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    REVIEW - Active Sky Next by HiFiTechnologies Inc


    WR269

    Review

    A review by Marlon Carter

    Introduction

     

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    Ever since the first time I used flight simulators back in the late 90s, one of my biggest complaints have always been the poor weather representation among other things. As MSFS improved over the years the addition of real world weather download was by far one of the most “realistic” features that truly gave you the impression that you were flying under the same conditions that you would experience in the real world and in real time.

    As time went on however, it soon became apparent that the FS community wanted more. While the real time weather download feature was a great option, it was often times very inaccurate.  For example, after downloading the latest data through MSFS, the weather is often depicted in a generic and nonspecific fashion. At times the weather data may show that the general conditions may be rainy, but in the real world the rain may be specific only to a certain part of the country whereas other parts are simply overcast. Other issues with the weather download included the transition of weather conditions as one flies from one region to the next and the lack of sufficient data to do proper flight planning.

    In an effort to solve most of these problems, many of you may remember the first version of Active Sky which was released back in 2010 which created a revolutionary change in what we thought was possible. Over the years Active Sky saw many improvements with the release of Active Sky 2012 and now we have Active Sky Next. The difference between each version was nicely highlighted in this table which is found on the developer’s website.

     

     

    ASE

    AS2012

    ASN

    Release date

    Feb 2010

    Dec 2011

    Planned Dec 2013

    Intended platform

    FS9

    FSX

    FSX/P3Dv2

    Compatible platforms

    FS9/FSX

    FSX/P3Dv1

    FSX/P3Dv2

    Bundled graphics add-on

    No

    Yes

    No

    Weather Depiction Modes

    DWC, SCT, STD

    DWC, SCT, STD

    Hybrid with ASConnect

    Smooth cloud changes

    Limited

    Limited

    Yes

    In-cloud visibility reduction

    No

    Basic

    Advanced

    Cloud-synchronized ambient effects

    No

    No

    Yes

    Generic Radar

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Accurate Radar

    No

    No

    Yes

    Cloud position awareness

    No

    No

    Yes

    Microburst simulation

    No

    No

    Yes

    Hurricane simulation

    Yes

    Yes

    Advanced

    Wake turbulence simulation

    Yes

    Yes

    Advanced

    Icing

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Private weather server access

    Yes

    Yes

    Advanced

    Historical Data access

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Forecast data integration

    No

    No

    Yes

    Comatible with 3rd party graphics

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Voice ATIS/Flightwatch

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Voice Weather Briefings

    No

    No

    Yes

    Inter-layer wind interpolation

    No

    No

    Yes

    Automatic flight plan load

    No

    No

    Yes

    USA Airmets

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    InternationSigmets

    No

    No

    Yes

    Airmet/Sigmet synthesis

    No

    No

    Yes

    Flight and weather planning

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Visual mapping

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Detailed accurate precipitation map

    No

    No

    Yes

    Detailed accurate cloud map

    No

    No

    Yes

    Detailed accurate cloud tops map

    No

    No

    Yes

    Other aircraft+wake map

    No

    No

    Yes

    Included weather gauge

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Overcast gap minimization

    No

    No

    Yes

    Overcast enhancement

    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Weather cell awareness

    No

    No

    Yes

    Priority-station cell depiction

    No

    No

    Yes

    Predictive Wind Shear simulation

    No

    No

    Yes

    Ambient precipitation control

    No

    No

    Yes

    Ambient visibility control

    Limited

    Limited

    Yes

    Ambient pressure control

    Limited

    Limited

    Yes

    Ambient temperature control

    Limited

    Limited

    Yes

    Ambient wind control

    Limited

    Limited

    Yes

    Ambient updraft/downdraft control

    Limited

    Limited

    Yes

    Ambient turbulence control

    No

    No

    Yes

    Ridge lift and thermals

    Limited

    Limited

    Advanced

    Thunderstorm enhancement

    Limited

    Limited

    Advanced

    Enhanced turbulence

    No

    No

    Yes

    Wind shear simulation

    No

    No

    Yes

    Trial available

    No

    No

    Yes

     

     

     

    As you can see, ASN has a host of advanced features that promised to deliver the most immersive flying experience yet!

     

    Before going further into this review, I thought it would be a good idea to learn a bit more about Hifi Technologies and Active Sky Next. Below is a short interview with Damian Clark which I am sure you will find very insightful.

     

    Can you tell us a little about the history of HiFi Technologies?

