The “FS Global Ultimate “The Americas” title implies that more is on the way. Compared to previous FSGlobal products, like FSGlobal 2010 and FSGlobal 2008, this package only contains The Americas. The Americas, by the way, covers the US territory – USA main land, Alaska and Hawaii - , Canada, Central and South America and Antarctica.
Confirmed by myself, FSGlobal products in general deliver a completely new and different flight experience by replacing the topographic database of the default Flight Simulator X or FS2004 (FS9.1) scenery. Earlier FSGlobal products used SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission) data. Later FSGlobal versions, starting with 2010, use better sources like NED (National Elevation Data set).
For those who aren’t familiar with the term LOD, let me offer you some background information. Terrain elevation in Flight Simulator is expressed in terms of the Level of Detail (LOD). The quantity (and quality) of the data in the simulator’s default scenery, varies by region. According to Stefan Schäfer from PILOT’S; “For his FSGlobal Ultimate project he assembled the currently best available data in reasonable resolution. It does not make sense to deliver the “Great Plains” in the USA in a resolution of LOD12 (9m). Flat is flat. There is no benefit for you, and FS 2004 can’t even display it! Furthermore, the amount of data gets extremely huge. Resolution itself is not the only thing responsible for the looks of your world in FS. At least as important are algorithms and error correction when converting data into FS readable scenery files. Our experience helped us to improve these, compared to previous versions of FS Global.”
Stefan continues that “Earlier FSGlobal products where based on SRTM data, however, starting with FSG 2010 and up, additionally do use much better sources. For example, for “The Americas” USA (Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Samoa) and Mexico we used NED, for Canada we used CDED, for Costa Rica and Ecuador “aic.ac.th or in plain English local meshes” and finally for the rest of South America SRTM. Microsoft used SRTM data for parts of the FSX default scenery as well, so why do we need FS Global? Maybe this gives a first impression; the highly compressed FS Global Ultimate “The Americas” terrain files have a total size of about 25 GB, while the terrain files of FSX Professional add up to 1.26GB, barely more than a twentieth of the size. Although FSGU only covers some continents, they aim for a better quality.”
In a separate section, right after this, I’ll give you some more information that’s written in co-operation with Stefan. The reason for this additional information is to make it clear that it’s not all about higher LOD’s. A higher LOD is not always a guarantee for a better output and a more realistic mountain. What’s also important to add, is information on the backside of the DVD box.
This tells you that “it comes with six DVD’s for implementing FSGlobal data into FSX/FS2004, and while the standard scenery in your Flight Simulator World is rendered with elevation points a massive 1.2km apart, FSGU provides new mesh terrain with points only 2m (!) to 76m apart. No longer will your favorite areas appear as a poor representation of real-life. Now mountains soar as they should and valleys plunge. Even coastlines and rolling hills will be more lifelike making every flight a genuine delight.”
So much for the Introduction. Now it’s time to offer the necessary data that will give you a different view on what and how to see FSGlobal products, especially when you want to compare this with other competitors.
Some in-depth information ….
This section deals with some background information that finally results in the “crème de la crème” of mesh sceneries. In this section, I’ll try to offer some background information about mesh terrain, which was only possible with the input and screenshots from Stefan Schäfer from PILOT’S, who helped me with this. No, don’t worry, the review is still based on my own experiences, but it helped me to get a better understanding that not only the source material, LOD is important, but many other aspects as well.
The problem starts with how we start to only compare the available LOD with each other. Although LOD is an important issue, items like source material are important too. What about the techniques used? All these aspects together make or break the mesh scenery quality. Together with some sample screenshots, I’ll show you how it looks compared to the real image or photo with the mesh scenery product. That real image or photo gives you, logically, the real view of a mountain. When you have that, then it’s worth seeing with your own eyes, the differences between the real and mesh product and for some this could be astonishing.
