P3D by Lockheed Martin
A review by Marlon Carter
No one can argue the fact that the Flight simulation hobby has transformed dramatically over the past 20 years. It seems that with each release of a Flight Simulator platform, we become closer and closer to achieving the most realistic experience that can be had on a home based PC. One of the transformations that stood out to me personally was the dramatic improvements seen between FS95/98 and FS2000. This transformation changed what we once thought was possible and just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, FS2002 was released and later FS2004. For many of us, the release of FSX was by far the most exciting moment in the history of flight simulation.
For many years, FSX was a very popular platform and it saw support from numerous developers down to today. This being the case, it was quite understandable that the FS community was saddened to hear that there would be no further development on a new Flight Simulator to replace FSX.
Thankfully though, this sadness was short-lived and in November of 2010, Lockheed Martin announced that it would continue the development of Microsoft ESPTechnology into Prepar3D. The intent of this “new” simulator was to meet the training needs of Private Pilots, commercial organizations, militaries and academia with a far more immersive environment. As with the changes seen in MSFS, over the years since P3D v1, P3D has also undergone numerous changes leading up to the newly released v3.
The features that have been implemented into P3D were nothing short of revolutionary. Many of the issues we once had with FSX were either fixed or significantly enhanced. Some of these changes were so dramatic that many have all but abandoned the use of FSX in favor of the ever evolving P3D platform.
What are some of the basic features of P3D v3? Here is a listing provided on the P3D website.
Virtual cockpit capabilities allow exact replications of 3D cockpits with fully interactive displays and representative physical switches
Microsoft© DirectX 11 rendering engine takes full advantage of modern day graphics cards
Increased performance, increased realism, and offers the full control over what is displayed
Dynamic shadow system, including internal virtual cockpit shadows, terrain, and cloud shadows.
HDR lighting system brings increased immersion when training in all times of day.
Volumetric fog and increased fidelity of clouds and weather.
High quality graphics support texture limits as high as 4096 x 4096.
Different times of the year or different times of the day will change how you simulate with our real-time weather system, continuous time of day, seasons, and a variety of lighting effects.
Visit 40 high-detail cities and almost 25,000 airports, with 3-D buildings specific to the city (e.g. The White House is in Washington D.C.).
While moving across different regions, users will notice accurate topography with regional specific scenery textures to make it feel like you’re actually there.
Modern user interface – faster and easier to customize your learning, training, and simulation experience.
Extensive configuration options to give users additional control on what and how Prepar3D performs and simulates.
Easy system configuration across laptops, desktops, and multi-monitor environments.
Multiple view support allows a single machine to output multiple views on multiple devices and create an immersive experience that engages the senses
Quickly save and load panel and scenery window locations across multiple monitors.
Multiplayer allows up to 64 users across the globe to train and collaborate with others in real-time.
Sensor Cameras – Users can experience night vision and infrared sensor camera options to enhance military mission or night flying training.
Realistic Scenery – Millions of square kilometers of the earth have been checked and upgraded to accurately represent the urban environment. High resolution (12cm) content added for specific locations.
Using real data from the U.S. Geological Survey, users can simulate an underwater experience using our submarines with our up-to-date bathymetry.
Expanded Hardware Controls – Users, especially fighter pilots, can train with realistic hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS). Prepar3D is fully compatible with almost any Windows supported controller or device.
Artificial intelligence (AI) controlled non-user entities include highway vehicles, air and maritime vehicles and traffic, as well as livestock and wild animals.
Air Traffic Control (ATC) capabilities – New pilots can learn the basics, and veteran pilots can practice their skills. Communicating with ATC in Prepar3D mimics the way pilots and controllers communicate in the real world.
Flight Planner feature allows users to create a realistic scenario of flying from one airport to another, choosing different types of routes and flight plan types.
Fully expandable vehicle library with outstanding default vehicles:
Lockheed Martin F-35A from Dino Cattaneo and the India India Alpha Foxtrot Echo team
Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor from IRIS Flight Simulation Software
H-60 Black Hawk from Virtavia
Beechcraft Bonanza A-36 from Carenado
Extra 300s from Alabeo
See the Vehicles page for a complete listing
A Professional Plus license enables extensible military weapons training capabilities, as well as the Learning Management System interfaces and customizable military based AI behaviors.
A fully-configurable, dynamic weapons system allows our military-focused customers the ability to perform weapons-based training. Support for targeting, bombs, missiles, guns, and countermeasures are included, as are examples to show you how to implement features in your training.
In addition to these features, there are also a few new features aimed at developers.
SimDirector is the cutting-edge training and simulation scenario generation tool
Rapid creation of training scenarios – Drag-and-drop scenario creation requires no programing experience.
Virtual Instructor allows dynamic delivery of training feedback to trainees.
Flight Instructor Mode allows for instructors and trainees to create, grade, and debrief flight segments and flying maneuvers in real-time.
Software Development Kit (SDK) allows developers the ability to create and integrate their own content
SimConnect SDK can be used by programmers to write add-on components and access complete simluation data
SimObject API allows developers to implement their own flight, aerodynamics, and physics models in their simulations
Modeling SDK consists of a set of tools that help in the building of 3D models, panels, and gauges
Environment SDK supports integration of scenery, terrain, and airport data
Custom post-process system allows developers to write custom effects and apply those to further customize how 3D image is generated
Highly configurable air-to-ground radar simulation and visualization that is controlled by C++ plug-ins and XML gauges.