    AS was started in 2010 and the first release was Active Sky Weather simulator for FS2002.
    Since them, user requests have grown and we decided to launch AS as a full featured weather engine product which to date has culminated in ASN. This is a continuous project in which we constantly seek to further improve weather realism and the weather experience.

     

    What prompted you to develop the first Active Sky weather program?

    Initially there was nothing out there that aimed to provide weather simulation with a focus on realism, so that is what Active Sky focused on.

     

    What challenges were you presented with in developing the newest edition of Active Sky?
    The interfaces for weather integration in FS have always been limited, but we have constantly furthered our understanding of FS weather as long as developing our own unique approaches to depicting the weather environment. Eventually we decided to try and work "outside the box" of traditional SDK limitations to provide the kinds of experiences that you see in Active Sky Next.

     

    For someone who owns the previous versions, what major differences should they be aware of if considering whether to purchase ASN?

    ASN is a culmination of our progress in weather engine realism, beginning with AS for FS2002 and now focused on FSX and P3D. We are constantly improving our techniques and bypassing limitations on a day-by-day basis and ASN represents our latest efforts.

     

    What features of ASN would you say stands out as unique when compared to similar programs?

    Dynamic real-time radar, ambient weather control, much improved general weather depiction and generally much improved weather accuracy across the board.

     

    Can you tell us a little about how ASN is able to produce anaccurate depiction of precipitation on weather radar?

    We won't get into too many details, but through significant breakthroughs of the weather system, we are able to finally depict accurate radar signals that accurately reflect active cloud positions.

     

    Now that ASN has been released and it seems to be a favorite among many, what's next for Hifi Technologies? Are there any other programs in the works or will we see further development to ASN?
    Absolutely there are more things in the works, but we have a little time first to decide our priorities and announce them publicly. Please stay tuned to www.hifitechinc.com for the latest information

     

    We definitely want to thank Damian for taking the time to share some addition information on this product.

     

     

    Installation

    The installation process for this program was quite simple. After purchasing and downloading the exe file from the website or other vendors, the installation is pretty much all automated and once you follow the on screen prompts you should be fine. If you want to try before you buy, there is also a trial version which offers you full ASN capabilities for a limited time period. By using this option, you will be able to determine whether ASN is for you or not. As far as features go, here is a listing of some of the feature of this product.

     

    Features:

    Hybrid Weather Depiction System

    Utilizing a combination of Theme Control, SimConnect Interfacing, and new Low-Level interfacing via our brand new AS Connect module, comprehensive control of the weather environment is finally achieved

    Ambient conditions including Visibility, Wind Direction and Speed, Pressure, Temperature and Precipitation type/density are completely controlled, smoothed and synchronized for accurate and realistic conditions at all times

    Higher performance depiction and updates utilizing new features such as dynamic Cloud Draw Distance Control

    Smooth Cloud Theme Transitions

    Clouds depicted using the Theme Control method are smoothed during transitions to new conditions using our unique Smooth Theme Reload method

    Newly Designed High-Fidelity Air Effects

    Air effects are brand new, bypass all internal simulator air effects and include:

    Wind Shear with Predictive Detection and Alert System (via audio warnings and visual mapping overlay)

    Microbursts synchronized with thunderstorm activity

    Updrafts and Downdrafts with high-resolution terrain awareness

    Thermals with realistic simulation based on temperature and surface type

    Wake Turbulence with realistic moving wake trails effected by wind

    Cloud Turbulence synchronized with cloud sprite positions

    Enhanced Wind Turbulence with direct aircraft attitude control vs. simple camera head movement

    Cloud Sprite Awareness For Accurate In-Sim Depiction Synchronization

    In-cloud visibility reduction

    Cloud-related turbulence

    Accurate ambient precipitation localization and control

    Accurate radar precipitation graphics

    Accurate cloud position graphics

    New Precipitation Radar Graphics

    New levels of realism are provided with totally accurate precipitation radar that is aware of actual cloud sprite positions in the simulator

    See and avoid dangerous conditions on the radar that accurately match the in-sim depiction

    Graphics Compatibility

    ASN works with any graphics add-on, or default graphics textures

     

    Included Radar and Weather Mapping Gauge

    Easily installs into any aircraft using the Installation Wizard

    Realistic satellite-wx-based mapping display with NEXRAD precipitation simulation

    Predictive Wind Shear system provides aural wind shear alerts

     

