Wednesday, March 6, 2013

LatinVFR San Diego - Review

FS9/FSX. The flight simulator community has been patiently waiting for a high quality rendition of San Diego International Airport (KSAN), and we may just have it thanks to LatinVFR – with a FS9 version to boot. Although the legacy FlyTampa FS9 release was fantastic for its time, it is now somewhat dated and leaves FSX/P3D users without a viable option. As most of you know, LatinVFR has been in the flight simulator add-on game for quite some time, and this product sets a new standard for future releases from this developer.

(Note to FS2004 users: I recommend reading the entire review first and then reading the comparative section at the very bottom)

Now before we get started, the standard disclosure comments. LatinVFR does indeed advertise on AirDailyX, however, to be perfectly blunt as it relates to this review, I could care less. My observations and opinions are completely subjective and unbiased. I spend my valuable time conducting reviews to provide developers with constructive feedback, not to prop up any particular product.

Next up, my personal disclaimer in regards to my review style. I prefer a photo centric type review, focusing on unique angles and perspectives. Although it may be slightly different than many other reviewers, it provides my own individual perspective of the product in a meaningful way. 

The scope of this project is surprisingly large and covers far more than just San Diego International Airport. In fact, the scenery covers more than 28 square miles of surrounding area with photo scenery and hand placed autogen. Further, enhancements have been made to Balboa Park and several missing buildings have been added to the northern area of downtown. The nearby Coast Guard base station has also been included with static helicopters and all. Given the centralized location of the airport, these additions are very important in creating a truly immersive feel. 

The airport itself includes high definition mapping for buildings and ground polygons, high resolution ground, and custom runway textures. Terminal 2 expansion has been modeled although its real life counterpart will not be complete until mid 2013. Detailed night effects, moving ground vehicles (FSX), and full AES compatibility have been integrated as well.

Installation was straightforward and easy, offering several user customization options, most notably photo scenery and autogen for the surrounding area. For the purposes of this review, I selected all items active to enjoy the full effect of the scenery. LatinVFR should be commended for posting an update very soon after release cleaning up several small deficiencies, accordingly, version 1.1 was evaluated for this review.

When first loading the scenery, I made several initial observations. Firstly, my FPS were absolutely steady without any fluctuations, I did not have to adjust my normal settings (see very bottom for test computer specifications). Next, I felt as if I was in fact sitting on the runway at San Diego International Airport, the immersion factor was there. Lastly, evidence of the enhanced surroundings was immediately evident. Now, let’s take a closer look around the airport and surrounding areas.

Firstly, the commuter terminal, home to the famous Lindbergh wall mural. This terminal is primarily used for short regional flights to Los Angeles although SeaPort is soon introducing service to Imperial, California. The terminal detail is excellent and recreated beautifully, even up close. Apron textures are crisp yet slightly worn, with well defined ground markings. Even the Lindbergh mural is given proper justice.
Some airside terminal detail, note the realistic window reflections and welcome sign.

Slightly more artistic capture conveying the general "feeling" of the commuter terminal building.

Completing a low pass of the Lindbergh wall mural, I am particularly impressed by the detail here.

Closer detail view of the wall mural, the quality is excellent even up close.

Landside detail, the terminal building still looks very good; however, the ground textures are quite blurry. This is understandable given the secondary location although many developers are putting more and more effort into this type of detail. Nevertheless, this will bother very few users.

Now moving on to the main terminals, starting with terminal 1 or T1. The smaller of the two primary terminals, T1 services several carriers including Alaska, United, and Southwest Airlines utilizing 19 gates. LatinVFR has done a very good job here and successfully recreated the general feeling of T1. The buildings are accurate and well detailed, with plenty of appropriately placed ground objects. Apron ground detail is excellent, with a used and moderately worn look. I did however make several critical observations regarding window reflections and a strange ground anomaly, read on.
Overview capture of gates 5 and 6, also note the ground service vehicles, general clutter, and apron detail. 

Here’s a larger scale overview of the T1 area including an aerial perspective of both rotundas. 

Some closer terminal detail, look closely, you will notice some odd window reflections depicting a tree covered forest. This reflection is found throughout both main terminals and may bother some users who spend long periods of time at the gate completing flight preparations. The terminal modeling itself is very well done.

Token cockpit terminal shot, again, showing off the nice terminal modeling.  

Terminal 1 gates 11, 12, and 13.

Great example of the fantastic ground detail found throughout the airport.

This capture very much demonstrates the fantastic ground and building modeling. Again, note the window reflections, likely not a big deal for most but worth pointing out.

This time, some detail near gate 10, again, very nice ground textures.

Terminal access tunnels are modeled, brick textures and all!

What happened to my nose gear? This anomaly appears throughout terminal 1 when approaching the gate area.   

Low landside flyby view of terminal 1, some very well done building and structure modeling. Similar to the commuter terminal, the ground is blurry but most aren't going to be observing this area close up.

Southwest Airlines, probably the largest user of terminal 1.

