• REVIEW - Ground Environment X by Flight1 Software


    WR269

    Review

    by Marlon Carter

     

    Introduction

     

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    Flight1 Software is well known within the FS community and their GEX North America product has been very popular over the past few years. Perhaps what you may not be aware of is the fact that GEX also extends its coverage to Europe, Africa, Middle East, the Tropics and the Pacific regions. In this review we will be taking a closer look at these products and how they enhance your simulation experience over the default FSX scenery.

     

     

    Features

    So what’s new in the GEX World Edition series? Well unlike the previous GEX releases, all regions are managed via a brand new interface and everything has been automated. Here is a list of newly automated features.

                    Automated detection of GEX regions as they are added as well as UTX regional products.

                    Automated one click/browse move of backup directory with free space verification.

                    Refined update system which checks for updates of all products at once.

                    Automated install order of GEX regions as they are added or removed.

                    Single interface readout and control for all GEX region products.

                    NO INSTALL orders or specific install directories to deal with.

                    Install different GEX regions to any location on your system.

                    Direct product links from the interface to add new regions.

                    Real time region status interface readout.

                    Universal user manual for all products.

     

    In addition to the newly automated features, we also have numerous upgrades that enhance the visual aspects of these products.

     

     

    GEX North America v2.000

     

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                    Complete coverage of North America (United States, Canada, and Alaska).

                    Enhanced textures to assist in rendering clear visuals as low as 250-500 ft.

                    High volume autogen layout with optimizations for maximum performance.

                    Update system checks for updates of all installed GEX products at once.

                    Upgrade patches provided for UTX USA/Canada and UT Alaska users.

                    Automated install order of GEX regions as they are added and removed.

                    Synchronizes all GEX regions. No texture switching between regions.

                    Full texture support for SceneryTech and Xclass landclass products.

                    1m/pixel - 1024x1024 Textures - No excessive resolution to render.

                    Automate file backup system with merged region backup storage.

                    Single interface readout and control for all GEX region products.

                    Textures derived from licensed Aerial and Satellite imagery.

                    2D enhancements produce 3D depth in textures.

                    Direct product links from the interface to add new regions.

                    FSX tree render issue addressed in autogen annotation.

                    Automated one click/browse move of backup directory.

                    Includes all seasons and night lighting environment.

                    Realistic custom designed night lighting textures.

                    Real time region status interface readout.

                    Improved default FSX road night lighting.

                    Universal user manual for all products.

                    Highly detailed aerial views.

                    Natural seasonal blending.

     

     

    NOTE: Installation of any ONE of these three GEX regions:

     

    GEX Africa and the Middle East - v1.20

    GEX Atlantic and Pacific Tropics - v1.10

    GEX Asia and South America - v1.0

     

    will automatically upgrade GEX North America from v1.096 to v1.099!

     

     

    GEX Europe

     

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                    Complete coverage of Europe from the Arctic Circle through Southern Greece.

                    Enhanced textures to assist in rendering clear visuals as low as 250-500 ft.

                    High volume autogen layout with optimizations for maximum performance.

                    Update system checks for updates of all installed GEX products at once.

                    Upgrade patches provided for UTX USA/Canada and UT Alaska users.

                    Automated install order of GEX regions as they are added and removed.

                    Synchronizes all GEX regions. No texture switching between regions.

                    Full texture support for SceneryTech and Xclass landclass products.

                    1m/pixel - 1024x1024 Textures - No excessive resolution to render.

                    Automate file backup system with merged region backup storage.

                    Comprehensive upgrade patches provided for UTX Europe users.

                    Single interface readout and control for all GEX region products.

                    Textures derived from licensed Aerial and Satellite imagery.

                    2D enhancements produce 3D depth in textures.

                    Direct product links from the interface to add new regions.

                    FSX tree render issue addressed in autogen annotation.

                    Automated one click/browse move of backup directory.

                    Includes all seasons and night lighting environment.

                    Realistic custom designed night lighting textures.

                    Real time region status interface readout.

                    Improved default FSX road night lighting.

                    Universal user manual for all products.

                    Highly detailed aerial views.

                    Natural seasonal blending.

     

     

    GEX Africa-Middle East

     

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                    Complete coverage of the Middle East and Africa from Pakistan to Cape Town.

                    Enhanced textures to assist in rendering clear visuals as low as 250-500 ft.

                    High volume autogen layout with optimizations for maximum performance.

                    Update system checks for updates of all installed GEX products at once.

                    Sync patches provided for UTX USA/Canada/UT Alaska and UT Europe.