From the list of features shown, P3D v3 seems to be a promising step forward in the field of flight simulation. However, in an effort to provide some more insight into this new version of P3D, We will be having a brief chat with Adam Breed who is the Software and Technical Lead on this project. Then, we will also look at the expanded feature list.
Hi Adam can you tell us;
-Why did LM decide to introduce a completely new version of P3D?
-Prepar3D v3 combines well over a year of intensive development backed by major changes to improve core functionality. It builds on the legacies laid by Microsoft Flight Simulator and Prepar3D v1/v2 and further refines the experience while adding some vast new capabilities. We expect some of the new capabilities to redefine the simulation landscape and offer new immersive training capabilities never before seen in a publically available commercial simulation platform. Our audience for Prepar3D v3 is quite broad - from novice learners to military service members, Prepar3D v3 provides an even more realistic training environment for critical mission readiness.
-With P3D v2 being quite popular, can you share some of the benefits of using V3 over V2?
-Prepar3D v2 was definitely a tipping point in the flight simulation community’s interest in Prepar3D. We have seen an even more overwhelming community response to Prepar3D v3 and we are very encouraged to see the amazingly positive response to the release. One of the key updates are the new memory management capabilities. Many users are reporting their “out of memory” issues have been entirely eliminated. Additionally, we expect a lot of the new Prepar3D v3 features to really begin to blossom once third party developers start utilizing them. For instance, the new Autodesk® Scaleform® capabilities allow rapid gauge/panel creation with an extreme level of fidelity. In addition, the new avatar mode enables advanced maintenance training and allows users to have a new perspective of their simulation environment. Finally, we’ve fixed bugs and made improvements based on customer feedback. We take our user experience very seriously and listen to our customers when developing features. Most of those updates and enhancements were driven directly by our public forums.
-Can you tell us what the future holds for P3D V2.5?
-We have provided nearly two years of support and updates to the v2 baseline and expect many customers to continue to use it. It is not required that anyone update or move to Prepar3D v3, but we hope most customers will find value in the numerous updates and platform enhancements to justify the cost of the new license. As with Prepar3D v1, we will continue to offer Prepar3D v2 for sale on our website and facilitate support through our Forums.
-Is P3D v3 going to be a stable platform for LM moving forward, or will it eventually be replaced or upgraded to v4.0 if new features are added?
-Prepar3D v3 will be a stable platform moving forward, but we plan to start work on major features that will eventually lead to a Prepar3D v4 in the future. Our current primary focus is developing point releases in support of Prepar3D v3.
-From a developer's view point, are there any major differences between P3D v2 and v3?
-Prepar3D v3’s key updates are from the developer’s point of view. Specifically, the Autodesk Scaleform capabilities will be a huge gain to content developers. Scaleform really opens a lot of possibilities for interactive courseware and integration of content. Plus, it is a quick new way to develop panels/gauges over the typical legacy C++/XML methods. Additionally, further refinements to the Prepar3D Development Kit (PDK) allow full control over nearly everything in Prepar3D. No longer is SimConnect the only way to interact with Prepar3D. We have opened up the entire system for developers to use. Finally, SimDirector continues to evolve and improve. SimDirector is the industry leading courseware creation tool, allowing developers to create fully immersive scenarios for training. Users have created some impressive training scenarios. Scenarios are a great discriminator for developers to showcase their content.
-Are there any new features or enhancements planned for P3Dv3? (Note – this question was made when the review started, end of 2015)
-We are currently developing Prepar3D v3.1, which will be released before 2016. One of the major updates to v3.1 is a new controller calibration screen that will further support legacy controllers. We continue to work on various new features for point releases, but we can’t discuss specifics. Because Prepar3D exists at the core of many of Lockheed Martin’s complex flight simulators, we know how important it is to continue enhancing the training experience. We believe 2016 will be quite an active year for the Prepar3D team!
-PC performance has always been a big factor in using Flight Simulators; can you tell a bit more about how V3 differs from V2 in this regard? Also, if you can, can you comment on how this also compares to FSX?
-Absolutely. Fully utilizing next generation hardware has always been a focus of the team. At the same time, we are doing our best to maintain backwards compatibility. For example, memory efficiency in Prepar3D v3 is greatly improved compared to Prepar3D v2, v1, and FSX. As a result, developers and users are taking advantage of more high-definition add-on content than was ever possible in previous versions. Also, with Prepar3D v3 more particle simulation work has been offloaded to the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) improving the performance of smoke, fire, and weapon effects for more realistic performance. There were also a number of other optimizations made through the engine to improve overall performance and smoothness of the simulation based on the ever improving hardware.
Thank you for sharing some of this information with us Adam.
For those of you who would like to a more detailed feature list, here is a detailed breakdown of what’s new in V3.
Autodesk® Scaleform® Integration
Gauges and panels as well as scenario object content can be built using Adobe® Flash® and integrated using Autodesk Scaleform.
Several UI screens have been replaced with Scaleform implementations such as the ATC window, the Menu System, the InfoGen, and Menu Prompts. These aforementioned UI can be themed by third party developers.
