AVSIM Commercial Hardware Review

Multi Switch Panel

Product Information

Publishers: SimWare (VRinsight)

Description: Universal programmable Multi Switch simulator panel.

Download Size:
NA

Format:
Hardware
Simulation Type:
All Windows platform Sims
Reviewed by: Angelique van Campen AVSIM Senior Staff Reviewer - December 14, 2010

Multi Switch panel, what’s unique about it?

It was not long ago that Simware and VRinsight offered another flight simulation panel. This time it’s a multi switch panel and although it looks different than the VRinsight MCP Panel or the M Panel, some features seems the same to me. To find that out, we offer you another VRinsight review, but before I continue let’s see what Simware has to say about this product.

The Multi Switch Panel is a compact unit to control any function available from ALL simulators and games capable of handling joystick inputs. This means it’s fully compatible with all simulators: Flight Simulator X/2004, Falcon 4, IL-2 Sturmovik, Black Shark, Lock ON, X-Plane, Ship Sim Extremes, Space Shuttle and many more. Various types of buttons and switches help to control your aircraft more precisely ever than before. Via an USB connection, backlit blue LED will illuminate leading an efficient flying in the nighttime.

On the Multi Switch panel you will find:

  • Is a standalone type equipped with a standard USB 2.0 connection,
  • It’s fully compatible with most flight and fighter software,
  • It consists of a full metal case with backlit blue LED,
  • It comes with many buttons and switches like;
  • 12 buttons, 2 two positions ON/OFF toggle switches, 1 return toggle switch, 1 three positions ON/OFF toggle switch, 6  encoder switches, 2 potentiometers, 4 Sliders and a four positions view button,
  • The rotary encoders offer a "Fast Rotate and Hold" feature,
  • It measures 30.5cm/12 inch (length) x 12.5cm/4.9 inch (width) x 11cm/4.3 inch (height).”

A quick look on the panel teaches me that it’s indeed full of push buttons, switches, knobs, sliders and a few other components. And, if I read the promotion text correctly, every component is programmable. I got the idea that this time they do not work with dedicated profiler files for a particular aircraft like with some VRinsight products. To find that out it’s time to see what this black box offers and how to program it. Since I’m not a computer nerd, I hope I can do the programming.

First of all; what does the black box offer?

The VRinsight “black box” contains:

  • The Multi Switch panel comes standard with approximately 1.8 meter (≈5.9 feet) cable. Not bad!
  • Compared to other VRinsight units, this unit has a fixed angled bracket already mounted to it. This means no separate screws to put it together.
  • Three cap removal tools. With the cap removal tool you can remove the plastic “button” caps from the Multi Switch panel switches. I’ll explain the how and what later in more detail.
  • An Application Instructions leaflet showing you how to remove/install the plastic caps from the switches.
  • A sheet with all kind of identification placards. Together with the removal tool, these placards are placed on one of the switches of your choice. Remember, this is a universal multi switch panel and thus labeled depending on your necessities.
  • A DVD with Drivers, a User Guide and videos. The majority of the DVD is filled with other VRinsight product movies as well as some Wilco Publishing promotion movies. The MS Panel Guide Acrobat file tells you all about the panel and how to program it. More about this later.

    Furthermore it comes with a MSFS text document that tells you which MSFS commands exist and in the FSX folder there’s an example of the standard.XML file, used within FSX.

    Compared to previous VRinsight products I’ve seen, there’s no SerialFS2 software used this time. If this is good or bad, I don’t know yet. As said before, this is a multi-purpose switch panel and it can be used for ALL kind of simulators. We need to check this out later during the test phase.
  • This time, compared to other VRinsight products, there’s no separate power supply included since it’s not needed. This means the USB cable supplies the unit for example the backlight.

Unpacked the Multi Switch panel components!


MS Panel User Guide

Let’s first start with the supplied Acrobat User Guide and see if it is written for basic flight simmers since programming is not what people like to do, except for some. The guide is in total 24 pages thick with unfortunately no table of contents. Ok, not a big deal, but it would be handy if it was included. Anyway, it isn’t included so we’ll leave it like it is. The guide consists of a features-, installation-, calibration-, application 1 and 2 and appendix section.