                    Syncronizes all GEX regions. No texture switching between regions.

                    Upgrades GEX North America to v1.099 when installed with GEX NA.

                    Full texture support for SceneryTech and Xclass landclass products.

                    1m/pixel - 1024x1024 Textures - No excessive resolution to render.

                    Automate file backup system with merged region backup storage.

                    Single interface readout and control for all GEX region products.

                    Textures derived from licensed Aerial and Satellite imagery.

                    2D enhancements produce 3D depth in textures.

                    Direct product links from the interface to add new regions.

                    FSX tree render issue addressed in autogen annotation.

                    Automated one click/browse move of backup directory.

                    Includes all seasons and night lighting environment.

                    Realistic custom designed night lighting textures.

                    Real time region status interface readout.

                    Improved default FSX road night lighting.

                    Universal user manual for all products.

                    Highly detailed aerial views.

                    Natural seasonal blending.

     

     

    GEX Atlantic and Pacific Tropics

     

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                    Coverage from the Philippines to Mexico/Central America, Caribbean, and Hawaiian Islands.

                    30% discount for GEX Africa and the Middle East customers (unlimited time offer).

                    Enhanced textures to assist in rendering clear visuals as low as 250-500 ft.

                    High volume autogen layout with optimizations for maximum performance.

                    Update system checks for updates of all installed GEX products at once.

                    Automated install order of GEX regions as they are added and removed.

                    Synchronizes all GEX regions. No texture switching between regions.

                    Upgrades GEX North America to v1.099 when installed with GEX NA.

                    Full texture support for SceneryTech and Xclass landclass products.

                    Sync patches provided for UTX USA/Canada/UT Alaska customers.

                    1m/pixel - 1024x1024 Textures - No excessive resolution to render.

                    Automate file backup system with merged region backup storage.

                    Comprehensive upgrade patch provided for UTX Tropics users.

                    Single interface readout and control for all GEX region products.

                    Textures derived from licensed Aerial and Satellite imagery.

                    2D enhancements produce 3D depth in textures.

                    Direct product links from the interface to add new regions.

                    FSX tree render issue addressed in autogen annotation.

                    Automated one click/browse move of backup directory.

                    Includes all seasons and night lighting environment.

                    Realistic custom designed night lighting textures.

                    Real time region status interface readout.

                    Improved default FSX road night lighting.

                    Universal user manual for all products.

                    Highly detailed aerial views.

                    Natural seasonal blending.

    NOTE: GEX Atlantic and Pacific Tropics specifically covers the following locations:

     

    Mexico, Central America, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Bahamas, Guam, Hawaii, Philippines, the Caribbean, parts of tropical Asia such as Indonesia and some stretches of northern South America.

     

     

    GEX Australia and Antarctica

     

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                    Regional coverage of Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, New Guinea, Iceland, and Greenland.

                    Upgrades GEX North America to v2.00 for free when installed with GEX NA.

                    Enhanced textures to assist in rendering clear visuals as low as 250-500ft.

                    High volume autogen layout with optimizations for maximum performance.

                    Update system checks for updates of all installed GEX products at once.

                    Automated install order of GEX regions as they are added or removed.

                    Synchronizes all GEX regions. No texture switching between regions.

                    Full texture support for SceneryTech and Xclass landclass products.

                    1m/pixel - 1024x1024 Textures - No excessive resolution to render.

                    Automated file backup system with merged region backup storage.

                    Single interface readout and control for all GEX region products.

                    Textures derived from licensed Aerial and Satellite imagery.

                    2D enhancements produce simulated 3D depth in textures.

                    Direct product links from the interface to add new regions.

                    FSX tree render issue addressed in autogen annotation.

                    Automated one click/browse move of backup directory.

                    Includes all seasons and night lighting environment.

                    Realistic custom designed night lighting textures.

                    Real time region status interface readout.

                    Improved default FSX road night lighting.

                    Universal user manual for all products.

                    Highly detailed aerial views.

                    Natural seasonal blending.

     

     

    GEX Asia and South America

     

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                    Covers N. Asia through Mongolia, India, China, and Japan with South America.

                    Upgrades GEX North America to v2.00 for free when installed with GEX NA.

                    Economically friendly "Dual-Region" coverage of Asia and South America

                    Enhanced textures to assist in rendering clear visuals as low as 250-500 ft.

                    High volume autogen layout with optimizations for maximum performance.

                    Update system checks for updates of all installed GEX products at once.

                    Automated install order of GEX regions as they are added and removed.

                    Sync patches provided for UTX USA/Canada/UT Alaska and Europe.