According to Stefan “but there is one basic thing to understand: it is not the LOD number, which makes the quality of the scenery. I can render a 76m source (which is LOD 9) to a LOD 14 scenery (which it 2m res) with the effect to just produce masses of data and still have a 76m "looks" of the scenery though it nominally is 2m. It is the quality of the source data and the data processing which makes the day.”
Stefan continues, “So I am not really happy that most out there compare LOD numbers, especially when this is done with FSX default. One might jump to the conclusion that the differences are marginal, which in fact is not the case. Microsoft has drawn LOD 9 (76m) in various regions for consistency or other reasons. But data sources have resolutions of 250 m and even more whereas FS Global have 76m at worst!”
Ok, let’s give you some examples, and although not all are within the United States, they will still give you a good idea of the differences between a real photo, the default FSX, FSGlobal 2010 and, if applicable, FSGlobal Ultimate. When space permits, we’ll show other competitors as well and once more I want to make clear that this is not a promotion review for PILOT’S! No, the idea is to show you different screenshots and the impact when different source material is used and/or other processing techniques.
First example deals with the Dufourspitze in Switzerland.
And no, we’re not yet ready with this. The main reason for you to see all these differences is to convince you about FSGlobal impact. We all know that FSGlobal has offered mesh scenery for years and it seems with every new product, the LOD is lifted to a new standard, but at the same time, the processing of the source is modified. Modified means in this case producing an even better output and that means an even more realistic look compared to the real mountain or whatever you’re comparing. By the way, don’t expect a high quality look alike when the scenery is flat. Flat is flat and stays flat! It’s logical, but not always clear to others.
Let’s go for some other examples, but this time based on ASTER data sets. For those who aren’t familiar with ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer), it’s an imaging instrument flying on Terra, a satellite launched in December 1999 as part of NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS). ASTER is a cooperative effort between NASA, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and Japan's Earth Remote Sensing Data Analysis Center (ERSDAC). ASTER is being used to obtain detailed maps of land surface temperature, reflectance and elevation.
ASTER‐Data sets. are freely available in GeoTIFF format and they can be converted into BGL files within minutes without special knowledge with the help of files from the FSX‐SDK. Here a sample of an area in the Himalayas, the 8200m high Cho Oyu.
Normally I would say that these examples are enough, but there’s one more example I want to show you. Why? The following examples or comparisons let you understand that LOD is a nice figure to have, but only a small issue in the final process to a realistic and high representation of the real mountain. In between the source LOD material and the final product, there’s a long way to come to nice results. So, never again say to others that the LOD is the most important factor for mesh sceneries! Ok, now it’s time for a last comparison and a sneak preview of FSGlobal Ultimate Europe.
What have you seen and learned from this section? I hope I’ve made my point clear that source mesh material isn’t all about LOD and thus “x” meters. Ok, it’s a starting point and yes, there’s a big difference comparing LOD4 with LOD 12 source material. On the other hand, same source LOD/m isn’t a guarantee for a good output or it’s better to say, a realistic representation of the real mountain or whatever you’re comparing.
Let’s say that mesh scenery developers use, for example, the same source material thus the same LOD. I hope I’ve proven with the help of Stefan that the same source material isn’t a guarantee for the same output. Since each mesh scenery developer most certainly uses a different processing technique, the output will definitely differ and looks less or even more like the real mountain.
But remember one important thing. Only looking at the output of the different mesh products like the Swiss Weisshorn above, doesn’t give you a good idea if the Switzerland Professional mesh is the right one or that of FSGlobal Europe Ultimate, till you see the real image. Although the differences are marginal at first sight, FSGlobal Weisshorn shows a better rim than the other one.
I think this is enough. Together with the text and images, you got the real information behind using different LOD’s.
Pre- and normal Installation, Settings and Documentation
Pre-Installation is just as important as the installation itself. The pre-installation description helps you out with information you need to do before you actually start with the “Ultimate Americas” installation. It’s not a big deal, but will keep you out of trouble.