The features section offers the same image and description as written above in my introduction however; letters identify “what is what”.
Since the Multi Switch panel consists only of one hardware component, there’s not much more to write about it. Take the USB cable, find an USB 2.0 PC connection or USB hub and you’re done. Therefore the installation section is rather simple and straight forward.

The calibration section is needed because the panel is by default detected as a joystick. Together with Vista based screenshots it’s explained how to calibrate the panel with the help of the Windows “Game Device Calibration” software. I can’t say anything else about this calibration section -4 pages – as it is well explained with a step-by-step procedure.

Application 1 section deals with assigning FSX functions to the panel. This is done from within FSX, but that could be FS2004 as well. The assignment procedure as described is clear and understandable and there’s always the FSX help function available.

Application 2 is of the same kind as the previous explanation; however it’s now assigned within another application namely the Falcon 4.0 Allied Forces. Honestly, I don’t own it and therefore I can’t judge it.

The appendix offers the flight simmer a different view of assigning functions to the Multi Switch Panel. The application 1 example deals with assignments within FSX and although known to most of us, it’s not the complete list of FSX/FS2004 functions. Both FS2004 or FSX offers much more functions and because of the huge number of commands available, this appendix tells you how to assign other functions to - in this case FSX - the panel. To help you out, the DVD comes with a modified standard.xml file and a separate MSFS_Controls.txt command list.

According to the user guide – page 9 - this standard.xml file offers predefined key assignment commands for the Multi Switch panel. Ok, when I read it correctly this means that all the panel switches, knobs, sliders etc. are defined, however this standard.xml file only offers those parts related to the panel. Don’t worry, I will come back later to this standard.xml. In other words; this appendix section should help you out with how to modify the xml file and how to make it dedicated for your own needs or at least that’s the suggestion. Going through pages 9 to 13, I haven’t got the idea it’s as simple as it seems.

Incoming note from VRinsight/SimWare: SimWare/VRinsight have released an updated user guide. The new user guide offers, in detail, installation and calibration instructions for different Windows Operating Systems and Flight Simulator systems. It also explains how to assign functions within FSX, FS2004 and X-Plane to the MS panel. Feel free to download the updated user guide via this VRinsight link although I may assume that VRinsight will add this in the near future to new MS panel packages.

MS Panel and Pushbutton Preparations

Test System

Intel Core Extreme i7-965  3.2Ghz
6GB Tri-Channel DDR3 1600Mhz
EVGA GTX-285 For the Winner
Triple WD VelociRaptor 300GB HDD
Single WD 1TB HDD
Windows 7 Ultimate X64
Flight Simulator FSX SP2
Flight Simulator FS9.1
Saitek Pro Flight System
Saitek X-65F
TrackerIR Pro 4
TrackerClip Pro

Flying Time:
42 hours

Multi Switch Panel

The overall panel is made of steel with integrated angled bracket. This bracket is the same with other VRinsight products and offers you a good view of the front. The overall panel is matt black with no display, but lots of pushbuttons, switches, knobs, sliders and a HAT switch. The moment you connect the only cable to an USB 2.0 compliant receptacle, a blue backlight illuminates around the pushbuttons, switches, sliders and HAT switch.

On the right hand side of the panel there’s a “Fast Rotate and Hold” switch with an ON-OFF position and linked to the R1 and R2 rotary encoders. Once you’ve placed the Multi Switch panel in position, the rubber pads hold it in place.

A first view tells me that the front side is divided in four sections, from left to right:
- 1st section: pushbuttons and at the bottom four switches,
- 2nd section: six rotary knobs,
- 3rd section: two rotary encoders with four sliders,
- 4th section: a HAT switch.

As said before; there’s only one cable with a USB connector. This cable is not only used for modifying and operational functioning of the pushbuttons, switches, knobs or sliders etc. but also for the backlight power supply. Because of the rubber pads, pressing either pushbutton or moving a switch, holds the panel firmly in position.

I personally find the HAT switch a little short and too thin to operate. Furthermore, although this is a personal opinion, the chosen red colored HAT switch is compared to the rest of the panel components, not really my favorite. One other thing to keep in mind is that except for the pushbutton switches, all other switches, knobs and sliders can’t be marked. Oh yes, on the front there’s in the text near each switch or knob like ON-OFF, UP-DN, E1, E2, E3, E4, R1, S1, S2 etc. however, there’s no way to mark the simulator text to it. Therefore you need, for example, a sheet of paper with the simulator assignments on it.

