Washington DC and Richmond are the three major cities faithfully reproduced with their own enhanced autogen. Three large airports, KBWI, KDCA and KIAD, are within the intricate Washington DC Metropolitan ADIZ, and a number of Prohibited and Restricted areas (not really respected for the purpose of this review so as to provide you with attractive shots of the Mall…) make for interesting VFR flying. Because, yes indeed, VFR – day and night – is possible with this product, all visual references needed are there. Furthermore, all water bodies of this scenery will allow you to use your floatplane if you prefer to use the numerous rivers, lakes, bays, etc…

There are two packages available, the “light” with no charts ($29.95), and the complete version ($39.95) including a fifteen-page operating handbook where all important video settings are indicated (more on this later), a 250 page booklet with all the instrument approach charts and airport diagrams, and two very useful VFR charts: the Washington sectional and the VFR terminal area for Baltimore and Washington.

 

The Megacity Technology

With a source data of 5 meters per pixel satellite photographs for cross country and 1 foot per pixel aerial photographs (the MegaScenery site says 2 feet per pixel and the manual 1 foot per pixel, but we shall not debate on this discrepancy here!), the actual finished product will display 5 meters per pixel in FS9. The developers indicate however, that most of the information captured on the higher resolution source images for the urban areas will still remain in the MegaScenery.

Installation and Documentation

Very easy and straightforward. Simply insert the DVD in your computer and let the “autorun” show you what the next step will be. One tip, take note that by default, the installer will offer to create a new folder “megascenery” on your main drive, you might want to change that (if you don’t pay attention to this step you may end up hunting for your scenery on your hard drive, away from your FS9 folder). Should you have other MegaScenery products, you could group them under the same file in your FS9 folder.

If it is your first photorealistic scenery installation, be aware that it will take “some” time (20 to x minutes) to install depending on the speed of your system. So have the manual handy to read the numerous and detailed operating recommendations while your installation takes place. You will have plenty of time to complete the reading of it before it is over. Alternatively, during the installation process, a few tips will be displayed on the screen; they are reprinted in the manual for later reference.

Now that your scenery is installed on your hard disk, you will need to update your FS scenery library, and – if you wish - your Flight Simulator video settings using the special scenery library updater of the programme. Do take note that, by default, this option to change your video settings is checked, so if you prefer to keep your parameters or select them yourself, don’t forget to uncheck that box.

Another important piece of advice, after using the scenery updater it might tell you that your FS scenery configuration file is now ready. Don’t trust that information and double check your FS scenery cfg file, or when starting FS, go to the scenery library page and see if you find the 13 new files. If not, you will need to add them manually in your library (I had to do it this time, and also for the MegaScenery New York which I own as well. For some reasons the updater provided does not seem to do the job properly).

If you own the Baltimore/Washington International Airport 2k5 Version 2 freeware of Matthew Perry and Joshua Broadwater, a special patch was released on AVSIM (patch_177161.zip) to make it blend with the MegaScenery textures. The SimFlyers Washington Dulles scenery will also fit in. The DCA 2002 – works perfectly with FS 2004 too - (freeware from Shehryar Ansari) is another attractive airport scenery package covering Ronald Reagan National airport (available on AVSIM), a patch was recently released to adapt some minor details to this MegaScenery.

Simply do not forget to set your MegaScenery at a lower priority level than your detailed airport sceneries in your FS library.

Video Settings

As mentioned earlier, many recommendations are offered by the developers in the manual to get the most out of your new scenery. These will ultimately depend on your computer specifications, so I would suggest to start with the recommended parameters and tweak your display settings further when using your scenery.

Test System

Dell Dimension 8300
CPU: Intel P4 3.02
RAM: 2.0 GB
Video: ATI RADEON X 800 PRO 256

Flying Time:
15 hours

If your CPU is over 3 Ghz with a video card of at least 128MB, you probably can (as I did) check dawn/dusk texture blending and extended terrain texture (not recommended by MegaScenery). However, don’t take this as an absolute rule, there are just too many parameters variations in a PC. The best approach is to increase your settings progressively one by one until you are happy with the results both visually and performance wise.

Normally, with such highly detailed photorealistic reproductions, we can only find compromises. But I must hasten to add that I was very pleasantly surprised by the fluidity of this scenery. With frame rates averaging between 25 to 65 (frame rate set on unlimited as per developer’s recommendation), using the following aircraft so as to evaluate the impact of more demanding software on the frame rate: Dreamfleet Cessna Cardinal RG, Aerosoft BAe 146-200, the freeware Rockwell Commander 500 by Paul Saunders, Scott Thomas and André Folkers, F1 ATR 72 and finally the PMDG 744.

Important note: If you have a lower end computer, to avoid performance difficulties in the evening or morning situations DO NOT check the dawn/dusk texture blending in your display settings. Otherwise you will experience a “slide show” due to the simultaneous loading of night and day textures. With my system, I could note up to 40% reduction in F/S performance after adding rain and low clouds, with the lowest being around 13 to 14 F/S (still quite acceptable given the enjoyable vista!).

Let's Go For A Flight

When you load any airport or situation in the area covered by this scenery, be aware that the loading time will be substantially longer than usual (depending on your system specifications of course), count on an average of 3 to 4 minutes.