- FS Global 20xx – Antarctica
Please note: Not all scenery layers do exist in all versions of FS Global. Just disable those present. Do NOT disable or remove ANY OTHER scenery layer or files.”
Another manual FSX setting to deal with for this FSGlobal product is the “Mesh Resolution”. The only thing you need to do is to set mesh resolution to 1m in your Scenery Display settings. This setting and, of course others as well, depend on your PC specifications.
What pre-installation? This was it!
The pre-installation comes in two languages; English and German. A nice item, you’re asked if you’ve read the “Readme” file. It feels like an un-important question, but the document contains relevant data before you start with the “FS Global Americas” installation. When all the preconditions are fulfilled, you chose either English, German, Italian, Spanish or French.
Next option, choose FSX or FS2004. As stated in the header, I chose/reviewed only the FSX installation and luckily, the FSX directory was automatically detected. Once all this information is gathered, it took approximately 35-45 minutes to install all the files. Remember, in total there are 6 DVD's in the package! At the end, as mentioned before, manual FSX adjustments are needed and you’re ready to go, oops, to fly.
I would like to bring up one item and that deals with FPS impact. The answer to this is very simple. There’s no FPS impact at all! The only thing this software or files are doing are enhancing mountains and valleys to a much higher standard of realism. That said, it doesn’t enhance the way the landscape looks.
The ground texture tile structure doesn’t change, so forests, urban, industrial areas, farmlands and all that’s available within the default FSX stays as it is. Just to give you an idea, Flight1’s Ground Environment Enhanced replaced ground texture tiles and reorganized the way they are presented, but FSGlobal products doesn’t do anything like that.
The DVD box comes with a small flyer with some information in both English and German. It also refers to the README FILE and PDF manuals. They are available on DVD 1 and offer you some nice background information of this FSGlobal product. When you’re familiar with previous FSGlobal 2010 and 2008 software, most of the information should be known. Honestly, there’s not much more info you need for this product. It can help you understand what it is doing, particularly with images. Probably the most important part of the document is the FSX Scenery Display change and, if you‘re able to do that, a change in your fsx.cfg.
Part I - North America
Since the US Territory can be divided into several parts, I’ve decided to split this section into part I that deals with the North America mainland, followed by part II being Alaska and finally, part III, Hawaii.
All the screenshots you’ll see are based on a comparison between the FSX default scenery versus the FSGlobal Ultimate. No other scenery enhancement program is installed, except for this US territory section (Flight1’s Ground environment X). The rest of the screenshots are based on default FSX scenery. This is the same for the FSX.cfg file, no modifications are made except at FSGlobal's suggestion to change the LOD_RADIUS.
The implemented real photos in my sections are taken with Google Earth. I’m aware that not all of these Google Earth images are the best of the best. On the other hand, it still gives you a good idea how it should look and later on, you’ll learn that FSGlobal's final goal is to get a mesh scenery output that looks as real as possible. The real images in the “In case you have your thoughts” are provided by Stefan himself.
A most important item, especially for this review, is the thumbnail. When you see the thumbnails in this section and that of Canada, you hardly see any difference between an FSX default and FSGlobal Ultimate screenshot. But believe me, there are differences and therefore you need to click each individual thumbnail to see it. The difference is not always easy to find, but it’s there.
One word about the use of Google Earth images. It’s not easy to find great images of the different mountains, craters or whatever I found in the Americas. Using others photos is not an option, although I’ve seen many places around the world, I couldn’t find a good one for this review and thus preventing copyright infringements. I finally decided, to give you at least an idea, how the mountains or craters look.
I used for this Google Earth images and although not always the best, it gives you an idea. I can tell you that it’s not easy to find the same spot and angle in Google Earth and Flight Simulator. Therefore different angles could lead to a slight wrong mountain look. Also Google Earth colors are not always excellent, but that’s the same with FSX. Without any scenery enhancement products, the ground textures of the default FSX tiles are in most cases not reality. Anyway, see Google Earth as a help, but primarily focus on the FSGlobal Ultimate pictures versus FSX default.