Ok, that’s it folks. Have a look to the close-up pictures I made of the Multi Switch panel.



MS panel overview with power supply available because the blue backlight.


Close-up of the left hand section of the panel with the 12 pushbuttons. In case you see it; removed pushbutton button A1 the plastic cap.


Close-up of the slider section as well as the R1 and R2 rotary encoder selectors. On the right side the red pin (HAT switch).


Selector switch “Fast Rotate and Hold” ON-OFF switch. The position works in combination with the R1 and R2 rotary encoders.

Pushbutton – placard/decal - preparation

As I did in my previous VRinsight GPS-5 review, I’ll add the removal tool and placard section again in this review. The application instructions leaflet shows you in five steps how to peel of the plastic protection cap from the pushbuttons and how to continue. A little more information than only this leaflet isn’t a luxury so therefore I’ll add the necessary steps below. No, it will not be a tutorial! The idea is, together with the VRinsight leaflet, to offer visualized steps. Once you got it, it’s an easy job!

Read this please before doing anything with the tags; important… before you begin with the removal tool and placard ask yourself which pushbutton do I want to assign unless you go for the supplied VRinsight standard.xml assignments. The plastic caps and placards are designed in a way that pulling them off again is no problem in case you want to change a pushbutton assignment or when you’ve made a mistake but please, think before doing!

Peel off from one of the three supplied cap removers, the protection strip. Remember, the backside is sticky and allows you to remove the plastic caps from the MS panel.

  • Put the cap remover on “a” plastic cap (one of the pushbuttons) and pull gentle.
  • The previous action leads to a removed plastic cap from the pushbutton. That the plastic cap stays in contact with the removal toll is because of the sticky side.
  • Separate the cap remover from the plastic cap. Don’t destroy the plastic caps since the package doesn’t offer any spare caps. Why spare plastic caps are not included, no idea.
  • Since you’re free to program the switches, knobs, sliders, but in particular the pushbuttons, there’s no example where or what to put on the twelve pushbuttons. An example wasn’t a bad idea! Anyway, from the identification sheet you peel off the placard you need.
  • Press the two pieces gently on the correct MS panel pushbutton. Because of the rectangular model of the transparent plastic caps, it doesn’t make any difference how to install them. Of course, the name tag is important and please don’t put it upside down or in mirror.
  • When you’ve made this and understand how it works, continue with the other 11 pushbuttons.

picture I


picture II


picture III


picture IV


picture V


picture VI

Picture I:
In a plastic bag the three removal tools, attached to the leaflet. With the help of some photo’s you should be able to remove and install the plastic caps with decal.

Picture II:
Not directly visible on this thumbnail is the orange circle. This will be the pushbutton (B6) I’m going to remove and add underneath an AP TOGGLE decal.

Picture III:
Oops, wrong pushbutton, but the idea is the same. Place the removal tool on the plastic cap and press the tool firmly on the cap. Now pull the tool with the plastic cap gently from the MS panel.

Picture IV:
The removal tool with plastic cap upsidedown on the decal or identify tag list. Remove the plastic cap gently from the removal tool. Remember what I said earlier; the package doesn’t come with spare plastic caps!

Picture V:
Peel off the decal you need from the sheet. Compared to the GPS5 decal place, these decals have a sticky background. Not as handy as with the GPS5 decal/cap design. Either you put the decal on the inside of the removed plastic cap (see picture) or you stick it to the white switch housing on the MS panel.

Picture VI:
Take the palstic cap in your hand with decal and press it firmly back on the white housing.

This is the way to add under the 12 pushbuttons the decals or identity tags. Personally I suggest that you assign a pushbutton in FSX or FS2004, test straightaway and then confirm. Then you can add the decal to it. On the other hand, you’re also free to add all the decals first to the pushbuttons and assign them afterwards in MSFS. It’s your choice!

When you’ve done all the previous steps, it’s time to calibrate the panel according to the manual, followed by the configuration (assignment) of the panel’s pushbuttons, switches, knobs and sliders. This won’t be a difficult job, but worth to test. And no, this time there’s no Serial FP software needed since it works directly with FS2004 or FSX.