    New Thunderstorm/CB Simulation

    Thunderstorms are bigger, higher, and more consistently depicted

    Integrated Turbulence, Wind Shear, Microburst, and Vertical Air effects

    Strong thunderstorm cells can be difficult if not impossible to fly through

    Different effects depending on position relative to the thunderstorm clouds

    Uncoupled Audio/Voice System

    Allows playback of audio on either client or server in networked configuration

    Allows selecting the desired audio device

    New voice sets and new voice weather briefings

    New voice SIGMET and AIRMET warnings

    Comprehensive Weather mapping With New Overlays:

    Precipitation Base Reflectivity and Echo Tops

    Detailed Cloud Positions

    Predictive Wind Shear

    Other Aircraft (includes wake trail representation)

    Winds, Visibility, Sigmets, Airmets, Pireps, Stations, Airports, NDBs and VORs

    Flightplan Route and Waypoints with integrated flight plan editing capability

    New high performance display with click and drag panning and track-up display mode

    Integrated Real-Time Sigmets, Airmets and Pireps (Both USA and International)

    Sigmets and Airmets provided by actual data for all global regions

    Sigmets and Airmets provide influence in weather synthesis (i.e. appropriately injecting forecasted turbulence)

    Pireps provided by actual AS user reports

    Aloft Inter-layer Interpolation

    Provides smooth and realistic vertical transitions of wind direction, wind speed and temperature as you climb and descent

     

    Weather Cell Awareness and Depiction Control

    Complete awareness and synchronization of weather cell-based cloud model drawing for the ultimate in cloud depiction accuracy

    Prioritization of inter-cell weather station data depending on departure and/or flight plan relevant stations

     

    Forecast Weather Integration Including New Forecast Aloft Data

    With the click and drag of a mouse, see forecast conditions, graphically and textually, hour by hour, up to 24 hours in advance

    Improved winds aloft planning accuracy

    Dynamic weather changes based on forecast conditions when METAR information becomes stale

     

    Brand New User Interface

    Multi-monitor support

    Resizable and undockable windows

    Multiple weather condition window support

     

    Access to the Improved HiFi Weather Data Network

    Multiple high-performance servers in different regions for excellent redundancy and availability

    Always-improving coverage and resolution

    High-resolution surface and wind aloft data collected from multiple sources

    Newly incorporated multiple forecast-window wind aloft data (real-time and historical)

    Historical data access for the past 2 years

     

    Accurate Winds Aloft

    Using World Area Forecast System data (a.k.a. GRIB data), developed and improved since 2002

    Enhanced high-altitude wind and temperature simulation above 50,000ft

    Completely smooth transitions at all times with no wind shifts

     

    Hurricane Simulation

    Realistic hurricane simulation based on actual hurricane data

    Overrides surface weather station data (which is usually erroneous during hurricanes)

     

    Full Flight and Weather Planning

    Manually enter, import, or build a flight plan using auto-routing

    Easily change waypoints/route during planning or while in-flight

    Receive updated navigation log, weather briefing text, or voice weather briefings

    Receive favorable wind/altitude information, dynamic ETAs per waypoint and live conditions updates

     

    Integrated Voice Features

    Receive realistic voice weather updates via ATIS, FlightWatch and FSS simulation by tuning your radio to 122.0, 122.02 or 122.05

     

    Enhanced Weather Search

    Easily find weather conditions with improved station/range filtering

     

    Smart Data Interpolation

    More robust data interpolation for more realistic weather conditions and depiction in areas with fewer reporting stations

     

    Station Database Management

    Easily add, edit or disable different types of stations (Weather, Airport, NDB, VOR)

     

    Additional New Features

    New Hail simulation and included hail audio effects

    Automatic Simulator Flight Plan Import (optional)

    Customizable User Option Presets and EASY/REALISM mode option sets

    Favorite Weather Stations (add, remove, and recall any station’s conditions from the favorites menu)

    Quick Start-up (ASN loads in less than 10 seconds in most cases)

    Persistent Windows (all screens position, size, and docked/undocked status restored at startup)

     

     

    From the list of features shown, it’s clear to see that this program offers a level of realism that is unrivalled. For more details on the features of this product and how to properly setup your ASN, I encourage you to carefully read the user manuals. I was very impressed with the overall presentation of the manuals and it nicely breaks down each feature of this program in a manner that is easily understood by persons with any level of FS experience.After a quick review of the manual I was able to be get this program up and running in no time. In the next segment of this review, we will have a closer look at a few of the numerous features and how they work.