Enter and exit vehicles in Avatar Mode
Avatar fully controllable in first and third person views
Third party avatar support
Updated User Interface
New default theme for v3
Fixed UI layouts, position bugs, and improved overall usability
ATC window now transparent and can be docked into main view
Menu system performance and appearance improved
InfoGen readability improved
Fixed bug in menu system where blank entries could be created
Fixed a bug where drop-down menu state would not always update while open
Added close buttons to docked views when window titles are enabled (feature was always present but no visual indicator existed)
Default scenario is now visible in Load Scenario screen
Fixed a bug where Prepar3D.cfg setting 'ShowATCText' was not enabling ATIS captioning
Fixed a bug where Prepar3D.cfg settings for ATC message color customization was not being respected
Fixed bug with InfoGen where text would not appear when pausing or entering slew after changing start page to 0 in scenario
Fixed issues with modifying default and favorites in save and load screens
Load scenario page now shows vehicle name along with scenario description
Trimmed down amount of menu items in certain cases including multiplayer and the context menu
Fixed bug with Flight Planner that would prevent a flight plan from saving out if it was between two airports with no intermediate waypoints
Fixed bug with certain text boxes where pasting text would not respect current selection and incorrectly move cursor
Fixed bug where undocking a message view would instead undock the main view
Fixed bugs with Scenario Startup screen where weather theme changes would apply when clicking cancel and user defined weather would not get applied when changed
Fixed bug that prevented multiplayer menu items from being added to customized menus
Fixed bug with Scenario Startup screen that prevented vehicle selection background from updating with the time of day
Enhanced ATC window to provide feedback when ATC communication is disabled, i.e. Sim Paused, No Electric, etc.
Fixed bug with ATC window that prevented UI from refreshing when switching from an AI camera back to the user
Updated graphics profile UI and added prompt when attempting to save over existing profiles
Time Preview window now takes up less space and readability improved
Updated visual style of scroll buttons to be more clean
Instrument Panel menu option now disabled if vehicle has no panels
Added restrictions on what items can be accessed during Structured Scenarios (default restrictions can be overridden by developer)
Removed redundant UIs used when importing and exporting controls
Reassigned menu shortcut keys to remove duplicates
Added Settings button to main menu screen
Fixed bug where "Esc", "Spacebar", and "Enter" keys would not function in Scenario Startup screen
Changing full-screen resolution while in full-screen now immediately changes resolution
Fixed bug with category selection in Settings menu
Fixed bug with UI scaling at low resolution and high DPI settings
Made OK/Cancel button alignment consistent across screens
Updated About Menu
"Flights" terminology has been changed to "Scenario" better reflecting Prepar3D's full land, sea, and air training capabilities
Fixed controller/joystick dropping issues with Windows 8.1
Fixed multiplayer issue preventing user log out when exiting
Multiplayer NET_VERSION correctly incremented to prevent different versions connecting with each other
Fixed a bug where the main view could be closed while window titles were enabled
Fixed bug where crash would occur when entering invalid license
Fixed bug where thumbnail images for scenarios and aircraft would not match correctly
Fixed bug where piston engine failure could reverse itself back to 100% health
Fixed and updated multiple areas in the Learning Center
Added more options in Scenery.cfg to accept more variables
Fixed bug causing certain library objects to be rendered in wrong locations
Fixed issue with multiplayer weather serialization
Oculus Rift VR headset fully integrated into core. Headset now appears in camera mode list if connected.
Fixed scenario reset bug where full scenery reload would occur when not required
Added content error reporting for gauge loading errors
Fixed an issue when deleting a scenario from the Load Scenario screen, the xml file would not get deleted from the Prepar3D v3 Files folder
Fixed focus issue with multiple views. Would sometimes cause the camera to change on the wrong view when using context menu
Panel-only prevented from being set on non-main views
Fixed bug that would cause frame drops when hitting escape during instant replay playback
Fixed bug that would cause full scenery reload to occur even when not moving vehicle
Fixed bug where application icon would not appear in taskbar when booting into multiplayer
Fixed bug that would always prevent user from entering lobby when booting into multiplayer
Fixed bug where TowerController could spawn on the ground in multiplayer
Added greater customization of InfoText appearance
Scenario captions now on by default
Fixed bug where child views could become panel-only after being opened
Scenery library items which cannot be found are now prompted for removal
Fixed bug that would prevent Scenario Briefing from being displayed in certain cases
Fixed bug that would prevent pilot records from updating
Fixed crash that would occur from misconfigured weapons and pylons
Fixed weather serialization bug in multiplayer
Fixed bug that would cause custom camera zoom levels to save out incorrectly
Invalid flight plans are now prevented from being saved
Fixed bug where non-unicode languages would alter starting location
Fixed bug with booting into multiplayer from command line that would prevent scenario from loading
Fixed bug that prevented cockpit button picking from working in FS9 BGL models
Changing default scenario now immediately writes out to the Prepar3D.cfg
Fixed bug that would prevent thunder sounds from being audible
Updated vehicle load failure popup to relay when user will be placed in viewer sim
Fixed issue that caused instability when using hoist and sling features
Fixed docked view positioning bug when undocked views were opened
Undocked views now position themselves on top of other open views
Change low speed thrust limit on propeller in order to better blend the low and high speed thrust calculations
User tips now enabled by default
Fixed bug that would cause the WindowPlugin system to hang when changing between certain vehicles during a crash sequence
Fixed bug where slew would not disengage when entering Instant Replay
Fixed bug where changing the assignment of the "esc" key would not register
Fixed bug that caused XBox 360 controller triggers to register as z-axis on first assignment
Added Camera Center Offset to camera configuration
SpeedTree Integration (IDV Inc.)
