Last year, I reviewed the outstanding Reality-XP Jet Line glass cockpit gauges and wrote: “If our goal in pursuing the Flight Simulator hobby is to experience the sensation of being there in the cockpit; and flying an aircraft by a combination of inside and outside visual cues, anything that comes along that makes the experience a little bit more “real”, is worth serious consideration. The add-ons I am reviewing today, do more than that… they replace a set of “graphically challenged” glass cockpit gauges in FS2004 by as close an approximation of the real world gauges as is currently possible”.
Well, these words apply equally to the recently updated Reality-XP 430/530XP gauges that I am reviewing this time. Microsoft certainly provides us with a great flight simulation platform which seems to be almost infinitely expandable, as the last two years worth of FS add-on products have shown. New aircraft, new scenery, new weather... you name it, someone has been working on it! Reality-XP is one of these companies. Characterized by a perfectionist pursuit of providing high fidelity glass cockpit gauges to replace the standard FS2004 equivalents.
If you have flown either the Flight1 PA46 Meridian, or the Dreamfleet A36 Bonanza, you’ve seen and hopefully learned to appreciate the capabilities and quality of Reality-XP’s products, since each of these aircraft have a custom version of the 530XP or 430XP installed in the panel. The 430/530XP are functional equivalents of the real world Garmin GNS430/530 units and use a Garmin provided software program to provide the internal logic and user interaction. Compared to the default FS2004 GPS, they provide a higher level of functionality and a much higher quality of moving map display.
You now have the ability to buy one (or both) of these gauges and install them in any of your existing aircraft - forever relegating the standard FS2004 GNS500 to the cardboard box of obsolete electronics, along with your old DOS based computer which is of no real use, but which you have not had the heart to throw out.
If, however, you have never seen either of these gauges in action, I hope that this review will tempt you to try them out! They are that good!
Installation and Documentation
You can find both the 430XP and the 530XP gauges, along with a “Professional expansion pack”, at the Reality-XP site. I’ll use the 430XP as an example, and later, talk about mixing and matching several of these gauges as they are often installed in real world aircraft.
The purchase is an electronic download, using the well-known Flight1 wrapper which works extremely well. The initial install is straightforward and installs the gauge files and documentation. I’ll be talking about the documentation later, but at the very least, you’ll want to read the User Guide before proceeding further.
The next step is a little bit more involved; as the install program reads your list of installed aircraft and asks you to select the ones in which you would like the gauge to be installed. If you pick one or two of your favorite aircraft to be “refurbished”, you will find at start up that you now have a little icon, called XP Drop Stack, on your windshield which allows you to select this gauge at will. As an example; I selected the default Mooney, accepted the default location of the 430XP in the upper right hand corner and the Drop Stack in the upper left. I also selected the Display Quality setting as “HIGH”, since I really want to see this gauge in its best possible resolution and my system has the required horsepower. When the Mooney is now selected in FS2004, the 430XP is there asking to have the “enter” button pushed twice as it goes through the initialization cycle (just as the real thing) and then shows the moving map display. I quickly decided that the location was not where I wanted it and dragged the gauge, using the mouse, to the bottom right. I also dragged the Drop Stack to a less obtrusive location on the dash. You can hide the 430XP unit by clicking on it, or on the Drop Stack drop down icon.
This is all right if you just want to get going and try out the gauge as a replacement for the FS2004 GPS. There is, however, a whole level of panel integration possible, which will make the gauge vastly more realistic and enjoyable. Depending on your panel editing skills, you may consider this quite straightforward, or possibly quite challenging... so let me take you through this one step at a time.
First of all, you should download the Garmin User Guide for your gauge. The link is provided in the Reality-XP documentation. Since this gauge is literally “powered by Garmin”, the authentic Garmin User Guide applies fully! As a matter of fact, the Garmin software is specifically released by Garmin to allow their real world users to train in using this sophisticated piece of avionics on a PC.
Next, you should visit the Reality-XP Community User’s File page. You may find that someone has already provided the panel modifications for one of your favorite aircraft! If so, you are in luck. Downloading one of these modifications and following the included "ReadMe" file will, in most instances, provide you with a greatly enhanced cockpit with the gauge in its rightful place in both the 2d and VC views. See below for some examples of what this might look like. (With credit to Erik Fjellstedt and others for the modifications).