Next, on to terminal 2 or T2. This terminal serves a much greater variety of airlines compared to terminal 1. The newer areas of have a substantially more modern feel compared to the other terminal. LatinVFR has recreated the terminal 2 expansion which includes many new gates and a wonderful glass foyer – the expansion is scheduled for completion mid 2013. Similar to terminal 1, both the building models and apron detail are among the best. The developer has even ensured that newer tarmac areas have less worn ground detail. Issues with window reflection detail persist but really a small point compared to the scope of the entire terminal. Let’s take a deeper look.
Overview of some of the newer gates at terminal 2.

Overflying terminal 2 expansion - set to open in real life mid 2013. Notice the newer look of ground textures in this area, good attention to detail.

Close up detail view of gate 33, there's those window reflections again. The actual terminal building modeling is very well done and looks great.

The older part of terminal 2, specifically, gates 28 and 30. Excellent terminal and apron detail here.

Looking out towards the terminal from inside the cockpit. 

Another close up view of some terminal and gate detail.

The terminal 2 expansion includes this beautiful glass foyer, note the concessions inside!

Back to the older area of terminal 2 at gate 26, good looking Hawaiian Airlines cargo bin.

The now defunct Aloha at at the terminal 2 expansion, sadly, a sight that will never be seen in real life.

Some terminal 2 landside detail, generally quite good although again the ground textures could perhaps be improved slightly. For some reason, the glass surrounding the waiting canopies flash in and out of sight, at least on my computer. 

Now, let's take a look around the rest of the airport. I'm quite happy with the effort put into the rest of the airport, almost all details have been addressed ranging from airport fencing to well modeled fire trucks. Further, all buldings have been faithfully recreated with good levels of detail. 

The all important airport fencing is in place, an area some developers fall short.

Towards the left side of this photo you will notice some excellent airport perimeter detail.

Flyby pass of the air traffic control tower - nicely detailed. Notice the Marine Corps recruiting depot in the background. 

Just as nice close up. 

One more overview shot of the air traffic control tower, why not...

The air freight terminal located across from terminal 1.

Landmark Aviation, for the general aviation crowd. There is an included static Gulfstream business jet parked at the facility, however, it is not shown in this shot.

Here's an empty parking lot connected to the airport grounds, where are the cars?

Surprisingly detailed fire truck, well done.

The empty cargo ramp used by freight operators such as FedEx and UPS.

Another well modeled airport building. I believe a vehicle storage building or something similar.

Next, night lighting which in my opinion is perhaps the weakest aspect of this scenery. The airport looks fine from an aerial point of view as well as during the approach phase, however, following arrival some of the weaknesses become apparent. For example, the terminal night lighting just feels unrealistic, with some over exaggerated colours. Apron detail and marking are almost completely drowned out in lighted areas. Moreover, there is a distinct boundary between the custom and default autogen areas. Take a closer look.    

View during approach to runway 27, all is well from this perspective.

The terminal lighting colour seems somewhat off, particularly at ground level. Also, note the flood light halos, perhaps a little too dramatic.


Apron markings are almost impossible to see in lighted areas. In this picture the aircraft is almost directly over some ground markings.


Terminal 2 night lighting detail.

Note the blue lighting colour in this image, slightly over exaggerated in my opinion.

There is a distinct boundary between custom and default autogen. This aspect of the scenery looks significantly better during the daytime.

Aerial view of airport ground detail at night which looks just fine.

Now, let's take a look around off the airport grounds. Keep in mind that a significant portion of the surrounding area has been modeled, 28 square miles to be precise. This was quite an ambitious undertaking indeed although more and more, this is becoming the norm.

Although the surrounding detail is an important aspect of the scenery, it will be viewed significantly less than the airport itself and some compromise is reasonable in this regard. However, in my humble opinion, I believe certain parts of the surrounding area could be improved slightly, read on.

The nearby Coast Guard base station, complete with static Dauphin helicopters and all. This area is done very well and the quality is similar to that of the actual airport. Helicopter pilots should be pleased.

Watch out for birds near the Coast Guard base station.

Some low flying close to downtown near the runway 27 approach path. The photo real ground textures don't seem to work quite right in this area, and notice the patch without autogen buildings. Nevertheless, most won’t notice this during approach.

Some Harbor Island hotels, nicely modeled.

Approaching Harbor Island from the other direction.

Navigating through one of the many Harbor Island marinas, the boats look good up close and even better from the air.

The rental car area and some airport directional signs. Nice modeling but somewhat blurry ground textures.

Balboa Park building enhancements - quite an important landmark for the famous runway 27 approach. In general, this area is nicely done. 

Here’s an examples of custom autogen surrounding the airport. This particular area would be visible after departing runway 27. Very impressive work here, the density and realism is just awesome.

Another example of custom autogen enhancements on the opposite side of the scenery.

Passing the enhanced downtown area, several buildings have been added.

Nice airport signs, but the ground could be somewhat improved.