Platform now supports SpeedTree models which are high quality 3D trees, with wind animations and smooth LOD transitions
SpeedTree models can be placed using SimDirector
Virtavia Sikorsky H-60 Black Hawk
India India Alpha Foxtrot Echo F-35A
18 new scenery library models of 3D trees (powered by SpeedTree)
Rendering and Performance Updates
Updated Visuals and Performance
Updated HDR to increase default brightness and enhance color clarity
Developed animation blending support enabling lifelike avatar animations
Fixed issues with water reflections that were affected by secondary views
Fixed bug with non-tessellated terrain that would prevent ground detail flag from being respected
Fixed visual bug with ground normal particles
Fixed bug where taxiway lights would shift at large airports
Removed old sun glare effect
Fixed issue where virtual cockpit night lighting would not work as expected
Fixed issue where global environment map would fail to load in some cases causing aircraft to look dull
Fixed shadow issues seen with bathymetry enabled
Added alpha write option for virtual cockpit panel textures
Fixed bug where GPU terrain would shift at high altitudes
Fixed light scaling issues
Fixed issue that would prevent models from instancing in certain situations
Fixed bug where applying vsync with triple buffering would cause rendering to freeze
Fixed bug where shadows would not display properly on non-tessellated terrain
Improved memory management reducing overall VAS usage and spikes
Fixed bug that caused different objects to burn through fog including the sun, moon, galaxy, airport lights, and lens flare
Fixed bug where material NO FOG setting was not always respected
Multiplicative particles now fog correctly
Fixed bug where pre-lit objects disabled fog
Fixed water rendering issues while using non-tessellated terrain including reflection appearance and shadow brightness
Optimized texture unloading during loads
Unused terrain detail textures no longer loaded
Added modifiable saturation effect to HDR enabling greater customization of visual appearance
Fixed bug that would cause panel transparency to also affect virtual cockpit panels if Mipmap VC Panels was enabled
Fixed issue where certain clouds would disappear at certain camera angles when on the ground
Exposed bloom material scalar to Prepar3D.cfg to allow finer control of bloom
Fixed bug that would cause fog to flicker when changing views
Fixed bug where fog would not respect ShowWeather flag in camera config
Fixed bug with fog appearance in reflections
Overall shader optimizations for increased performance
Fixed bug where certain scenery effects would only occur during the day
Fixed bug where landing lights would draw incorrectly at steep angles
Fixed bug where HDR and FXAA would not applied for one frame when switching views
Fixed crash bug that could occur when opening multiple views in quick succession
Fixed bug with wave animation wind offsets
Enhanced Particle System
Optimized particle system by better utilizing GPU and system resources by reducing CPU side work, supporting indirect draw calls, and improving sorting algorithms
Fixed issue where certain particle effects would not render due to prioritization errors
Fixed bug with particle lifetimes
Fixed z-fighting issue with particles using same emitter
Fixed issue where certain aircraft light emitters would not be deleted
Fixed bug where extrusions would not connect properly with certain effects
Enhanced Multiple GPU Support
Fixed bug where lights would not draw correctly multiple GPUs
Fixed bug where batched scenery objects would flicker across multiple GPUs
Fixed bug where scenery objects would not correlate correctly across multiple views
Fixed issue where effects would not synchronize properly between multiple GPUs
Fixed bug where particles and extrusions would flicker and get out of order in SLI
Added Lua scripting support to SimDirector. Scripts can be fired through actions and ScenarioVariables can be used enabling more complex scenario logic
Full avatar support in scenario creation. For example, the avatar can be referenced by other objects and can be given waypoints.
Added scenery import and export support in SimDirector. BGLs can now be created from scenarios with scenery in SimDirector which greatly simplifies the scenery creation process
Visual Path object added which can be attached to moving objects or waypoints
Fixed bug where hang would occur occasionally when exiting backstage
Updated internal error checking to prevent intermittent crashes
Fixed bug that would prevent mobile scenery from appearing in preview window
Fixed waypoint placement issue that would prevent waypoints from being placed close to other objects
Fixed validation bug with timers
Fixed issue where mouse cursor state would not change in certain cases
Fixed bug with Menu Prompt Trigger that caused windows to close prematurely
Fixed bug that prevented Jet Fighter Time Trial from loading in SimDirector
Fixed tabbing issues in Catalog UI
Fixed crash that would occur when attempting to play back VI session while in Virtual Instructor mode
Fixed bug where sound would distort when entering SimDirector
Fixed hang that would occur when booting directly into SimDirector
ATC menu no longer stays open when entering SimDirector or switching SimDirector modes
ThreatDome models added to object catalog
Color property now supports alpha (e.g. Focal Point Color, Area Definition Color, On Screen Text Color)
Fixed bug where SimDirector camera would be changed when switching the time of day
Fixed bug with failure system index that would cause all instances to trigger when index of "0" was used
Fixed bug where effects played in preview mode would persist when leaving preview mode
Removed empty scenery objects
Fixed bug that would cause a crash when entering SimDirector with auto validation on
Fixed issue with ViewChangeAction that would prevent camera list from repopulating when loading new scenarios
Fixed bug with POI scaling
Fixed bug that would cause app to be disabled when pressing Ctrl+V in a group
Enabling mouse yoke no longer prevents SimDirector controls from functioning
Triggers now have OneShot set to false by default
Improved scenario save and load times
Scenario no longer unpaused when starting recording playback
Fixed issue where help button was not selectable in undocked views
Fixed catalog view to show selected object when using arrow keys to navigate through menu
Fixed issue where SimDirector could crash if closed while changing modes
Scenarios can now be saved in .spb format
Snap to ground is now a global setting
Minor errors in scenario .xml files no longer prevent scenario from loading
Updated SimDirector settings page appearance and added options to enabled error logging