Calibration and Configuration

Calibration

Starting with the calibration section, found on page 2 of the user guide, I’ve got the idea that finding “Game Controllers” was indeed different under Vista than Windows 7. Since I’m using Windows 7, I’ll add some additional screenshots and text here as well as the way to approach it. Unfortunately I don’t own Windows XP so there’s no way for me to add screenshots of the XP procedure.
On the other hand, it wasn’t a bad idea when VRinsight or SimWare had added Windows XP calibration screenshots in the User Guide. It could be that the procedure is the same, but knowing the differences between XP and Vista, I have my doubts.


screen I


screen II


screen III


screen IV

Find for your convenience the Windows 7 “Game Controllers” calibration procedure:

  • Open the Control Panel (screen I).
  • Depending on your configuration you have either an icons- or category view. When you have “Category” view active, click “Hardware and Sound”. For icons view you go straight to the next item.
  • Click on Devices and Printers.
  • Between the Devices you should have USB Pad (screen II).
  • With a right mouse click on USB Pad, select Game Controller Settings (screen III).
  • Select from the pop-up window Properties.
  • From the next pop-up window select tab Settings, followed by the Calibrate button (screen IV). A calibration wizard pops up. From here you can continue following the manual.

When you follow the steps as described in the user guide, you’re done in less than two minutes. The calibration of a new device is not different or more complicated than with other hardware equipment.

FS2004/FSX Configuration

For this we need to start-up FSX and select menu item Settings -> Controls (for FS2004 – Options -> Controls -> Assignments).

On the Calibration tab which is the active one, it’s important to check that the “usb pad” is the active hardware component. This is in case you’ve connected other FS hardware. When you’ve checked this, select the tab “Buttons/Keys”. When everything goes well, the controller type “usb pad” should indicate here as well. If not, select usb pad from the pull-down list.

Either you leave the “Event Category” at All or you go to a specific event section. Whatever you choose, the principle is the same including the output. There’s no need for me to add a complete tutorial here since the manual tells you in steps how and what to do. The actual assignment is up to your preference.

Although the pushbuttons now have tags (identity placards) – you added them yourself in the previous section - and thus an FS key assignment, all the other switches, knobs and sliders don’t have these. With that said; write down their FS key function. It’s a little frustrating when you’re flying and have no clue what something means. So, apart from the pushbuttons that have a name and identity, for all the other switches, knobs and sliders write it down!. Believe me; assigning these in FS2004 or FSX is very easy and goes quickly, but before you know, you’ve lost what you assigned.

I’ve got the impression that some of the sliders and HAT switches are already assigned to the default FSX commands and thus there’s no need to change this unless you’re not happy with it. Not only does the HAT switch work flawlessly, as in principle this is the same for every other switch, knob, button etc. As said before; this time there’s no dedicated VRinsight SerialFP software, but straight from the ground within any flight simulation program. Oops, I only tested FSX, but I’m confident this is the same for FS2004.

Other simulator configurations

Unfortunately, I don’t own many other flight- or combat simulators and because of this, I can’t check if this Multi Switch panel works with these others. On the other hand, according to a SimWare representative “The controller (Multi Switch Panel) is a generic joystick and therefore, any software accepting standard joystick inputs is compatible. It will work with Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, both for the 32- or 64 bits platform.”

This means that calibration and configuration (assignment of commands) should be an easy job and shouldn’t give any problems. In case it does, just contact SimWare directly. Unless the simulator involved has a dedicated calibration possibility, the overall calibration is done with the default Windows Game Controller software.

How to modify Standard.xml (FSX) and FS9.CFG (FS2004)

Modifying Standard.xml (FSX)

Some practical words about the standard.xml file. Let’s first start what you can do with the supplied VRinsight standard.xml.

Actually it’s not a complete standard.xml file and it’s more to give you an idea what can be changed with the help of the supplied MSFS_Control.txt file.  The text document only contains the “usb pad” section of the standard.xml file and then in particular those parts related to pushbuttons, switches and knobs. Pushbuttons are A1, A2, A3, A4, A5 and rotary knobs are R1 and R2. By the way; the sliders are not included.