     

     

    THE EXPERIENCE

    Setup/Interface

    One of the first things you will notice about this program is the vastly different user interface. The interface has become much simpler to use and it makes setting up your flight a quick and easy process.

     

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    The first page of the interface shows you the active weather conditions at 6 popular airports. In addition to this, there is also a section that shows whether there are any active hurricanes and any ASN news from the developer. At the bottom of the screen you will find the Configure, Plan and Fly icons which gives you a 1, 2, 3 process for getting started fairly quickly. If you would like to delve deeper into this program, the menu to the top will allow you to customize your ASN experiences to the fullest. Here is an example of some of the menu options.

     

    Weather Configuration

    Under the weather configuration menu, you will have the ability to adjust the setting for the Weather Mode which allows you to select either Live, Manual or Historic weather data. Having these choices allows the user to have full control over the weather condition they wish to experience. While the live weather setting may be the most popular, the manual or historic weather data can be equally useful. For example, let’s say that two days ago there was some significant weather over a particular area that had just the right flying conditions you were looking for. By using the historic weather data, you can change the date to the exact time you so desire to fly under those weather conditions. The manual setting can also be useful in adjusting the weather settings to suit your needs. Details on using the manual and historic mode are fully covered in the user manual.

     

    Map

    The map is self-explanatory and it offers a wide array of customization options such as layering of Airports, VORs, Airnets, Pirep, Windshear and much more. This wealth of information can be very useful in planning your flights and I have found it to be an excellent feature of this product. The graphic presentation could be slightly better but nonetheless I think you will be satisfied with its functionality.

     

    Condition

    This section is perhaps the one menu option that you will be visiting quite frequently. This feature allows you to search for the weather conditions at specific stations. When no specific station is selected, the weather data shown depicts the current weather conditions around the aircraft at your present position. In addition to this you can also see the weather conditions at various altitudes which can be very useful for your planning.

     

    Tools

    This menu option allows you to access some very unique features of ASN. For example, if you are flying and you encounter some significant weather conditions that you think other users should know about, you can post your very own PIREPs which can be seen by other ASN users if they are using the PIREP overlay on the map display.

     

    Another feature that is listed in this section is the weather gauge feature which is a very popular feature of this product.

     

    The weather gauge displays a graphical weather map that is very similar to the map display. The major difference with this gauge is that it can be installed on any FSX aircraft. The overlays seen on the map display are also present on the weather gauge and this allows you to have full situational awareness while flying. For the first time in FSX history, we now have the ability to accurately see the depiction of precipitation and to practice proper weather deviation procedures. Most weather radars in the past gave the impression that it could accurately depict the weather condition around the aircraft. But true be told, this really wasn’t the case since it was virtually impossible to obtain weather data from FSX for an accurate weather radar.

     

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    With the release of ASN’s weather radar, what was once thought to be impossible has now become a reality. How did they do it? Well this seem to be a closely guarded secret and unless you are a developer, I highly doubt that the details of how this was accomplished will be released.

     

    Due to this feature, products such as the Aerosoft A318/A319 and the PMDG 777 have all been able to implement this feature as a part of their products and other developers will be jumping onboard in due time.

     

    DO I REALLY NEED THIS PROGRAM?

    Now that we have a general overview of the product itself, let’s see how it can enhance your flight simulator experience. As mentioned before, for many years we were all captivated by the default real world weather download function that came with MSFS. It seemed that since this feature was introduced, we were instantly addicted to the thought of flying in real world weather conditions wherever we are.

     

    As time went by however, it became quite apparent that the weather that was depicted wasn’t always very accurate and we always had to wait for weather changes through constantly updating the newest weather data. In addition to this, features such as air effects and a reliable weather radar were all but nonexistent.  What do I mean by air effects? Well ASN features a high fidelity simulation of air effects such as Wind Shear, Microbursts, Updrafts/Downdrafts, Thermals, Wake/Cloud Turbulence and much more. Features such as these create the true sensation of flying through an air mass which is never completely stable.

     

    After using ASN for a few months now it has become apparent that in order to “fully” experience these effects, one should consider using a product such as EZCA which has a head movement feature that allows you to really see the air effects at work. I was able to test these effects while using both large and small aircraft and the effects seemed to be quite realistic. The best experience in my opinion was the experience of using ASN along with A2A’s C172 and Piper Cherokee. These aircraft was VERY well modelled and the combination of ASN with these products creates an amazing experience that blurs the line between simulation and reality.