Lastly, you may be tempted to make the panel modifications yourself. First, read the Reality-XP manuals/guides, ALL of them! They contain valuable information, but it is not exactly a “cookbook” presentation. Again, depending on your previous experience with editing panel files, this may be easy or quite frustrating... One big request: If you succeed in this, please share your creation with the Flightsim community by posting it on the Reality-XP site for others to use!
The simplest modification is to replace the default GPS gauge, one for one, by the 530XP. You open up the "panel.cfg" file for the aircraft with Notepad (after backing it up first!) and search for “GPS”. For each instance of the GPS gauge, you replace “fs9gps!gps_500” with “RealityXP_FL530XP!GNS530”, and save the file. Now you add a copy of the provided "RXPGNS530.ini" into the panel folder and make sure that the GNSpopup reference and the Window Ident for the GPS popup window are the same (e.g. GPS_PANEL, or 15531), and that should do the trick!
If you are into custom panel design, you can move existing avionics around in the radio stack to make room for the 430XP, the 530XP, or a pair of GNS units like many real aircraft have installed. Since the GNS units include a COM/NAV 1,2 radio, you can often create space by removing the original Bendix radio modules. For real enthusiasts, Reality-XP also includes a GMA 340 – GTX 327 Audio Panel and Transponder, as well as a GI106A and a 102A VOR indicator. The details on these gauges can be found in the GNS Service Manual, section “Gauge Characteristics”.
Using The 430/530XP Gauges
like the real world gauges, it is well worth reading the instructions before
serious use… a lot of information is contained on a number of screens
that each require some prior experience to navigate through! The original Garmin
manuals are very complete and surprisingly readable, once you get past the
sheer size and detail! I’d suggest picking a favorite flight, in my example
from Boeing Field, via the PAE VOR to KBLI Bellingham. You enter the waypoints
on the Flight Plan (FPL) page and save it for future reference. Take off, select
GPS NAV navigation at say 5000 feet, get up to altitude and leave the flying
to the Autopilot. Then go to the procedures page (PROC) and select the ILS
approach for KBLI... activate the approach and follow the instructions. Do
this a couple of times and you’ll get a feel for the capabilities of
this unit. Pretty soon, you will be looking up frequencies, using the NRST
page and saving and re-loading flight plans for future use. Once you get used
to the function and graphics of these units, you will never go back to the
The Professional Expansion Pack
The Professional Expansion Pack
If you choose to purchase and configure multiple GNS units in a panel, the Professional Expansion Pack comes into play. It provides the linkage that allows you to cross fill flight plan data between the units, just like in the real thing. Now, in the real world one of the key reasons for having multiple units, is to have a backup unit in case of equipment failure. This is of less importance in the virtual world, but it certainly looks realistic and allows several screens to be open concurrently, which can be handy. The Expansion Pack also provides another layer of detailed configuration options, which are documented on the Reality-XP web site.
With multiple units installed, the Drop Stack window also opens up new possibilities and can be expanded to be a de-facto panel manager, as in the Dreamfleet A36. If you have the interest, there is a real depth of capabilities in combining GNS and Jet Line avionics and taking your in-flight navigation to a new level. As mentioned below, however, this is not for the Newbie or the technologically challenged simmer!
Luckily, the Reality XP forum at Flight1 provides support to those who venture into this area and there is a Reality-XP support e-mail service as well that is very responsive and will try to assist you in any way possible.
On my test system, these gauges operated without any performance impact. There are some suggestions in the documentation on how to make these gauges perform on slower systems, but I have not tried this and would refer to the support forum for advice if you are considering this.
Just like the Jet Line gauges reviewed earlier, the 430/530XP gauges by Reality XP are in a class by themselves. If you have a number of high performance aircraft in your hangar, you will find that these gauges integrate nicely into most cockpits and in many cases help elevate a good basic panel design to a great flying experience.
In many ways the Reality XP gauges deserve a Five Star rating... they clearly have set a new standard in gauge design and are a “must have” for any serious Flight Simmer. The documentation, however, is frustratingly complex and often confusing. For the real enthusiast, I guess this just adds another layer of challenge to what is already a fairly complex set of instruments. For the new simmer, however, this is a real hurdle to overcome – and thus the four and a half stars!
|What I Like About the 430/530XP Gauges|
|What I Don't Like About the 430/530XP Gauges|
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