                    Synchronizes all GEX regions. No texture switching between regions.

                    Upgrades GEX North America to v1.099 when installed with GEX NA.

                    Full texture support for SceneryTech and Xclass landclass products.

                    1m/pixel - 1024x1024 Textures - No excessive resolution to render.

                    Automate file backup system with merged region backup storage.

                    Single interface readout and control for all GEX region products.

                    Textures derived from licensed Aerial and Satellite imagery.

                    2D enhancements produce 3D depth in textures.

                    Direct product links from the interface to add new regions.

                    FSX tree render issue addressed in autogen annotation.

                    Automated one click/browse move of backup directory.

                    Includes all seasons and night lighting environment.

                    Realistic custom designed night lighting textures.

                    Real time region status interface readout.

                    Improved default FSX road night lighting.

                    Universal user manual for all products.

                    Highly detailed aerial views.

                    Natural seasonal blending.

     

     

    As you may have noticed, many of the features of each product are similar if not the same. The major differences centers around the coverage area and there are a few differences in the type of autogen one will see in a given region. Before diving into the review and comparisons between the default FSX, I thought it would be a good idea to get some additional information on the background of this product.

     

    A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT GEX ANSWERED

     

    What is GEX all about?

    Is GEX some sort of “Landclass” product?

     

    Well the short answer to that question is No. Landclass contains details about the landscape and it includes data on the use of the land and the type of ground environment in a particular area. The default installation of FSX has landclass data, but it’s far from perfect. GEX does not contain any landclass data, it simply upgrades the default FSX ground textures for a much more realistic appearance. When GEX is used with a payware landclass product such as Ultimate Terrain X, FSX comes to life in a new and realistic way. The landclass data contained in UTX comes from reputable sources and it places roads, highways, towns, cities and more in their correct location. The unique situation with 3rd part landclass products is that in most cases, using just a single landclass product may not give you the best overall FS experience. Sometimes it may require that you have 2 or 3 blended together for GEX to truly shine. Some of the recommended land class products will be covered later on, but in a nutshell, GEX is purely a textural upgrade with autogen annotation and how well it displays is based on the landclass data you are using.

     

    If you would like to find out more about GEX, follow this link to the GEX forum where many frequently asked questions are answered.

    GEX FAQ

     

     

    INSTALLATION

    The installation process for GEX wasn’t very difficult at all. If you purchased the DVD version, all that’s required is to follow the prompts on your screen after inserting the disc into your PC. For persons who are purchasing GEX via the download option, it may be advisable to use the Flight1 Downloader Tool which will allow you to download these large files with the ability to stop and resume the download process.

     

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    Before proceeding with the installation, there are a few necessary things you will need to take note of. For example, do you have any other ground texture products installed? Do you have other add-ons such as Orbx FTX? If so, you may have to customize your installation slightly in order to use GEX safely with other products. You will also have to back-up your FSX textures in the event that you may want to revert to using them again. Backing you your textures can be done via the interface which is very easy to use. As seen in the photo above, the interface allows you to enable all versions of the GEX product line to suit your needs. The interface can also allow you to active the Ultimate Terrain product line up and check for future updates. This new interface creates a seamless process for managing these products and it is a welcome upgrade. Here are some more interesting details about the new Interface.

    1. Locates FSX automatically though the registry and verifies a FSX install is not corrupt and if it is, displays a error code for diagnostic and support to assist the user to correct.

     

    2. Automatically locates UTX installations and enables those features in the GEX interface if found.

     

    3. Backs up both the FSX install and any UTX installs it finds before allowing access to ensure no loss of restore.

     

    4. Confirms the backup is present when the interface starts so no user error in moving it can occur

     

    5. Allows a user to move the backup through interface control so disk space can be optimized

     

    6. Allows a user to opt to delete the backup and not use one

     

    7. Requires no switching of regions. The interface is pre-programmed to install the correct textures based on what regions are enabled and active in FSX. No switching is required at all. All regions can be enabled and remain enabled at all times without interference with another.

     

    8. Provides matched and updated textures when a UTX region is present and is designed to work directly with Ultimate Terrain X (UTX)

     

    9. Provides an automated update system that when selected through the interface (regions must be enabled and active in FSX).

     

    10. Regions can be installed anywhere on a system and not take up space on the Windows drive or the FSX drive. The interface locates the regions directory and then sends the textures to FSX when a region is enabled, or, restores the backup for the region when disabled.