Scenario error logging now on by default
Fixed resource path issues that could occur when modifying scenarios in both core Prepar3D and SimDirector
Fixed issue where sounds in sound subfolder would prevent scenario from being previewed
Improved scenario loading times
ScenarioMetaData no longer required but still recommended
Validation window now opened if validation errors are reported during a mode change and user cancels
Fixed issue that could cause SimDirector to slow down after prolonged use
Object titles in Scenario Visualization now show ellipsis when string is too long to fit instead of just clipping out
Fixed crash that could occur on shutdown caused by invalid objects being accessed
TargetPlayer now settable in actions that can occur in multiplayer scenarios
Fixed bug that would prevent DisabledTrafficAirportsDescr from updating
Failure Action no longer shows systems that are not applicable to current vehicle
Fix crash that could occur when loading scenarios with invalid containers
Modified FlightRealism object to prevent users from opening the Flight Planner, entering slew, and changing location, vehicle, or fuel during Structured Scenarios
Added WorldRealism object to prevent users from changing world settings (weather, time) during Structured Scenarios
Fixed bug where SimDirector UI styles would be applied to core application when leaving SimDirector
Updated OnCompleteActions to support multiplayer concepts including IsGlobal and Triggering
Triggers now have one shot set to true by default
Fixed bug where switching between an entity and scenery object would not correctly update the preview window
Fixed bug where Scenario Name and Description would be changed when leaving Preview mode with legacy flight (FLT) files
SimDirector window title now uses the File Name instead of Scenario Title
Fixed crash that could occur when bringing an item in the History into view
Failure Action can now be applied to specific subsystems
Fixed bug preventing weather settings from being respected in SimDirector
Added message box to show when LoadScenarioAction would fire in Preview Mode
Fixed issues with resource path when saving the same scenario both in and out of SimDirector
Fixed bug that caused placed objects that were scaled in SimDirector to cull out prematurely
SDK and SimConnect Updates
The ATC, Menu System, and InfoGen support third-party skinning through the Scaleform SDK
SimConnect_WeatherRequestCloudState now returns correct range of values
Fixed bug with SimConnect_AIReleaseControl not fully releasing control of AI
Enhanced ISimObject property management
Additional improvements to path configuration files to support third party developers
Multiple configuration files added to support the path configuration system
Added command line parameters for developers to add or remove additional paths to core content
Sample projects updated to use Visual Studio 2013
SetupAcesRoot.ms script added back to 3dsMax SDK
Fixed incorrect Learning Center scenario names in documentation
Cameras can now be attached to model attach points
Base scenery can now be overridden without being deleted
DLL.xml can now be modified through command line
Scenery.cfg now supports command line activate and deactivate operations
Added Weather System PDK allowing developers to set weather related settings and interface with weather station data
Updated Learning Center descriptions for goals and mission objective SimConnect enumerations
XToMDL tool now displays exceptions more clearly
Updated carrier documentation
Restructured Add-Ons documentation
Added function to CabDir tool to strip trailing slashes or quotes from end of path
Corrected how up events and up/down data are returned when using SimConnect_MapInputEventToClientEvent with joystick buttons and POV hats
Added new blend mode for instrument panels to better support HUDs.
Installer now split into three separate components which can be updated and installed independently: Client, Content, and Scenery.
Folder organization scheme modified to support new content and scenery installers
Updated versioning scheme for installed files
Legacy SimConnect clients no longer installed with Prepar3D installer. Separate installers for these are provided in install package if needed.
Process of activating from another computer has been simplified
The licensing and Digital Rights Management (DRM) system has been completely overhauled
Source reference http://prepar3d.com/SDKv3/LearningCenter/what_is_new/new_v30.html
As you can see, over the past year or so, the development team has been very busy fine tuning numerous updates for what would become P3D v3. These updates and additional features were so significant that it warranted a new license and version number. What does this mean for v2.5? Well as Adam nicely indicated, support for v2.5 will continue and users of this platform are not required to move over to v3. However, taking into consideration the level of work that has gone into v3, one can easily see why it can be viewed as a whole “new” simulator.
As an example, let’s look at the Avatar Mode, Interface and Speedtreesthat comes with P3D v3. The new Avatar mode serves a number of uses within the virtual world of P3D. Given the fact that P3D can be useful to Private Pilots, Commercial Organizations and the Military, having an Avatar mode creates an immersive experience for training purposes that has never been implemented in a simulator platform of this type before. This new feature allows you to enter and exit vehicles with first or third person views, creating endless possibilities for training which includes maintenance training and even aircraft walk-around familiarization.
As for the new User Interface, this includes a new default theme, improved ATC window and Menus along with numerous other improvements that are outlined in the expanded feature list. All of these updates are as a result of the innovations created by the development team and the valued feedback from loyal customers.
Another interesting feature that is worth mentioning is the fact that for the first time ever, we now have high quality 3D trees that are animated by the wind. The animation of these “Speedtrees” is very realistic and it truly adds a new level of realism to any flight simulator. In the Prepar3D v3.1 SDK there is a new SrtToMDL tool that will work with the SpeedTree Modeler to convert their Srt files into a Prepar3D readable MDL file.This means that scenery developers can now use these Speedtrees and place them just about anywhere as part of their scenery package. The end result is that we will now have scenery products that provide a new level of realism and immersion into the environment.