Part II - Alaska
What we’ve seen across the US mainland is in one way or the other, also applicable for Alaska. I’m aware there’s only one set of screenshots, but I’m confident those represent Alaska overall. The other problem I’m facing with Alaska is the lack of good 3D images.
Theoretically, a difference between LOD10 (≈38m) and LOD13 (≈5m) or even LOD14 (≈2m) should be visible. This is true for some spots. It also depends on the distance to the object. A valley adjacent to mountains won’t offer many differences while mountains slopes should show you that. Not only the slopes could be impressive, but also missing default FSX peeks and the sudden rise of hills and mountains in FSGU.
For VFR flights it all makes a huge difference flying in an area that doesn’t look real or suddenly showing you the real shapes. Remember when I write “real shapes” even LOD14 isn’t perfect, but it’s coming close to reality. Another important item to remember, FSGU doesn’t change the ground texture tiles! Ground texture tiles are, for example, changed or replaced if you wish, by programs like Ground Environment X Nhanced USA & Canada or photo-real scenery packages from Sim Savvy or MegaSceneryEarth.
When you add one of these to programs, not only the shape of mountains, hills and valleys change, but the ground texture tiles are replaced either with remodeled tiles or photo-real tiles. I’m aware I need to bring this up again. The LOD itself and thus the source material is a start. The rest of the processing is just as important for the final mesh output quality. As I mentioned before, a higher LOD product isn’t a guarantee for a better mesh scenery. That’s what I showed before with FSDreamscape comparisons.
Part III - Hawaii
Hawaii should offer, theoretically, the same kind of differences as with the other US territory sections. When you’re dealing with a valley or mountain slope, it could be that you won’t see many things. On the other hand, a rim or rising wall could make the difference. I know, not based on own experience, that the Hawaii landscape is very diverse and depending where you are during your VFR cross-country flight, and therefore differences are noticeable or not at all. Stefan wrote it already: “when you’re dealing with a flat area, it will stay flat!”
What we said before in parts I and II, is also applicable for these Hawaii screenshots. There’s not much more for me to add to this. The upper set of mountain slope images aren’t impressive although differences are available when you look closely. Remember, it’s always the best not to compare the FSX shots together, but in relation to how it should look and how it really looks that’s something you’ll see on the real image. Don’t make the mistake of comparing only FSX shots with each other because none of them tells you how the real mountain looks! I hope I’ve made my point clear!
Before I’ll continue with Canada, let’s see what we’ve seen and if it was worth the product. When you own no mesh scenery product at all, this new FSGlobal product does it again. The default LOD is even higher - for some areas – than with FSGlobal 2010 although you’ve seen that there’s more than only the LOD figure. Together with the FSX.cfg adjustment, the results are very nice.
I don’t say huge for the simple reason that huge differences are only seen between the default screenshots and the FSGlobal Ultimate with a LOD_RADIUS of 8.5. Furthermore, the default FSX US territory LOD isn’t that bad at all except the calculations are different than what they use of FSPILOT’S and that could make the difference!
Let’s be honest and suppose you agree with that, just look at the above screenshots. Looking from a distance at the Los Angeles mountains, you can see some differences, in particular when you compare the “Default FSX” with the “FSGlobal Ultimate LOD_RADIUS 8.5” screenshots.
Canada is different. Different because of the default FSX “LOD8 or below”, while FSGlobal Ultimate offers a LOD11 value according to the developer. This is a huge difference and also far more than FSGlobal 2010. I went to different places in Canada, just to find out if differences are noticeable.
The first comparison I made was just north of Vancouver, east of Horseshoe Bay to Anvil Island. This overview with the river and mountains on all sides, gives you a good idea of what FSGlobal Ultimate is doing. Don’t expect big changes like “no mountains” or “different/wrong shaped”. That’s not the case, but small changes are visible.