So what is the bottom line? This scenery is excellent and absolutely worthwhile. Although I have pointed out several small issues and some areas that could see improvement, the reality is, most of these points are not critical to the enjoyment of the scenery - less perhaps the night lighting. The building modeling is excellent, both on and off airport grounds. Airport apron, runway, and ground detail is fantastic, even up close. The surrounding area has been enhanced nicely, especially the famous runway 27 approach path. Plus, performance is very good, easily maintaining 30 frames per second without any setting adjustments.

Yes, there are several issues such as terminal window reflections, the odd sunken wheel, slightly blurry off airport ground detail, several patches of missing autogen, and disappointing night lighting... These issues probably prevents the scenery from being categorized in the very top tier of available releases. But don't get me wrong, this scenery faithfully recreates the feeling of actually being in San Diego. This is indeed a high quality product that in my opinion sets a new standard for future LatinVFR releases.


For FS2004 users, I've compiled a brief comparison between the two versions. In essence, the scenery is the same for both platforms although there are limitations to FS2004. The airport detail is very similar and both the modelling and apron quality is very good. Outside the airport grounds there is still substantial area enhancements, although there appears to be more patches of missing autogen - I assume due to platform limitations. Further, I noticed there are fewer static vehicles comparatively in the FS2004 version. Generally, both the positives and critical points from the FSX review translate similarly to the FS2004 version. Look below for some screenshots directly from FS2004.

The famous runway 27 approach, the extra attention to detail during landing is apparent.

Overflying the airport at altitude, you’ll notice that the airport textures look very good and neighboring Harbor Island is enhanced quite nicely.

Close up detail of terminal 1, gate 12. The apron detail is excellent and the terminal modeling appears very accurate similar to the FSX version.

Here's a closer view of the older gates at terminal 2. Notice the vehicles and ground clutter.

Boeing 737-400 resting at gate 44.

The beautiful glass foyer which is part of the terminal 2 expansion due for completion mid 2013, even the concessions are modeled inside!

Commuter terminal detail, perhaps one of the nicest buildings in the scenery.

Low flyby of the Lindbergh mural, very impressive work here.

View from the cockpit holding for departure from runway 27.

Overflying the control tower with the Marine Corps recruiting depot in the distance. 

Airport overview with downtown San Diego in the background.

The Coast Guard base station is modeled to the same standard as the airport itself.

Balboa Park below, some buildings have been added for reference when approaching runway 27.

Harbor Island hotels and ground detail.

Low pass of the airport with a view of some landside airport detail, note here are no vehicles in the parking lot.

Low pass of the airport with a view of some landside detail, note there are no static vehicles in the parking lot.

My final comments regarding the FS2004 version are quite simple - the scenery is very good within the limitations set by the older flightsim platform. As previously noted, shortcomings identified in the FSX review are generally also apparent in the FS2004 version. Nevertheless, the scenery is high quality and has set a new standard for future LatinVFR releases. On a final note, it is fantastic to see that LatinVFR is continuing their commitment to FS2004, well done!

Test computer specifications:
CaseBitfenix Raider ATX Mid Tower Case
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD3H
Processor: Intel i7-3770K 3.50GHz (OC 4.7GHz)
Video Card: GeForce GTX 670 2GB
Memory: 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP DDR 1600MHz CL9
Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 612 PWM
Hard Drive: Western Digital 1TB Caviar Black
Audio: Asus Xonar DSX PCI-E 7.1
Power Supply: Corsair TX750 V2
OS: Windows 7 Premium x64
Hardware: Logitech Attack 3 Joystick
Software: FS9/FSX

To learn more, visit LatinVFR - click here


Anonymous said...

I thought this project was dead...

Unknown said...

Awesome review Mark!

Something that bothers me more and more (in general) are blurry photoreal textures. In 2013 I think we are ready for a few gigabytes of 7cm/px imagery.

Aerial photo's are a huge part of the scenery and with the recent advances in shadow baking and abient occlusion with the textures, I think the next step would be the photoreal surroundings.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Definitely the best work from Latin VFR.

Anonymous said...

Really wish that LVFR would invest in some new Global Maps. Default :)

Unknown said...

Hi René,

Thank you for your kind words!

I think the first step is to get to the point where high quality aerial photoreal textures are the norm. The technology is there, but like most things, not everyone jumps in right away. Saying that, I think consumers are starting to expect increasingly higher levels of quality and developers are responding.

The extent of future advances with probably depend on the cost benefit of each advance. It may very well get to the point where development costs don't justify the price consumers are willing to pay.

Saying that, I'm very excited for the future and watching developers push the limits.

Bringing it back to this review, LatinVFR has made a big step forward with this release and likely will continue to do so with future releases. Hopefully an industry wide trend...

DAndre Newman said...

I also know that very high res photos can cost up to 2,000 to get. I think in the cases where developers don't want to pay that kind of money for areas like parking lots, perhaps they can do a texture bake on the ground and draw up a nice parking lot instead of just leaving that area blurry. Yes we are entering a period where less visited areas are being brought to high definitions. Back in the day, no developer bothered with cars in the lots. That is a norm now and should not be over looked.

Great review Mark, I look forward to more. Great unique review style too! It's a breath of fresh air from reviews we see elsewhere.

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