One of the reasons not to include the sliders is because they are most probably already assigned by a throttle unit or flight yoke. Anyway, this appendix is as it is, and may be confusing. Reading the pages of the Appendix gives me the idea that you can copy parts of the supplied standard.xml file into your own standard.xml file, but after some talks with SimWare representatives, it turns out that was never their intention. The idea of this Appendix was just to give the advanced flight simmer who likes editing an xml file, the tools and and an explanation of how to do it.

You could ask yourself what’s easier; editing the standard.xml file by yourself with the help of the separate supplied MSFS controls sheet or assigning key commands via the FSX/FS2004 Assignment menu. I personally go for the FSX/FS2004 assignment knowing that this shows only a fraction of all the available commands. Normally speaking, those available FSX/FS2004 commands are more than enough for general flight sim use.
Initially I wanted to add a complete section of how it could be done; copy and paste procedure of the supplied Standard.xml contents versus the FSX Standard.xml file. I’ve decided to leave it in my review, remember that the copy and paste contents of the VRinsight xml file is not complete. Some pushbuttons and knobs are not assigned yet.

A copy & paste procedure under Windows 7/Vista shouldn’t be difficult. The way it’s written in the User Guide starting on page 9 to page 13, isn’t really self-explaining. I’m aware that for some flight simmers this is an easy job, but there are enough flight simmers that are not really familiar with this and by the way, this is only a FSX example. What about FS2004 since that FS version doesn’t work with a standard.xml file, but put’s it all in the FS9.CFG file? That’s a pity this is not included in the User Guide since there are still many FS2004 flight simmers.

Ok, here we go and I can tell you that it’s even difficult for me to decide how and where to start, but I’ll give it a try and let me write it down in a step-by-step procedure.

Precondition:

  • If FSX is running, close it!
  • First of all I think it’s worth telling you that currently I’ve no other FS hardware connected to my PC. No other hardware means no flight simulator related equipment. The only hardware connected to it for this review is the VRinsight Multi Switch panel.
  • Starting with a clean configuration; first backup your standard.xml file for later since it could hold other configured information. For this test I deleted my standard.xml file and let FSX make a new one.
  • As said before; the newly created standard .xml file offers now two usb pad related entries namely:
    <Name>usb pad{DEAAC6B0-E5A6-11DF-8001-444553540000}</Name> and
    <Name>usb pad SLEW {DEAAC6B0-E5A6-11DF-8001-444553540000}</Name>.
    Important note: all the characters between “{xxxxxx xxxx etc}” will most probably differ on your PC.
  • Where you need to look for is the <Name>usb pad section.
  • Ok, my standard.xml file starts right after <Name>usb pad ………. with
    <Axis>
       <AxName>XAxis</AxName>
       <Index>0</Index>
       <AxEvent>AXIS_AILERONS_SET</AxEvent>
       <AxScale>64</AxScale>
       <AxNull>36</AxNull>
    </Axis> etc. (a couple of more of those <Axis> entries) followed with

    <Entry>
       <Index>0</Index>
          <Down>BRAKES</Down>
          <DownRpt>1</DownRpt>
    </Entry> etc. (again a couple of more of those <Index> entries).
    By the way; it could be that your xml file shows between the Index different things. That’s not really a problem and it could be as VRinsight suggest in there manual, that your xml file doesn’t start with <Axis> but straight with <Entry>.
    Anyway, I hope it’s clear so far.

    Copy & Paste
  • Open the supplied VRinsight standard.xml file and copy (Ctrl+A followed by Ctrl+C) all what’s between. As you can see, this start with <Index>0</Index> till and including <Index>29</Index>:

    <Entry>
       <Index>0</Index>

                      till and including ……..
    ……………………………………………………….
    <Entry>
       <Index>29</Index>
          <Down>VOR1_OBI_DEC</Down>
          <DownRpt>2</DownRpt>
    </Entry>
  • Go back to your own standard.xml file.
  • Select (Ctrl+A) in your own standard.xml file after the usb pad section, all what’s between the first
    <Entry>
       <Index>x</Index> (“x” equals a number) till the last consecutive <Index>x+n</Index>.
  • Paste the copied information from the VRinsight standard.xml file into your own standard.xml file.
  • With this action you’ve reconfigured 7 of the 12 pushbuttons, switches T1, T2, T3 and T4, knobs E1, E2, E3, E4, E5 and E6 except for the sliders and rotary knobs R1 and R2.
    By the way; sliders are those identified as <Axis> within the standard.xml file!
    Important:       You need to assign those buttons, switches and knobs yourself that are not assigned after the copy and paste procedure!
  • Save your modified standard.xml file and restart FSX.
  • Keep page 14 from the manual next of the Multi Switch panel, since it shows you all the assigned keys or feel free to make your own version.