The 2nd set of screenshots is a close-up of the same mountain(s). As in real life, as you come closer to mountains more and more details become visible. That’s not different in FSX and therefore, more can be seen and of course, differences can be seen between the screenshots.
The FSGlobal mesh scenery is therefore much better, in particular when you compare it with the Google Earth image. Ok, I don’t like the colors in the Google image, but you can clearly see that it’s full of hills. Mountain is a little too much! Whatever you want to call it, FSGlobal offers a more realistic look of this area.
No, no more Canadian screenshots. Before moving in a southern direction to Central and South America, a few words about my Canadian adventure. FSGlobal Ultimate Canada didn’t offer what I’d hoped for. The screenshots are nice and probably represent others areas in this region. On the other hand, the Western Canadian screenshots are not impressive, but is this a correct statement?
I mentioned before, and not applicable for Central and South America, that you’re probably dealing with small enhancements. A rim looks much more realistic in FSGlobal Ultimate then the same rim in the default FSX mesh. One thing is for sure, FSGlobal Ultimate is better than FSGlobal 2010. The differences are due to newer and more advanced processing techniques.
That said, the US territory shows differences and sometimes you’ll see only see small changes, but every chance is a step towards a realistic look. So, does it disappoint me? I prefer to see LOD14 for Canada, but unfortunately, that data is not available and when something is not available, it’s a dead end. On the other hand, there’s the challenge to improve the processing technique and that’s exactly what they do at PILOT’S.
Central and South America
I’m aware that these screenshots are not necessarily enough to show you what’s possible. On the other hand, it shows right away the FSGlobal Ultimate impact, but I need to be honest with you. South America default FSX LOD equals LOD8 or below, while FSGlobal 2010 and Ultimate offer LOD9. This should give you the idea that FSGlobal Ultimate doesn’t offer much more, but beware.
Same LOD doesn’t necessarily mean the same output quality. Since FSGlobal 2010, FSPILOT’S uses better processing techniques and thus the output could be better even with the same source material available. Having flown over Mexico without making any screenshots, but it’s worth to tell you, FSGlobal Ultimate Mexico source material equals LOD10. Don’t forget that!
With this knowledge, it’s time to check the following screenshots, taken at five different locations; the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), near La Paz International Airport (Bolivia), mountains near Mariscal Sucre Airport (Venezuela) and finally at the most southern South America location, the city of Ushuaia (Argentina).
As you can see for yourself, the differences between the default FSX scenery and the FSGlobal Ultimate is impressive or is it shocking? Craters on the Isla Isabela, the largest Galapagos island, are completely missing in FSX as well as hills. Activating either FSGlobal Ultimate or FSGlobal 2010 in the Scenery Library changes this completely. Remember what I said before, although both packages offer the same LOD, it could still have different outputs.
Short or long, FSGlobal Ultimate will give a more realistic mountain or crater view because of newer techniques. Visiting the highest situated airport in the world, La Paz in Bolivia gives another experience. FSX mountains are completely missing due to the low LOD and bad processing, while FSGlobal brings those alive. I can’t say it enough. The ground textures don’t change when you’ve activated FSGlobal Ultimate! Clearly visible are the screenshots representing the overview and city of La Paz. With FSGlobal, there’s suddenly something more in and around La Paz.
What was applicable for the Bolivia and Galapagos is more or less the same for the Venezuela screenshots. This north-east South America area isn’t so impressive or am I mistaken? Hold on. When I say “isn’t impressive” I mean you won’t find any Andes or craters. Instead, medium mountains, and, after implementing FSGlobal Ultimate, a nice and realistic view of how it could be.
Our last destination is Ushuaia, one of the most southern locations in Argentina and close to Antarctica. At first instance, it seems that the FSGlobal mesh impact isn’t great, but this is partly because of the ground textures. Although the ground textures don’t represent the real scenery, there’s hardly anything down there except for green land, some mountains and that’s it. Unfortunately, reality is the more or less the same. Apart from the presence of Ushuaia, there’s not much more in this area. Anyway, FSGlobal Ultimate impact is the same. The landscape is transformed into something real, based on the available data.