On another note, while the SpeedTrees will be pleasing to the eyes, it can also serve a practical purpose. Given the fact that the SpeedTrees are animated to move with the windspeed AND direction, this creates a new level of immersion that was once unheard of for a flight simulator. For General Aviation enthusiast, you can now determine the wind direction when flying into smaller grass strips or even when doing a forced landing due to an engine failure. In the past, we mostly depended on 3rd party weather programs to tell us the wind direction, but now, we can look at the trees for a good indication of the winds direction. Whether you choose to make use of these new trees simply for eye candy or as an added tool to determine wind conditions at an airport, everyone will love this new addition.
Here is a short video by Rob Ainscough that nicely shows this feature.
But is this all P3D v3* has to offer? Well let’s dig a bit deeper.
* During the course of this review, v3.1 was released and this review focuses on the v3.1 update.For a detailed listing of fixes and features added to V3.1, have a look at this link
After starting up P3D, the changes in the new interface were very obvious. If you are a v2.5 user, many of the menu options remain the same in that they offered the ability to adjust many of the settings to your liking or PC performance.Unlike FSX however, the various setting for the graphics and scenery options are much more detailed and they offer you the ability to fully customize your experience whether it is for maximum visual performance or for optimizing your performance. If this is the first time you are having a closer look at P3D, perhaps it would be beneficial to have a quick overview of some of these new menu options.
In the scenery/graphic sections of the P3D settings menu, you will notice that there are a few interesting new features such as HDR, Bloom Effect, Shadow,Tessellation and Water and Bathymetry settings. What do all of these fancy settings do? Well let’s start off with something that most FSX users may be familiar with. Some FSX users may be well aware of a mod called ENB Series which adds a bloom effect to the overall scenery. This mod wasn’t quite perfect and at times it required tweaking to soften the effect. With P3D, LM added this effect as a default option that is fully customizable. Next in the lighting department is the HDR effect. HDR is an abbreviation for High-Dynamic-Range lighting and it displays a more realistic lighting environment with an increased level of detail. HDR lighting renders a more detailed scene by using light calculations done with a larger dynamic range. This appears to the user as sharper and more natural light reflections of the sunbeams and rays, as well as moonlight effects on the surrounding atmosphere. If you are a current user of P3D v2.5, you will notice that in v3 there are more sliders for fine tuning the HDR effect.
HDR on and off
Bloom Effect w/3rd Party Ground Textures
Another interesting feature is the Shadow settings which allow you toadjust the quality and frequency of the rendered shadows. Other options allow you to have the Terrain, clouds, Simobject, buildings and vegetation cast shadows. This new feature is one of many features that truly set P3D apart from any other simulator on the market.
Shadows Detail Progression
Finally, within the graphic and water settings you will immediately notices two new features called Hardware Tessellation and Water and Bathymetry. Tessellation enables GPU terrain rendering, which reduces CPU usage and stutters by offloading terrain mesh generation to the GPU. This system also enables features like time preview, dynamic terrain shadows, 3D water, and per-vertex materialization for lighting and sensors. Prepar3D v2/v3 includes an option to disable tessellation and fall back to FSX/ESP/v1 terrain for legacy support and lower-end GPUs but it is strongly recommended that this feature be left on if you are using current generation graphics hardware.
Water and Bathymetry settings allow you to take full control of every aspect of the water simulation within P3D. Using the Water detail controls you can adjust the number of detail textures used. When Tessellation is enabled, this allows you to access the Ultra setting for 3D waves. Bathymetry (which is basically the measurement of water depths), uses water depth data to affect wave heights and in areas where no data is available, the water depth is approximated based on water classification. This feature is a significant update to the basic FSX platform and it allows you to take a vehicle underwater!
Since the water surface mesh is dependent on terrain and mesh resolution, it is recommended that the mesh resolution be set to the highest value when using the Ultra water setting. From the screenshots below, you can clearly see why doing this will produce the most visually impressive environment.
Here is another preview video of the Water Bathymetry from v2.4 of P3D.
Bathymetry On and Off
(Q400, C90GTX and Lancair Legacy are 3rd party products)
After setting up my display preferences and loading up P3D for the first time, one of my first observations was that the day time environment was much brighter than both FSX and P3D v2.5. How so? Well the development team had upgraded the rendering processes to improve the realism. A key improvement was to the HDR system (mentioned earlier) which changes how luminance, exposure, and saturation are applied. The end result is a simulator that is a definite step up from FSX and P3D v2 from a visual perspective.
Before taking off, it’s also fitting to comment on the new ground textures and autogen that comes along with P3D. In FSX, a single ground texture was generated per-tile with lighting, shadows with day/night texture variations baked in. This required textures to be constantly rebuilt as simulation time progressed. Ultimately, this will affect your performance and it causes inconsistent lighting/shadows between tiles which could be noticeable at sunrise/sunset. With P3D, lighting to create shadows and effects are not “pre-baked”. As an alternative, P3D calculates per-pixel lighting of both the sun and moon on the GPU and it utilizes land class information to better simulate how light reflects off different surfaces like rocks and snow. A suggested way of seeing these differences is through P3D’s time-preview feature. While the ground textures of P3D are superior to the default FSX textures, you will also be please to know that P3D works closely with 3rd party developers to easily create content that improves the look and feel of the environment. To that end, products such as Ground Environment X and FTX Global products work quite well with P3D and are often the preferred choice for individuals who wish to give their simulator a visual upgrade.