It’s time to pull your preferred light aircraft out of the hangar, say at KBWI, take off to the North to fly over downtown Baltimore and see if the ESPN zone is visible next to the Navy Museum. At first glance, the aerial photographs used are probably a bit older than five years, since some of the landmark buildings (such as the tall Marriott Waterfront for example) are not there yet. But let’s enjoy what we see, as it is indeed fascinating!

Being quite familiar with these two cities and their three main airports as a real world pilot, I must confess that at an altitude of 5000 feet and above, flying at a speed between 120 kts and 250 kts (speeds recommended to avoid blurry areas when the computer has to crunch too many textures, those of the scenery coming last in the process), the views are simply amazing! At this stage, it is better to show screenshots, plenty of them, and make comparisons with the default FS scenery for the same area, they will be convincing enough.

 

Default FS9 scenery (the Mall) versus…

What Prohibited area??? (MegaScenery)

After flying over Baltimore, take a heading of 225 to Ronald Reagan Washington National, this will bring you above the National Mall and National airport Then turn right to a heading of 310 to Dulles for a quick overfly of the airport.

New right turn to a heading of 050 to reach the localiser of Rosslyn LDA RWY 19 to Washington National, so as to appreciate at low level (below the recommended 4900 feet), the details and performance of the downtown scenery while on final.

I was impressed by the frame rate throughout the approach. A few stutters from time to time, but nothing that would spoil your pleasure. On short final with quite a lot of video for my system to manage, I was still getting a solid 21 F/S making the approach pleasant visually and easy to hand fly. But first look again at the default FS9 scenery with 23 F/S on the left, and the MegaScenery almost 22 F/S on the right.

 

FS9 Default

Megascenery

Approach on Rosslyn LDA RWY 19 ( view of the Mall)

A Tour of Downtown Washington, DC

If you have never been to “DC”, take the time to visit the museums (from the air!). All of them, in particular the Smithsonian, the National Air and Space, the National Gallery, and don’t forget the US Capitol building. This is how much you could get carried away when comparing what you see in your windshield and the tourist map of the US capital. All the museums are there on this scenery, and very well reproduced, even the tricky architecture of the East Wing of the National Gallery.

Should you wish to fly by the rules, you will have lots of fun skirting around prohibited or restricted areas. This region has plenty of them and offers all possible navigation challenges one can dream of if you stick to VFR, especially if you add some weather to reduce your visibility. If you prefer to exercise your IFR skills, the number of approaches you can shoot with the added benefit of a realistic scenery - when you can see it (have a look at some screenshots with the winter weather above DC) – will double your pleasure and feelings of getting as close as possible yet to the real experience. Add some traffic to your three main airports and you are all set for some interesting flying in a busy area.

 
Winter over DC

Night Lighting and Season Textures

As can be seen from the right screenshot, the rendering of the same area at night is appealing and conveys the right atmosphere of night flying, providing one keeps above 4000 ft.

 

Default FS9 night view of the Capitol

And the MagaScenery sight of the Mall

I tried all seasons. A lot of attention was paid to reproducing textures that would be as close to those of Mother Nature as doable except for the Fall foliage. One can perhaps also argue that some summer textures may be a tad too aggressive, but this may be a matter of personal taste. The real test is when you get to the limits of this scenery and compare it with the default textures. Have a look at this shot below taken on the “borders” of the MegaScenery and see what you miss in the “real” default world of MSFS, this is striking.

 

The end of the MegaScenery world …

An excursion to Chesapeake Bay

A tour along the Chesapeake Bay, at 5000 to 8000 ft, so as to be able to really appreciate the amazing work done to reproduce this coastal “lace” is an absolute must!

Take off from Martin State and turn South, down to Patuxent (beware the Restricted Areas). Circle Point Lookout and veer to the right over the Potomac River, before heading to Richmond. Here are a few selected screenshots...

 
Chesapeake Bay excursion Piscataway Creek Marina on long finale 01 DCA

Conclusion

I am a scenery “freak”, since over three hundred of them populate my FS9 library, I like to recognise - as much as possible - the areas I have flown to and from in my real world experience, or those I have missed… After comparing the default scenery with this product, there can be no hesitation on the fact that MegaScenery Mid Atlantic is an extraordinary improvement that makes your flying as realistic and visually rewarding as technically possible today.

I did not see any drastic performance drop, if at all, using various "resource demanding" airplanes such as the PMDG 744 and the F1 ATR 72 (My screenshots will prove my point since they all include the parameters).

 

After take off from RWY 01 DCA

Panoramic view of DC

How do you say “as real as it gets”?

As a final touch, just have a look at these dusk shots with low clouds and rain, and check the F/S performance.

The Mall at dusk

Turning final 01 at DCA in heavy rain

Short finale in heavy rain and low visibility


 

What I Like About MegaScenery Vol 5: Mid Atlantic
  • Detailed instructions to obtain the best performances
  • Maps for both VFR and IFR
  • Extraordinary work done on the Chesapeake coastal area
  • Virtually no impact on frame rate
  • I feel like in the real world! Well, almost…

 
What I Don't Like About MegaScenery Vol 5: Mid Atlantic
  • Fall textures appear to have been overlooked although the manual says “use the scenery no matter what season your sim is set to…”
  • Summer textures are a tad too aggressive at times (to my taste)
  • Installation challenges for those who may not be familiar with manual insertion of scenery in FS library

Printing

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MegaScenery 5: Mid Atlantic

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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 provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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