    Although this step-by-step procedure shouldn’t be a complete tutorial nor a replacement for the VRinsight manual, I sincerely hope it helps you to understand what you’re doing when you start with the copy & paste command.

    Modifying FS9.CFG (FS2004)

    I did mention it before, but I think it’s a good idea to highlight a few things when it comes to FS2004 (FS9). Assigning FS2004 commands is more or less the same as with FSX so via the FS2004 menu “Options – Controls - Assignments” you reach straight away the “Buttons/Keys” tab. Assigning commands to the Multi Switch panel is 99% the same.

    When it comes to “how it looks in the FS9.CFG file”, it’s totally different than we’re used to in FSX. As said before; all assignments can be found in the FS9.CFG file under section [JOYSTICK_MAIN {DEAAC6B0-E5A6-11DF-8001-444553540000}]. Ignore again the number between {XXXXX XXXX} the brackets. Find below an extraction from my own FS9.CFG related to this particular section.

    The “AXIS” refers to sliders when it comes to the Multi Switch panel and “BUTTON” items to pushbuttons. I only made one assignment and that was with MS panel switch T3 (UP/DN) versus BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_14 (15). When you look into this, it seems complicated and therefore I could ask myself if there’s a need to edit this FS9.CFG directly or just go via the FS2004 “Assignments”. I prefer the latter, but wanted to show you this FS2004 way of doing it.

    [JOYSTICK_MAIN {DEAAC6B0-E5A6-11DF-8001-444553540000}]
    AXIS_EVENT_00=AXIS_AILERONS_SET
    AXIS_SCALE_00=64
    AXIS_NULL_00=36
    AXIS_EVENT_01=AXIS_ELEVATOR_SET
    AXIS_SCALE_01=64
    AXIS_NULL_01=36
    AXIS_EVENT_02=AXIS_THROTTLE_SET
    AXIS_SCALE_02=127
    AXIS_NULL_02=1
    AXIS_EVENT_03=AXIS_RUDDER_SET
    AXIS_SCALE_03=64
    AXIS_NULL_03=36
    AXIS_EVENT_05=AXIS_RUDDER_SET
    AXIS_SCALE_05=64
    AXIS_NULL_05=36
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_00=BRAKES
    BUTTON_DOWN_REPEAT_00=1
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_01=VIEW_MODE
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_02=ELEV_TRIM_DN
    BUTTON_DOWN_REPEAT_02=1
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_03=ELEV_TRIM_UP
    BUTTON_DOWN_REPEAT_03=1
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_06=KNEEBOARD_VIEW
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_07=GEAR_TOGGLE
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_08=VIEW_MODE
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_09=GEAR_TOGGLE
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_14=FLAPS_DECR
    BUTTON_DOWN_EVENT_15=FLAPS_INCR

    POV_MOVE_EVENT_00=PAN_VIEW
    POV_MOVE_REPEAT_00=1

    Although I didn’t add a complete story about this “FS2004 FS9.CFG assignment editing”, it’s a shame that this is not available in the User Guide. That the assignment procedure within FS2004 isn’t available in the User Guide is ok with me since it’s very similar to FSX assignments. However, editing FS9.CFG file is different and worth explaining by the vendor.

    What’s left for testing

    After my FSX calibration and configuration, I did make a flight straight away and found out that the Multi Switch panel with my own assigned FS function works great within FSX, which is the same as for FS2004. Therefore making another test flight with a fully programmed panel is definitely nice, but will it bring you and me more?

    Not really and making screenshots of what I’m doing with the panel isn’t really possible unless I kame a movie and place it on YouTube. I don’t think there’s really a need for that. If you know me, you know that when I say it works flawlessly under MSFS software, it does. In that respect this add-on hardware component doesn’t really work differently than other VRinsight products.