     

    11. The GEX region products are all being updated with newer source data. Updates since 2007 and up until January of this year have remained free for existing region customers. Since January 2015 major replacement products are now being developed which requires a cost to accomplish, those will come with a discount to existing GEX customers and has offered free upgrades for those who have purchased multiple regions.

     

    12. With the latest GEX updates GEX has been made FSX STEAM compatible.

     

     

    With regard to the interface itself, some have noted that the UAC in Windows7 and 8 blocks the interface. If you encounter this problem, it is recommended that you follow the sets outlines on the GEX forum found here UAC issues

    Finally, before using these products, it is advisable to review the manuals which contain useful tips for using GEX. This includes information for Orbx FTX users and Ultimate Terrain users.

     

     

    COMPARISONS

    A few years ago, I remembered being amazed at the major differences between FS9 & FSX and I thought that the default FSX scenery was quite honestly the best thing yet. Soon after, I realized that while the default FSX was a significant improvement over FS9, there were many aspects of the FSX scenery that I found very bland and in some cases grossly inaccurate. For example, since I reside in the Caribbean, I found that Microsoft did a very poor job at representing the lush green environment of the Caribbean region. In addition to this, the autogen wasn’t very impressive and it was generic to say the least. As we move to other regions such as the U.S, the issues were pretty much the same with textures that lacked detail and realism. Overall, the default textures.

     

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    Default FSX Asia and Tropics

     

     

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    FSX with GEX Asia and Tropics

     

     

     

    GEX to the rescue!

     

    With a product such as GEX, we now have a significant upgrade to the ground textures and autogen for specific regions of the FS world. Each of these regions are very different as far as the layout of cities, residential areas and forested areas are concerned. For example, the type of autogen you would expect to see in the Caribbean would be vastly different to what you would find in Europe or Africa. The Caribbean is well known for colorful roof tops and smaller residential buildings when compared to the much taller and neutral color buildings seen in the U.S. Europe also has a unique look which is unmistakable and quite honestly, the FSX default textures and autogen doesn’t represent this region accurately. As far as Africa and the Middle East are concerned, FSX has represented these areas as being far too dry and unpopulated which is definitely not the case in real life.

     

    One of the features of GEX that really enhances the ground textures is the 2D enhancements that create a 3D effect. This means that certain areas may seem to have 3D objects, but in reality they are 2D textures that have been enhanced to portray a 3D effect. This was a fantastic idea on the part of the developers since it provided a “3D” environment without the performance loss associated with having numerous 3D objects. Along the same lines we can also highlight the fact that the roadways have also been improved both in the day time and night time. Many of the textures used in GEX are derived from aerial and satellite imagery, so we can be confident that what we are seeing isn’t something that was fabricated.

     

    When we consider the change in seasons within FSX, it was easy to be satisfied with what FSX had to offer until seeing the differences with GEX. The changes are not dramatic, but they are sufficient enough to depict a more realistic look to the various seasons. Another area that has always been a problem with the FSX default textures is the night lighting. After having flown at night numerous times in a variety of places, it is clear to see that the default night lighting was poor to say the least. Thankfully, GEX has improved the night lighting to a point where I can be somewhat satisfied, but it still needs some work. As an added bonus, the manuals have also suggested some further steps that can be taken to create a much more realistic night environment since the default night textures are far too bright.

     

    We can go on and on about the bland or unrealistic textures that come with the default FSX installation, but I think it’s best that we see the significant improvements GEX has brought to FSX.

     

     

    North America

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    Middle East and Africa

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    Australia and Antarctica

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    Europe

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    Tropics

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    South America and Asia

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    While the texture and autogen upgrades are very impressive, one may argue that some regions still don’t look very realistic. At first I thought that the Caribbean could have been greener but after having a chat with Nick Needham, I was enlightened to the fact that realistically, the world isn’t as green as other developers may promote. If you look closely at Google earth images, you will find that this truly isn’t the case in most instances. While GEX isn’t made to match Google earth images, it is certainly more accurate than many seem to think.

     

    An interesting detail I learned from Nick was that one of the reasons why FSX regions never completely look the way they are supposed to, is that the primary texture calls for the entire world come from North America and Europe. It is between these two regions that most of the world gets their look. This is why it is very difficult for developers to get regions outside of these areas to look spot on. It is therefore necessary to compile textures that show elements of the environment in each location.

     

    If you are interested in learning more about how textures are repeated in FSX and why some areas never look quite accurate, I strongly encourage you to check out this post by Nick Needham on the Flight1 forum

    http://www.simforums.com/forums/why-textures-repeat-in-fsx_topic44090.html

     

     

    The Ultimate Package

    For those of you who are looking for the ultimate package, apart from the textural improvements to FSX, you may also be asking, “what about the coastlines and terrain? Isn’t it true that textures alone aren’t enough to sufficiently improve the look of FSX?” Well you’re right, a textural upgrade is fantastic, but much more is needed if you truly desire a simulated world that is as close to reality as possible.