Time Preview Video
Default ground textures and Autogen
When it comes to autogen, most of us will agree that in the beginning, the FSX autogen was quite nice. Some of the drawbacks however was that the autogen settings in FSX significantly impacted frame rates. Is P3D v3 any different? Well I am quite pleased to say that the autogen system was given a massive overhaul to improve the memory usage. The new system is said to use 17x less memory per tree over FSX, which you have to admit is quite impressive. This was accomplished by taking a few innovative steps such as moving much of the workload to background threads and to the GPU. Also, the transition of trees and buildings into the scenery was improved by allowing this process to take place smoothly. From my own observation, I found that the overall look and performance of the P3D autogen was a most welcome improvement over FSX.
TAKING TO THE SKIES
After admiring the features on the ground, it was time to take to the skies for a better view of what P3D had to offer. For our test flight there is an abundance of aircraft choices provided by P3D.Some of the default aircraft are a carry-over from FSX, but there are also a few add-ons from IRIS, Dino Cattaneo, Virtavia, Alabeo, Carenado, Justflight and Lionheart! If you’re worried that your favorite FSX add-on may not be supported by P3D, you may want to reference the Developer Network Listing on the P3D website found HERE
With so many new additions to the default aircraft line up, some of you may be wondering whether the flight characteristics of P3D differ in any way to FSX. To answer this question, there were countless updates to the flight characteristics of P3D. Many issues that existed in FSX were corrected and numerous enhancements have been made to better simulate specific features. For example, configuration files, weight and balance and other features have greater tuning capabilities to improve flight characteristics. Additionally, I was told that the P3D development team also created the ISimObject capability which allows developers to create their own simulations with their own characteristics for integration into P3D. This new feature gives developers the opportunity to create extremely complex training systems which is another step forward over FSX.
Knowing that so much has changed, I was quite eager to take to the skies to see whether or not the changes were easily discernable. However, from the numerous flights I’ve done so far I honestly couldn’t single out a specific detail that has changed. Does this mean that all the hard work was for nothing? Not at all, in fact, what I CAN say is that I enjoyed flying in P3D much more than FSX. This in itself was a clear sign that the numerous changes made to P3D has indeed resulted in an overall better flying experience.
Apart from the joys of flying within P3D, I was equally captivated by the stunning visual experience offered by P3D. One of the most remarkable features of P3D seen from the sky is the stunning water animation which was actually improved in the 3.1 update to have a realistic appearance at high altitudes. As mentioned earlier, when the waves setting is set to Ultra, 3D waves are generated based on the wind speed as determined by the weather simulation. This offers a more congruent training environment by matching the visuals to the actual weather simulation. Another equally stunning feature is the true to life volumetric clouds that reflect off the surface of the water. Over the ground, the clouds also generate shadows over the terrain which is yet another remarkable feature that is offered in P3D. While on the topic of reflections, a brand new feature to P3D v3.1 is the addition of dynamic reflections which replace the static environment map we have all grown used to seeing. This means that the reflection seen on the aircraft will change depending on your location or viewing angle.
Clouds, water, dynamic shine pics
When flying at night, the environment looks very different to FSX. What immediately popped out was the fact that the lighting on the ground was much brighter in more developed areas. In addition to this, with some of the enhanced lighting effects enabled, you will notice that the runway lighting is much better than what we’ve grown use to with FSX. If you are a long time FSX user, you will be quite familiar with the fact that flying at night can take a toll on your frame rates when compared to flying during the daytime. How does P3D v3 fare in this regard? Well LM had this to say “As with all simulations, a large number of point light effects are rendered at night. In Prepar3D those effects were CPU intensive in the v1 rendering engine, but they have since been optimized extensively for Prepar3D v2 and v3. Low lighting situations are challenging because they are affected heavily by differences in monitor settings and subject to user preference. Prepar3D’s HDR lighting in v3 is tunable via the user interface and Prepar3D configuration file, which allows users to tweak their system to match their visual expectations.”
From the above statement, we can see that P3D’s night lighting is far superior to FSX and it offers the user the option to configure the settings to suit their needs. When using products such as UTX/GEX or even FTX Global, the night environment takes on a completely different perspective that brings users even closer to a realistic night time environment.
Default Night time
P3D with FTX Global
P3D with GEX (Works well with v2.5 and v3 with no difference in appearance)
As far as3rd party products for scenery, weather and aircraft are concerned, initially there were just a few products that were compatible with v3 even though they previously worked with v2.5. For scenery products, most developers have included or added installers for P3Dv3 since its release. Some of these developers include Drzewiecki Design, Aerosoft,Flytampa,Flightbeam, FSdreamteam, latinVFR, Taxi2gate and much more.
As far as weather programs are concerned, Active Sky Next wasn’t far behind with an update to make their popular product compatible with v3. I haven’t been able to test other weather programs but it seems that others such as Opus also work with V3. While it’s great to know that scenery and weather programs can also be enjoyed in v3, most of us are concerned with the compatibility of 3rd party aircraft add-ons. From my testing thus far, it seems that Carenado was among the first few developers to have their products compatible with P3D v3. In addition to Carenado, other popular developers such as PMDG, Aerosoft, RealAir, A2A, and Majestic Softwarehave also made most of their products compatible. This is good news for most of us who enjoy using these products and the added benefits of the new memory management within v3 will ensure that OOMs will be a thing of the past. On the matter of performance, how does v3 compare to FSX and v2.5? The next subhead will elaborate.
