AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

Ultimate Terrain USA + FS Genesis + BirdsEyeView

Product Information
Publishers: Scenery Solutions, FS Genesis, BirdsEyeView
Description:  Scenery Enhancements for FS2004
Download Size:
1.2 GB
Format:
Downloadable Executable or CD
Simulation Type:
MSFS 2002/2004
Reviewed by: Steve "Chappie" Chappel AVSIM Staff Reviewer

Introduction

Confused with why some scenery products look good in advertising but not quite the same when you install them? Hardware has something to do with it, but so does a good plan on how to provide the necessary tools for scenery enhancements to really live up to their bidding.

This is not an in-depth review of any one of these three great products, but rather it is an attempt to verbally and visually explain what these products do for your flight sim experience. As always, I prefer to tailor my remarks to what I consider to be a normal simmer, and hopefully provide that average simmer the information necessary to sort out what may work for him or her.

Let me first throw a large "Thank You" out to Jeff Smith from Flight One Software for providing the Ultimate Terrain USA package to aid in this article. I compare these three pieces of software to a “scenery” super model. FS Genesis (FSG) is the skeleton that creates the framework. Ultimate Terrain (UT) is the skin that covers the frame, and BirdsEyeView (BEV) is the makeup that makes it beautiful. Pull out anyone of these three and you start to diminish what you are capable of seeing.

We will start with the framework. (NOTE: The images you see displayed with FS Genesis included are with LOD 8 and 10 installed. The order of install for these photos was Default, UT, FSG, BEV.)

Installation and Documentation

All files are available for download. Due to the size of some of these downloads, I would recommend a high speed internet connection or opt for the CD option instead.

Documentation on all products is thorough and straight forward. All products also have an active newsgroup forum for specific questions and FAQs. If installing Ultimate Terrain with FS Genesis, it is important to patch UT up to at least v1.1 which will blend the two sceneries for optimum use (FSG for rural areas and UT for cities/towns).

You will have to re-order your scenery priorities within FS 2004, but the documentation easily explains this step by step.

Review Content

The Skeleton: Remember, I called FS Genesis the skeleton of this scenery super model. It is the skeleton because it provides detailed structure to your FS world. Without FSG, the world would be measured every 1223 meters (m) or so (4000+ feet). So every 2/3 of a mile a new elevation would be registered. In flat terrain this is not that big of a deal. In mountainous terrain it is gross. This is why some mountains in the default scenery look unrealistic depending on where the elevation measurement is actually located.

FSG has many options to choose from. They are broken out into Levels of Detail or LODs. FSG currently offers LOD 4/5/6 which covers the entire world at 611m to 2446m resolution. LOD 7 is 306m, LOD 8 is 153m, LOD 9 is 76.4m, LOD 10 is 38.2m and LOD 12 is 9.6m. (Currently LOD 12 only displays at 19.2m due to a FS 2004 terrain engine change)

Depending on the type of flying you do will drive what you need. If you are a high cruise airliner type and don’t care much for the airport environment elevations then LOD 9 or lower is going to work for you. I currently run LOD 8 and 10 and get the best of both worlds high and low. If you are mostly a VFR pilot when flying FS 2004 then LOD 10 is best for you. So with LOD 10 installed, every 38m (254 feet) a new elevation point is registered. Remember, a few sentences ago I said in flat terrain a new elevation point every 1223m is no big deal? With LOD 10 installed, creek and river beds become actual beds not flat visual creeks that have no sides to contain the water.

 

Default Scenery Ultimate Terrain Scenery

FS Genesis elevation data installed. Notice how the hills become real. Look slightly above the left wing, and notice the texture in the foothills. Also, look at how the creeks take on a sunken look.

Bird's Eye View Scenery
Default Scenery
Ultimate Terrain Scenery
Great example of elevation points that are closer together providing much more accurate scenery.
Bird's Eye View Scenery

The Skin: With FSG installed, you are ready to cover it with the outer layer or skin. The Ultimate Terrain products do this in a visually magnificent way. Parks become parks and not some green square, golf courses spring up at their exact location with almost the exact hole layout. Rivers wind in all directions versus straight lines that change directions every once in awhile and lakes reflect accurate coastlines versus straight edges.