     

    This is where GEX’s integration with Flight1’s Ultimate Terrain and a selected few other 3rd party landclass products come into the picture.

     

    In addition to the textural and autogen deficiencies of FSX, the terrain and coastline areas of various countries and cities are also in need of an upgrade. In some territories, the default FSX coastlines and terrain were so inaccurate that they made certain places virtually unrecognizable. Ultimate Terrain provides further enhancement to the GEX product by providing accurate terrain, coastlines, roads, bridges and night lighting to a region of your choice and it allows GEX to place the best textures in that area.UTX is a product that is considered a must have if you are using GEX. The newest versions of UTX offer a significant upgrade to the previous versions with updated landclass information and a new lighting system that is simply amazing.

     

    If you would like to go a step further, in addition to using UTX, other landclass products fromSceneryTech and Xclass can also be used to create the best FSX experience. When these products are used correctly, they create an environment that is unique, realistic and breathtaking. While Ultimate Terrain does not cover areas such as Japan, many of you will be pleased to know that GEX works quite well with a high quality freeware LC file that covers this region. For more information on these files and on how all these products work together, I urge you visit the Flight1 support forums for added information.

     

     

    UTX Setup

    http://www.simforums.com/Forums/updatedsetup-utx-includes-all-v20-products_topic46147.html

    Landclass Products

    http://www.simforums.com/Forums/landclass-products-nicks-outline-for-use-with-gex_topic50977.html

    Japan Freeware Landclass

    http://www.simforums.com/Forums/japan-freeware-landclass-gex-asa-users_topic44729.html

     

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    At this point it is fairly easy to see that GEX is a great product and it can be made even better with Ultimate Terrain and a few other payware and freeware landclass files. While GEX isn’t the only product that upgrades the FSX environment, I can honestly say that GEX is a great product that delivers an unbeatable experience. GEX takes FSX to new heights from both a visual and performance perspective that all will appreciate.

     

     

     

     

    CONCLUSION

    In conclusion,after using GEX for the past few months, I am still very impressed. While this product isn’t perfect, it definitely provides a much needed facelift to FSX. Since GEX is based on satellite imagery, it depicts ground textures in a similar manner to what you may see on Google. While it doesn’t copy Google images perfectly, it offers a reasonable balance that few can complain about. Also, please remember that landclass has a big role to play in how textures are placed in your simulator and it can greatly affect whether a region looks too dry or too green.

     

    In addition to the textural upgrades, I have personally found that the performance of my FSX has slighting INCREASED after using GEX textures. This increase in performance may be due to the optimization of autogen and the quality of the textures used but whatever the official reason maybe, there is definitely a slight gain in performance through the use of GEX.

     

    What about the cost? Well the cost of GEX regions range from $34.95 all the way to $49.95 for the DVD revisions, with the download versions costing $29.95 each. Other recommended products such as Ultimate Terrain can cost $29.95 to $34.95 for each region, while SceneryTechlandclass products have a price range of $14.95 to $18.95 depending on the region being purchased. Xclass on the other hand has a much cheaper price tag and it will cost you about $9.99 for each region. When adding up all of these products it may be a bit pricy if you plan on covering your entire FSX world with these scenery products. However, if you primarily fly in just a few areas, GEX may be the best choice when compared to other products.

     

    What about P3D? This seems to be the question on the minds of most who have moved on to P3D and you will be happy to know that a GEX product for P3D is in the works and it will be a single product that covers the entire world! In addition to this, UTX USA and Europe are now available for P3D. This means that the same high quality experience delivered in FSX can now be enjoyed in P3D in due time!

     

    Here are a few preview shots from the P3D version soon to be released

     

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    Also worth mentioning is the fantastic support provided on the flight1 forum for this product. While browsing, you it may be common to see previews of future upgrades and answers to frequented asked questions on GEX and FSX in general. Support questions are answered within 1 day or less and there are also many helpful users. Ultimately, GEX offers a seamless approach to upgrading your textures without any and I personally feel that GEX combined with UTX gives you the best simulation experience yet! It goes without saying that this product surely deserves an Avsim Gold Star Award.

     

     

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

    Special Thanks to Nick Needham and the Flight1 Staff for assisting with this review and “Kroswynd” for assisting with some amazing screenshots.

     

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