3rd Party Products Compatible with P3D v3
Majestic Software (Q400)
With P3D’s new memory management, new features such as the Taxi Camera can now be seen in the VC display of the 777!
Drzewieck Design (NYC v2)
Be Honest, you came directly this section didn’t you? Well, it’s no surprise that performance is perhaps one of the topics weighing heavily on the minds of prospective P3D users. For users of FSX, depending on the number of 3rd party add-ons and your PC specs, you may be well familiar with the dreaded OOM (Out Of Memory) message which tends to occur at the worst possible time during a flight. What causes OOM? Well, I am by no means a technical expert, but the general understanding is that FSX is a 32bit program that can only utilize up to 4GB of memory. The Virtual Address Space (VAS) of certain add-ons increase this usage and if you have the “perfect” combination of high end product, it will result and an OOM. With P3D v2.5, while many of the advantaged of v3 are present, users still experienced OOMs. With v3 however, the ultimate solution to OOM issues was implemented by limiting the amount of data being loaded to the location in which you are currently flying. This new feature results in an overall lower VAS usage that allows you to use your favorite add-ons without worrying about an OOM.
Apart from the OOM issues being resolved,it’s important to note that P3D differs to FSX in another significant way. With FSX, having a powerful processor was the order of the day to achieve the best performance since FSX was designed to rely heavily on the PC’s processor. With P3D, many of its resources are drawn from the graphics card which relieves the processor of the too much usage. This being the case, in order to have good frame rates, it is recommended that you have a mid to high end graphics card. In my case, I have an ATI 1GB graphics card with an FX-8 processor and I was sufficiently satisfied with the performance thus far while using a few scenery product from FSdreamteam, Flightbeam and add-on aircraft from Carenado, A2A and Majestic Software.
Other points to consider on this topic is the fact that your graphics card settings and applying various tweaks to P3D can result in improved overall performance. Either way, if you currently have 30-60 steady frame rates with your current FSX setup, the chances are good that P3D v3 will perform quite well even if you have to adjust some of the settings.
In conclusion of our short overview of P3D v3, I honestly believe that this platform should be the FS platform of choice moving forward. While FSX is still very good and perhaps won’t be going anywhere for a while, P3D v3 is a dream come true for long time FS users who have longed for something better than FSX. The innovations included are truly remarkable and it shows that the sky is the limit for Lockheed Martin when it comes to delivering fresh ideas. Both the developers and the general public are to be thanked for this amazing simulator since it is the combined efforts of the development team and the suggestions from customers that have made P3D v3 this successful.
For those of you who currently use P3D v2.5, rest assured that this version will continue to be developed and supported. If you are thinking about moving over to v3, I can honestly say that after using v2.5 and moving to v3, I was impressed with the enhancements that were made. The changes may seem subtle on the surface, but when you dig deeper into the numerous upgrades and new features of v3, it is fully understandable why this can be viewed as a whole new simulator and not a v2.5 patch.
For those of you who are fans of FSX, moving over to P3D v3 will be a night and day experience that will leave a smile on your face from ear to ear. If you have a mid to high end graphics card, your experience with P3D v3 will be mind-blowing to say the least and it’s no surprise that many have already switched to P3D without looking back.
Finally, it’s important to note that moving from FSX to P3D comes at a cost other than the purchase price of P3D. Due to licensing options, most developers of 3rd party products may charge an upgrade fee, a separate purchase prices or a significantly higher cost for using their products on P3D. At this point one can easily ask the question, why are some developers charging more or a separate purchase price for P3D products? Well the answer to that question can be complicated, but generally it must be understood that P3D is not sold under an entertainment license. This can easily open up a can of worms for developers who have very complex simulation products that can be used for “official” training purposes. The risks that go along with this type of use are very high and some have taken the safe route by charging more for their products if they are to be used in a training capacity. For other products that are not very in-depth, you will usually find that the developer will simply offer a separate purchase price (which will likely have a different EULA), a small upgrade fee (for the additional work in making their products compatible) or a multi-installer for both FSX and P3D. Either way, it’s important that you consider these factors before making the move.
On the topic of licensing, The Academic License will cost you $59.95, while the Professional License will cost you $199.00. If you purchase the Professional Plus License, be prepared to spend the significant sum of $2300.00 per license!If you are confused about which license is best for you, LM has posted a very clear description of each license and all that’s required is for you as an individual to select the one that best describes your intended use. In the end, the product is still the same and you will be able to truly enjoy a flightsim experience like no other. It should come as no surprise therefore, that P3D v3 is definitely worthy of a Gold Star Award as one of the most innovative flight simulators to date! With P3D v3.2now released (As of March 2016), it’s was unfortunate that we didn’t get to cover the features of this update but I am sure we can only look forward to bigger and better things from LM.
User Comments on P3Dv3
If you want to hear more on what others think of P3D v3, here is a link to the Avsim Forum with a few comments from individuals who currently use P3D v3.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the following individuals and companies.
- Adam Breed for contributing a copy of P3D v3 for this review and for all his assistance with some of the technical aspects of P3D.
- Carenado for contributing their new C90 GTX for screenshots and
- RealAir Simulation for contributing a copy of their new Lancair Legacy V2.
- Simeon “Kroswynd” Richardson for assisting with some amazing screenshots.
- Drzewiecki Design for contributing a copy of their NYC v2.
- A2A Simulations for contributing P3D versions of their products.
- Robert and Kyle from PMDG for contributing some amazing screenshots of PMDG products in P3D v3.
Links to some of the products seen in this review
GEX P3D World