     

     

    Another major difference you will notice with this product is the actual weather depiction and the smoothness of change as you fly from one destination to the next. With the default real world weather feature, the weather depiction is often very generic and no focus is given to the isolation of precipitation to specific areas.

     

    With ASN, the weather depiction is significantly improved and it allows you to experience a realistic depiction of all weather conditions. For example, just a few days ago I flew from KCLT to TKPK and there was some significant weather over St. Kitts at the time. What was most noteworthy was that as I made my approach to the airport, the precipitation was not constant. As I flew the RNAV approach the rain was specifically isolated about 10nm west of the airport and it gradually cleared up as I approached the airport. In other instances while using the weather radar which was integrated into the PMDG777, I was able to pick up areas of precipitation which was visible on the weather radar and through the cockpit window by a buildup of CB’s in the area. With the default FSX weather, one would normally have experienced rain simply because the METAR said so with no regard to where the precipitation is isolated. While ASN isn’t perfect, it does a very good job at depicting weather in a very realistic manner.

     

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    The photo above shows an example of how the default Real Weather Download can differ dramatically to ASN with the same weather conditions at the same time and location.

     

    Most of the benefits of using ASN from a visual perspective cannot be fully expressed in words since it’s something that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated. Throughout this review I will post screenshots for your benefit but they honestly don’t do justice to this program.

     

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    Are there any other benefits to using ASN? Well if you are an avid FS enthusiast or a real world pilot, ASN can be a significant aid in practicing your flight planning and decision making skills. In the real world, pilots rely heavily on weather information since it is crucial to the operation of your aircraft. Prior to every flight, all pilots at some point will spend a few minutes carefully examining the weather and perhaps even calculating the performance capability of the aircraft or simply planning the route and ETA at various waypoints on their cross country flight plans.

     

    Another useful feature is that weather information can also be requested while flying. Information such as weather at specific airports and winds aloft data can be invaluable while checking the integrity of your flightplan or perhaps in selecting an alternate airport. On this note, it’s interesting to note that you can also have a simulation of FSS, FlightWatch and ATIS reports when tuning your COM to specific frequencies.

     

    While on the topic of flight planning, ASN has a very interesting feature that allows you to load a flightplan and have a detailed report/briefing that shows the winds aloft information and weather conditions along your route. While using the Map Screen, you can also see the waypoints of your flightplan which improves your situational awareness.

     

    We can go on and on about the benefits of this program and we can spend hours going through each of its features. My honest opinion is that ASN has become a priceless tool for each flight and I never use my simulator without it. If you want to experience this product before buying it, you can do so by downloading the trial version. I can guarantee that you will be very impressed with how much this product enhances your FS experience.

     

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    Conclusion

    In conclusion, after using ASN, it becomes apparent that for many years we have been missing out on some of the best real weather flying experiences to date. Given the fact that you can now obtain global weather data and sigmets through ASN, one can finally master the art of proper flight planning while taking into consideration all of the significant weather data that is relevant to his/her route of flight.

     

    One of the features of ASN that has peaked the interest of many within the FS community is the addition of a weather radar that can also be integrated into 3rd party aircraft add-ons. The PMDG 777 is a good example of this and it has brought to reality what we once thought was impossible. Having the ability to fly with a working weather radar adds a significant level of realism and situational awareness that has been missing for far too long. With the default real time weather update, it was nearly impossible to be fully aware of what the weather conditions around you were truly like before getting into it. With ASN, you have the ability to be fully aware of where precipitation and icing can be found to a reasonable degree of accuracy.

     

    My personal setup combines ASN and REX4 for textures. This combination has proved to be the most amazing experience thus far and if you are a user of REX4, I would highly recommend that you try ASN as your weather engine. At a price point of EUR 44.02/36.99 for the full program or EUR 27.36/22.99 for the upgrade from previous versions of Active Sky, this program is well worth its price and you won’t be disappointed. Due to its innovation and practical benefits, ASN is definitely worthy of the AVSIM Gold Star Award. ASN has changed the way we think about weather and it has also changed the way we think about utilizing the weather radar within an aircraft. Why not give it a try and see the difference for yourself?

     

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    Acknowledgement 

    Thanks to everyone at HiFi Simulation for your in answering numerous questions about this fantastic product and thanks to “Kroswynd” for assisting me with some amazing screenshots.


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