The skin displays our overall appearance and so does Ultimate Terrain. It better defines city/town edges to reflect their true boundaries based on current population growth. It works with FSG to provide the best appropriate coverage for the area you are flying in. FSG gets the nod for rural areas and UT gets the calling when it comes to displaying urban/cities and coastlines. UT uses commercially licensed map data to render its images, which is the reason that roads, railroads, parks, rivers, creeks and lakes all look so real.

Using the photos above notice how the creek in the top set is straight under the King Air in the Default scenery and “snakes” with UT installed. Also notice how the road pattern underneath the airplane is straight in the Default scenery and is transformed in UT to include about 10 additional bodies of water that are really there. Just the overall depiction of the city itself is clearly visible.

 

Notice the golf course and pond behind the Cessna. Also notice the community in the golf course Same area as seen with "Google Earth". Good stuff, huh?

The Setup Utility for UT is as simple as it can get. Click it on if you want it on or deselect it if you want it back to the default FS 2004 scenery. Individual items can be selected/deselected or you can do global on/offs for quicker transitions back to default scenery or UT enhanced scenery.

 

The Makeup: BirdsEyeView Summer/Fall products have recently been reviewed by AVSIM, so I won’t repeat the nuts and bolts of this fine product. One word for BEV…..Better! They take trees and give them branches. They take water and make it drinkable. They take terrain and make it realistically textured. They take mountains and make them climbable. They make every visual aspect of FS 2004 better, way better. The urban areas provide the biggest bang for the buck but this product shines across the board.

 

Ultimate Terrian and FS Genesis Bird's Eye View added and is has an overall richer appearance Notice the grooved runway surface
Default lake in my area. Exact same area with BEVs reflection texture.

Conclusions

Test System

Alienware Aurora FX 55
2 Gb RAM
Dual Nvidia 6800 GT / SLI
SB Audigy 2 ZS
Dual WD 74 GB 10K HDs
WinXP

Flying Time:
50+ hours

Any one of these products will add to your simming experience. If you were like me, which was not too excited about laying down money for elevation data, then you are not giving your scenery products the best chance to shine and reflect accurate visual presentations.

My pictures hopefully reflect something you can grab at and say “that is where I want to be with my visuals”. I spend a lot of time in the FL180 and above environment when I sim, and I am just amazed at the scenic beauty from that elevation, let alone at lower altitudes where it really kicks in. Like I mentioned earlier, all three are needed to get the full effect, but if you only go with two, FSG should to be one of them in order for the visual enhancements to work off a more textured pallet.

I would recommend UT, FSG and BEV in that order to build toward your super scenery. You cannot go straight to BEV and get the visuals you see above. These final pictures in each set are a building block approach and the final pictures only look as good as they do because of the other products. (NOTE: Most of these products claim to do little to no impact to your framerates, and to be honest I have seen no major hits. If you look close at the pictures you will see my FPS in the upper left corner and it really does not change with all packages installed, but I do have a fast system.)


 

What I Like About These 3 Scenery Programs
  • All are easily downloaded (high speed connection recommended)
  • They are patched to work in concert with each other
  • Great Forums at all three sites to help with any questions
  • Incredibly beautiful scenery enhancements for FS 2004
  • Well documented and easy interfaces for UT/BEV
  • Proactive designers that patch, enhance, improve the products

 
What I Don't Like About These 3 Scenery Programs
  • You have to go into the FS 2004 Scenery Library to adjust the priority list to work properly

Printing

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UT, FSG, BEV

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The review above is a subjective assessment of the product by the author. There is no connection between the producer and the reviewer, and we feel this review is unbiased and truly reflects the performance of the product in the simming environment. This disclaimer is posted here in order provide you with background information on the reviewer and connections that may exist between him/her and the contributing party.

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