McNugget Review - VRInsight MCP Combo II Boeing configured for PMDG 737NGX
Posted 05 March 2012 - 10:50 PM
I rate this product 5 stars - "Must Have" (Budget Permitting)
What I really like about the VRInsight Combo II (Boeing) unit - Speed of operation, overall look and feel, heavy-duty construction "built to last", attractive design and functionality. Bang-for-Buck ratio: OUTSTANDING.
What could be better- The built in lights for this device lack a dimmer knob - it's either 100% on or 100% off - a dimmer would be a HUGE plus, even if hidden on the back-side of the unit so it wouldn't get accidentally moved during flight. There are 2 buttons out of this entire unit that are not individually "lit" [ the LOC button and #7 programmable button are both unlit by design ]. Some buyers thought their units were defective because these two buttons remain dark when the Combo II lights are engaged. In my opinion, this is a non-issue. In my case, I fly 100% of the time with the Combo II display panel lights "off" - but that's personal choice.
Recently I purchased the very fine Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog control surface pair and discovered a wonderful button-programming tool here on Avsim called "Linda". After playing around a bit, I managed to configure my Thrustmaster Warthog Throttle Quadrant and Joystick to handle an astounding number of tasks on my airplane of choice, the exquisite PMDG 737NGX (SP1c). Some months went by, and I realized that while the Warthog was handling a LOT of the control duties on the NGX, it still was weak in some areas, paticularly found myself constantly mouse-clicking on the VC (Virtual Cockpit) controls on screen to accomplish various tasks both before and during flight.
I began considering two primary competitors for an "MCP" panel to go with my Warthog. Primary goal: Ease of installation and configuration, instant compatibility with the NGX. I looked hard at GoFlight's MCP because it is spot-on duplicate of the 737 MCP. But eventually I was won over by VRInsight, a Korean company, and went instead with their MCP Combo II (Boeing) unit because simply stated, it 'did more' for about the same money, thus was more cost-effective and a smaller footprint on my L-shaped desk. I like the fact that with ONE purchase of this item, I actually have a 'combo' unit that includes MCP, EFIS and COMMS functions within the SAME DEVICE.
It took about 30 days start-to-finish for the VRinsight MCP Combo II (Boeing) to arrive at my home from an Internet vendor. A well-known company here in the USA that had positive consumer feedback led me to buy this $400 item (on sale) over the Internet. I paid via PayPal. Note: PayPal does NOT provide the same level of intervention on Internet sales that it provides when you purchase something on eBay. However, I like the fact that using PayPal protects my credit card number and expiration date (the merchant never sees it, only PayPal does).
The Combo II arrived today, I unboxed it, things went smoothly by and large. The item arrives with a separate box of labeled buttons that you "snap onto" your MCP Combo II. This is child's play, but is a bit more touchy if you decide afterwards you want to swap a button or two for one of the others in the kit that comes with the MCP II.
After struggling mightily trying to 'make do' (the only knock on my order, VRI left out the promised button-pulling tool. Solution? Trip to CVS pharmacy retail store, purchased CVS (brand) Travel Pick (2 pack) which are metal curved toothpicks, shaped like Captain Hook's missing hand replacement. These were quite cheap about $4 or so, and work a treat you simply slide the hook in behind the button, then gently wiggle the hook and gradually pop the button off so you can swap it.
I was able to swap several after discovering the VRI unit is configured a certain way in the "LINDA" software that is found here on AVSIM in the FREE Software area. (Donations apparently are most-welcome by the developers of Linda though). My photo array at the end of this array shows how I configured the buttons on my unit. The only really tricky choice was TERR for TERRain and TRN for TRANsponder. I somehow put the TERR button on the transponder section of the comms, and was left with TRN for terrain, which was backwards. So I used my dental pick "tool" and swapped the two buttons to the positions shown in my online photo array.
At any rate, I unboxed the Combo II which was sturdily packed for its trip across the miles to California from Korea. Upon unboxing, I was instantly struck by the 'heavyness' of the product build - I felt the quality was very good for the price. I have included several photos in this post, so those of you who are considering this item might benefit from a closer view of the buttons and displays than what is generally to be found out on the web. This item is heavy and solid with a "Mercedes" feel, compared against the Saitek brand of equipment, which is much more "plastic" in appearance and tactile feel. Another bonus of this heavy-duty look and feel? The device doesn't wander around on your desk. If you have to move it, you have to exert some energy to do so. Mine sits on my glass-top desk and never moves at all, even when I am pushing buttons one-handed, or turning knobs, or flipping F/D or A/T switches.
A driver disk is provided, and though I don't use the VRInsight software PER SE, you must install the drivers so your PC can fully recognize this hardware. I elected to install SerialFP2 which is included on the installation DVD that ships with the Combo II. Main reason was upon running the SerialFP2 program, you are told which COM PORT your Combo II lives on. It's confusing, because it is a USB device, so a Com Port sounded like the old Serial Port from days gone by. Still, LINDA needs to know the Com Port of the Combo II so Linda can automatically add 2 lines of text to your FSUIPC.ini file Linda is so smart, she even offers to do this modification FOR YOU, you only need to say what com port your Combo II is on (mine is Com Port 4).
Installation sequence of events:
- Unbox product, locate main MCP combo unit, DC 5-Volt adapter, separate clamshell pack with all pre-printed buttons, a 225 to 110-volt adapter plug to fit on your DC adapter for use in the USA, and the driver disk. There MIGHT be a button puller in your kit, mine did not have one (see above).
- Run the driver install DVD, locate the SERIALFP2 folder on the DVD and install it. This loads the drivers for your system (Mine is 64-bit Win 7)
- Connect the included 5-volt power adapter, you will likely have to put the included step down plug-end on the end that plugs into your power outlet to step the power down to 110volt.