    Ok, most of the other VRinsight hardware needs the SerialFP2 software or even plug-ins in case you connect it to X-Plane. This is, for example, the case with the VRinsight MCP panel, M-Panel and Instrument Radiostack (http://www.wilcopub.com/display/VRi_page.html).

    I made some screenshots just to show you how it looks when it’s positioned in front of your monitor.


FSX I


FS2004 I


FS2004 II

Picture FSX I:
On the MS panel assigned to pushbutton A1 “HDG SET” and B6 “AP ON-OFF” (green square). Output on the Cessna 172 instrument panel an AP and HDG SET are activated (yellow square). The light blue squares belong to HDG select. Knob E1 is assigned as INCR/DECR HDG while this controls the HDG BUG in the aircraft.

Picture FS2004 I:
Basically standard assignment is the HAT switch, at least in my configuration since there’s no other controller connected. Operating the assigned HAT switch on the MS panel controls the HAT function in the VC (Virtual Cockpit) and the external model view (blue squares).

Picture FS2004-II:
Assigned to switch T3 (toggles UP/DN) on the MS panel “FLAPS EXT/RETR” and if you do so, this will extend or retract your flaps (green squares).

These three photos are just to give you an idea of assignments versus flight simulator output. In this case those are from FSX and FS2004, but you can imagine that this could be applicable to ALL simulators according to SimWare.

Practical use of this Multi Switch panel is having many MSFS function/commands assigned to the panel instead of a joystick or even your keyboard. Oops, when you’ve connected a joystick or flight yoke – most likely – the HAT switch is most probably assigned to this HAT switch and not to the MS panel. Because of its general look, it fits on every flight simulator table. The angled position of the panel makes it easily readable with a touch of science fiction because of the blue backlight. The four small switches (T) on the left hand side are a little tiny, but I can live with that.

Pressing one of the 12 pushbuttons, operating the sliders, rotating one of the knobs or rotary encoders, it all feels good. Mentioned earlier; due to the overall panel weight and the rubber pads at the bottom, the panel won’t slide away when pressing or moving a pushbutton or switch. By the way; when you select a pushbutton on the MS panel, there’s no visual indication that it’s been pressed or is active. Ok, when active you should see a result in your aircraft, but there’s no indication on the panel itself.

Summary / Closing Remarks

This Multi Switch panel can, according to SimWare, be used in combination with ALL kinds of simulators. I suppose you’ve read the compatible simulator list when I started with the introduction. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm that this SimWare statement is correct and that the panel can be used with ALL kind of simulators. According to a SimWare representative the MS panel is detected as an ordinary joystick and therefore it shouldn’t give any problems calibrating and assigning commands to it.

The panel itself looks good, completely made of metal with blue backlight at the front. This becomes active the moment power is supplied. For those who don’t like the blue backlight, sorry, you can’t switch it OFF. Personally I find, partly due to the chosen color, the silver “E” knobs and the sliders cheap looking. A cheap look doesn’t automatically mean that it’s not working well. That’s all ok with the pushbuttons, switches, knobs etc. The size and chosen red color for the HAT switch doesn’t really fit on the panel, in my opinion. It’s also in my opinion, too short to operate.
Removing plastic caps from one of the 12 pushbuttons is, together with the removal tool, easy but please don’t break the plastic cap. The MS panel package comes with three removal tools but no spare plastic caps. It’s probably too expensive to add a few spare plastic caps in the MS panel package. I mentioned the decal installation earlier in my “pushbutton – placard/decal - preparation” section and would like to add some additional information to this. When you place a placard/decal in the plastic cap, it’s difficult to get it out later on. Suppose you get the decal out of the cap, then probably you can’t use it anymore because I’ve got the idea that it’s not really made of strong material. In that respect, the GPS5 plastic decals are of a much better quality and much easier in use.

I tested this VRinsight MS panel primarily with FSX with a link to FS9. Since this time there’s no VRinsight SerialFP2F software needed, it’s plug and play. The only thing you need to do is to calibrate the usb pad and assign keys/commands to it in the same way as you do with other FS hardware. By the way; the MS panel is recognized as a usb pad under Windows Vista/7 but I can’t report about Windows XP. Because of this, the MS panel can be used with every aircraft and is no longer relying on “profile” files as was the case when SerialFP2 software was used.
Is this Multi Switch panel worth every penny? The average retail price of this VRinsight Multi Switch panel lies around €189.00 including VAT (approximately as per November 2010 this, equals 250.00 US$).