To prevent any problems with user photo images and their rights, I’ve used overviews from Google Earth or Wikipedia images to show you how it should look. Wherever possible and needed, real mountain photos are available.
What’s the overall Central and South America impact? As you can see for yourself, the comparison between a default FSX screenshot and the FSGlobal Ultimate, including the FSX.cfg LOD_RADIUS modification is impressive. The comparison with as far as possible, a Google Earth image tells you that FSGlobal did modify the mesh scenery. Although FSGlobal 2010 offers the same LOD, it could still be that due to newer processing techniques, the output mesh has a more realistic look.
No idea who’s flying at this latitude, but don’t expect too much from it. I picked two areas to highlight the difference between the default FSX mesh and that of FSGlobal Ultimate. Before I forget, the available LOD8 for Antarctica is the same as that of FSGlobal 2010. That means there’s no “LOD output” difference between the two FSGlobal products, but as I’ve said many times before, the mesh output of the Ultimate version could be better. Reasons for this I’ve explained before.
As you can see on the screenshots, there’s a slight difference that’s noticeable. That’s the result, according to Stefan from PILOT’S, of the lower default FSX LOD. I didn’t have a straight default FSX LOD, but it’s clear that although a different landscape is visible, it doesn’t really impress me.
Finally, my impression between the default FSX versus FSGlobal Ultimate (and also FSGlobal 2010) Antarctica is not spectacular. FSGlobal Ultimate offers a little more than Microsoft’s mesh and therefore a slightly better look and this time no Google Earth images. Unfortunately, Google Earth couldn’t help me with making nice shots.
Summary / Closing Remarks
Did they - PILOT’S, makers of FSGlobal products - do it again? The difference on paper between FSGlobal 2010 and FSGlobal Ultimate “The Americas” is big, but the best way to judge is to see it with your own eyes.
FSGlobal 2010 covers the whole FSX/FS2004 world on six DVD’s, while their newest Ultimate “The Americas” product also comes on six DVD’s. In other words, there should be a big difference since this software only offers a small part of the mesh scenery compared to the FSGlobal 2010. And yes, I have to be honest that at certain places, where no new source material was available, differences could be marginal.
That said, since PILOT’S constantly modifies the processing technique, it could be that even with the same source material, a better output can be expected although difficult to find.
And there’s always the price/quality check. Let’s see what FSGlobal Ultimate “The Americas” cost. You can buy the product in different parts of the world, so the average price is roughly €50.00 or US$64.00. When you don’t own FSGlobal 2010, then it’s a good investment keeping in mind that this reviewed product only covers the US territory, Canada, Central and South America and Antarctica. When you own FSGlobal 2010, then you need to remember that improvements can be seen in the US territory and other places.
Not buying FSGlobal Ultimate “The Americas” and waiting until all FSGlobal Ultimate products of other continents are released, takes too long. Therefore, if you don’t own any FSGlobal product, the best option is to go for FSGlobal 2010 that covers the whole FS world and FSGlobal Ultimate “The Americas”. You then disable FSGlobal 2010 America and used instead FSGlobal Ultimate. The best available option!
I started this review proving that not only the LOD figure is important, but the combination of source material and LOD, including the processing technique. Since newer techniques after the release of FSGlobal 2010 are used, a more realistic output can be expected.
I am aware that this review offers more screenshots then you’re used to from me. If found you can only show the differences with static images. Sometimes movies help readers to explore the product. That won’t help with this kind of software.With that said, only by comparing static images between default FSX versus FSGlobal Ultimate screenshots and the real image will help to show you what it’s all about! Together with ground texture enhancement programs you can create your own realistic FSX/FS2004 world, with as a base, a mesh scenery product like FSGlobal Ultimate.
What I Like About FSGlobal Ultimate The Americas
What I Don't Like About FSGlobal Ultimate The Americas
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