- Plug the unit into an available USB-2.0 slot on your PC or separate USB HUB. Note: This item consumes quite a bit of power, you want to use the DC adapter to power it, don't expect your USB Hub to be able to do it.
- Turn Unit on (power switch on back of panel).
- START FSX
- In my case, I use LINDA to interface directly between my Combo II and FSX. Linda in turn uses FSUIPC by Pete Dowson to communicate with the NGX. All of this is built-in to Linda (Linda specically suports the Combo II!
- Select the PMDG 737NGX for flight operations.
Turn the HDG knob on the MCP Panel and the HDG on your PC screen instantly changes. Same with ALT and VS, other things are controllable too, too many for me to list here. In addition there is a shift key on the MCP panel (See center panel "Recall" button). It is actually built in to Linda to change between 3 MCP Panel modes, I figured why fight it? I chose the word "recall" because there is no button that says "SHIFT".
I did a test flight from KDCA (Ronald Reagan Washington Airport) and KJFK (Kennedy Airport, New York) and it was a whole new level of immersion, several degrees beyond anything I have experienced thus far. I previously had purchased the very fine Saitek Radio Stack, which I love for its HUGE display. I thought of selling it, because the Combo II fulfills all of the functions of the Saitek, but I dearly love the huge readouts though not so crazy about how hard it is to tune in a station. The MCP II is MUCH MUCH easier to set frequencies on. If you press the NAV button on the Comms portion of the Combo II, you automatically then are able to set Nav2 as well as Nav 1 (press the button again to cycle back to Nav1) Same thing with COM (press again you get Com2, once more you are back to Com1) The swap button for the radios is at the far right to the left of the AUX button in my photos. ( opposing left and right arrows is the radio standby to active swap button ).
Too many to cover in a short written review. I have to say being able to quickly zoom the view on your ND display by rotating the 'actual' range knob on the EFIS is GOLDEN. Same way when you go over 18000 feet, you press the Baro(meter) knob and you go to STD barometric pressure. I don't know if it can switch between Hecta Pascal and Inches HG though. Autopilot A and B are available instantly, as are CWS A and CWS B (see photos).
Flip the F/D selector and BOTH F/D's are activated sequentially. The pilot first, then the FO. That alone made this a MUST HAVE because it's exactly what I do on EVERY flight, in exactly the proper order. LNAV and VNAV, Flight Level Change, N1 and Speed are all quite handy as is Autothrottle, and AP Disengage Bar. On the right side are 8 user-programmable buttons, which you can use the numbers (as I did) or you can use the included spare buttons for your choice of extra tasks such as Gear (up down etc), AutoBrake (including RTO option), Airbrake, Flaps, and so on. In my own case, I was able to use those 8 programmable buttons to control exterior lights on (first 4 buttons) and off (last 4 buttons). Your choice though, and LINDA software (remember: free here on Avsim) makes this absolute CAKE!
Linda allows you to access the stunning variety of commands from both the FSX and NGX palattes, including those little nicities like reverse thrusters, engine kill switches, APU on/off, and too many more to touch on. If you didn't invest in the Thrustmaster Warthog, you can get your Combo II to do 'double duty' by using the Shift button and essentially doubling many of the capabilities of this device by assigning special unique tasks when the device is in "SHIFTED" mode that function differently from "unshifted" or "regular" mode.
Not to take anything away from the very find FS2Crew product (available NOW for PMDG 737NGX), but there's just something special about physically flipping real switches, pushing actual physical buttons, and rotating appropriate control knobs. Particularly nice when ATC asks to make sudden changes in headings, speed or altitude.
Tonight there must have been trainee controllers online for VATSIM at JFK, as I approched the localizer for 31R the controller suddently switched me to 31L and put some other airplane on final for 31R. Without the Combo II? UGLY. Just so much faster when you are trying to make last minute swaps to your Nav 1 and Nav 2 and CRSE Left and CRSE Right headings, etc.
The SPEED this device gives you during flight is a HUGE improvement over mousing within your virtual cockpit. When time really counts (during takeoff maneuvers or when trying to rapidly comply with unexpected live VATSIM or IVAO ATC commands, the Combo II becomes second nature. When you want to rapidly engage A/P (Autopilot) and then immediately fly a pre-set heading to comply with departure instructions specific to your SID. For example the LOOP6 departure at KLAX (Los Angeles) requires you to make a nearly immediate left turn to about 210 degrees from a 250 runway heading as part of the SID. Then ATC will Vector you to turn left back over the LAX airport. With this device, you can be a star and react quickly and precisely, instead of trying to right click on the CMD-A and then HDG buttons on your Virtual Cockpit with your mouse, you simply click two buttons on the Combo II and you're golden.
Similarly, you can dial up altitude changes precisely, and can pop the Barometer reading when you cross or descend the 18000 foot mark using the BARO knob on the AFIS portion of your Combo II.
The radios (COMMS) section is equally attractive, allowing you to rapidly set your squawk code, and select the Nav1 and Nav2 radio codes for your intended ILS approach. Operation of this device is extremely intuitive. I don't remember reading the manual for anything except initial installation/driver setup.
I think other than the Thrustmaster Warthog controller set, this item is clearly the best hardware acquisition to date for my NGX experience. Yes, I said NGX, not FSX. To me, NGX -IS- FSX defined. I have been completely satisfied with this controller panel since the moment I engaged it for the very first time on my flight deck, and I have a very high expectation level. This item does NOT disappoint!
Photos of the VRInsight MCP Combo II (Boeing) unit (configured for PMDG 737NGX via LINDA) are at the following link on Box.net. All images are JPG.