As said before; the panel looks good and since it’s easy to calibrate and assign commands to it, it’s a worthy investment. However, the manual doesn’t reflect the same in-depth quality as the hardware itself. Also the lack of different application examples in the User Guide worries me. The appendix in the manual should be rewritten in my personal opinion. I’ve got the feeling this was written by a developer and not a user. I had hoped that it was written in a way that is understandable for all levels of flight simmers.

During this review I found certain items mainly related to the software procedures and/or User Guide issues. Until now, I’m not really convinced that it works with other simulators because the User Guide doesn’t offer any other assignment procedures. Ok, there are two “application” examples included in the User Guide, but as stated on the SimWare website, it’s also compatible with Ship Sim Extreme, X-Plane and many others.

Isn’t it strange that with that knowledge, not more assignment procedures are added in the User Guide? Although assigning key/commands in X-Plane is in certain ways the same as MSFS products. When it’s compatible for example with X-Plane as SimWare says, I think it should be added in the User Guide. This is of course also applicable for other simulator software.

Together with this short summary and the rest of the review, you should have a good idea as to what this MS panel offers. Now it’s up to you if €189.00 is worth the price of the panel. One last word; this Multi Switch panel would fit perfectly together with other VRinsight products.

Which ones? I’ll leave that up to you!

 

What I Like About The Multi-Switch Panel

  • Universal easy programmable panel for, as far as I could test, Flight Simulator FS2004 and FSX.
  • Panel as recognized as an ordinary joystick. This means it should work with ALL kind of simulator software. I can’t confirm this because I’ve only tested the MS panel behavior in FSX and FS2004.
  • No additional software needed and therefore the MS panel can be used in combination with Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. According to the SimWare representative, it’s compatible with both 32- and 64 bits Windows Vista/7 software.
  • Together with the removal tool you’re able to create your own pushbutton assignments. All the other switches, knobs and sliders don’t have an identification tag so you need to write down what their functions are.
  • The manual doesn’t offer too many “assignment” examples, but for general use it should be enough.
  • Because the MS panel offers lots of pushbuttons, different type of switches (ON-OFF, momentarily UP/DN and an UP-NEUTRAL-DN), knobs and a HAT switch, many simulator assignments can be connected to.
  • Due to the metal panel construction, it gives the VRinsight panel a professional look.
  • MS panel calibration is done with Windows own “Game Controller” software.
  • Assignment keys/commands within FSX/FS2004 is easy, quick and straightforward. Not different then assigning commands to other flight simulator hardware. Don’t forget to write down the switch, knobs and slider assignments since there’s no decal that helps you out later.
  • Once you’ve assigned all keys/commands to the MS panel, it’s fun using it.

 

What I Don't Like About The Multi-Switch Panel

  • The manual only offers two “application assignment” examples; one from FSX and one from a combat simulator. Since the SimWare website tells you and me it can be used with ALL simulators, it wasn’t as bad idea to offer assignment procedures of X-Plane and even the Ship’s Simulator in the provided User Guide.
  • For sure there’s still a large group of flight simmers using Windows XP. Having a calibration in the manual for Vista is nice, but what when you have to calibrate it under Windows XP or when not available at the developers, at least a description or note.
  • The User Guide “Appendix” section should be rewritten to my personal opinion since it suggests that the copy and paste procedure is what has to be done. In reality, this appendix is no more than an example what you can do with the FSX standard.xml file.
  • It’s difficult to get a peeled off decal in the plastic cap. It’s difficult because the backside of the decal is sticky and thus bringing it in the plastic cap, it stays on your finger. Not easy at all! For those who are familiar with other VRinsight products; some of them have hard plastic decals which are much easier to bring in or to get out.
  • It’s a pity that the supplied VRinsight standard.xml file doesn’t offer assignments for the pushbuttons A1, A2, A3, A4, A5 and the R1 and R2 rotary encoders. Furthermore, why is there only an example file for FSX and not one for FS9 or other simulators if applicable?

 

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