Friday, May 31, 2013

Orbx Elstree. Our impression!

FSX/P3D. Well it's about time. Here before you is my very first review that does not include FS9. For me, P3D is all about VFR flying. No fancy NGX for me. At least not yet. So now that I have finally discovered the amazing benefits of sharp crisp landscapes and vistas of low and slow flying, I can finally dedicate my thoughts to the company who pioneered life into the proverbial FS airstrip. I'm talking about Orbx and all its amazing teams of various developers. For my first P3D review, I head over to England and spend some time at the latest Orbx scenery from Russ White: Elstree. This place has the oil in the concrete that is so real, I actually slipped and fell in it. Lest anyone think this is a small review because the scale is small, you would be wrong. I have nearly 130 screenshots in here to Bandwidth Warning those with limited or slow internet. So come with me! We're going to Elstree! 
[Updated with editors note.]
Updated with editors note at the bottom.

So as all my P3D flights tend to start out in this region, I begin at Shoreham. I am deeply in love with the Orbx Shoreham scenery and it's my favorite in the region. The 15/16 centimeter pixel texture work is crisp and delivers amazing frame rates. This team should be the prime example for all future Orbx products. Of course, this is merely my opinion. But flying the area, the performance was so good, that I could actually activate my ground traffic and activate HD cloud coverage while still getting 30 FPS. Needless to say, I am having a lot of fun at Shoreham. I would have done a review for it but my partner Dom had it covered. So I decided to add it in this review just so I could say how well of a job was put into this product. Great job to the Shoreham team!
The next thing I chose to add to this review is the Ants Airplanes Eaglet! This is a very well done flight model that handles very realistically. This aircraft in comparison with the Carenado C172 for example, the C172 handles very stable. It's known for this. But the little Eaglet is much more rugged. The second you are off the ground with even the lightest crosswind, you have to be quick on the stick in order to maintain heading. This is a model that handles like it should and it will require your constant attention and efforts. As such, it's much fun to fly and it keeps me on my toes.
As you can see, the exterior model and VC are perfectly detailed. This is a little known company and I want to throw some attention their way. They deserve kudos for their works. But hey, you can download a free demo of all their toys here: If you are fond of lite sport and training aircraft like me, you will totally love this plane.
So all preflight checks are complete, walk around done, let's get this show on the road... I mean in the air!

Once again I want to point out the amazing frame rates of the area surrounding Shoreham. Lots of custom autogen and no frame impact. All Orbx sceneries should be like this.

Wheels up! Now as Elstree is on the North end of London, there is a lot of Class B airspace to fly through. So I decided to at least fly above the weather and climb out to 7000AMSL. Sadly, we won't see the city today...
Okay, before we start to descend into Hertfordshire, I wanted to point out a few things, first: if you need to know my system specs, you will find our specs on the left hand column. Also you will notice I have all features activated. 
So as we have descended below the weather, we start to get a really good feel of just what FTX England brings to the table. A very realistic sharp and crisp landscape. FTX regions look so damn good, that I even prefer it over VFR France's 3D Automation technology. I have VFR France Haute Normandie installed and frequently fly from Shoreham into the Northern France region. Both look great, but there is just something about Orbx' texturing methods that make it a step above.
In fact, the FTX regions look so good, I learned that I am far more distracted flying in P3D than I ever was in FS9. There is just so much to see. I even tend to gravitate toward to high wing aircraft just so I can see the ground better. The runway 08 approach gives a very accurate feel of flying over those typical suburban England neighborhoods.
Off in the distance to the right you can see the Hilfield  Reservoir come into view.
Off to our left we see the Elstree power station.
In the above shot, we see the well manicured lawns just before the 08 threshold. Very crisp!
The infamous M1 motorway heading south to the Bent Cross interchange to London just below the approach. Or North to Leeds... Both are places I love to visit.

I decided last minute to run a touch-and-go. I also wanted to see the scenery on the opposite approach before runway 26.
In the above shot, we also get the very first glimpse of that amazing 1/2/3 centimeter pixel resolution ground textures.
On the ground.
And back up.

In this shot, we get an idea of the scenery departing from 08. 

Making our wide right turn, we now line up to approach runway 26.
Just below the elevated threshold of 26, we see Haberdasher's School for Boys on the right of the treeline come into view. The girls school is on the left of those trees.

Now safely on the ground, I can finally say: Welcome to Elstree!
Now, both Elstree and Popham sceneries were released at the same time. I had a choice of which I wanted to review. I think Popham is a very good work and it's quite exciting for a grass airfield. But my rationale for choosing to give my impression on Elstree instead is due to the fact that I am personally quite bored with the grass fields. There are so many airfields in England, I imagine the scenery development choices are based on a number of factors. And Orbx developers really need direct, and uncompromised access to the airfields which is not as easy as many would think. Still though, there are many paved airfields in England I would love to see and as such, I sincerely hope we start to see more paved runways. 
Even if they are only half paved as we clearly see in the photo above!
We find our parking position! It's time to whip out the Nikkon and take some pictures! Now besides the simple fact that Elstree is a "concrete" airport, there are other reasons why I feel this destination was a sound decision. As most modern day paved airfields are in England, Elstree was a WW2 base. And I am a major WW2 buff. So it's the history of the airfield that has my interest as well. And like all these old WW2 bases, they are all for fun and learning to fly these days. In my case, it's all fun! So let's head over to the front of airport and work our way back inside.
The immediate entrance off of Hogg Lane we see Firecrest Aviation and general use hangars and buildings.
The depth of the texture work here is very sharp. I don't know if it really get's much more real than this. Love the fence work.
This pretty blue building is home to Helicopter Services. I can almost see inside. The building accurately shows its old age even though it's only a week old at the time of this review. But who am I kidding, there is no building. Well, there is but... you get my point...
Moving over to the side, we get a look at the cars in the side lot. Lots of cars present really show the popularity of the location. I really love the trees as well. Very nice.
That is one very real looking hangar that has seen many days and many aircraft.

Now in this above shot you really get what I meant when I said I slipped in the oil. Looking at the above 1cm/pixel ground work in the above shot I just can't help but imagine the team photographers walking around and taking pictures of the ground. In my opinion, the groundwork can really make or break a project and here, the realism is among the very best I have ever seen in FS. Couple that with those trees, the clutter objects, fences.... We have one really realistic product in our hands.
Speaking of the clutter, it's the details in the little things that make a huge difference like the pallet to the left containing materials contained in shrink wrap the wooden boxes etc.

Not just a good place to learn to fly in real world, Elstree is also a great place to learn in the sim as well!
Where are you going dude?
Real or not real? That's the question... Because it is... but it ain't.

Another thing I really love about Orbx products is the atmosphere they create with each scenery. From the ambient sounds of birds chirping in the distance, to sound of aircraft starting up and extending flaps... Sometimes, it's just nice to just sit and watch the life around the airfield. People come and go chatting among each other, birds flying around, trees swaying, animals grazing, and let's not forget the AI traffic... Besides this, it's also the simple things like grass, trees, and custom autogen. Everything seems so real. Things like this simply used to be left to imagination. But now, there is something to look forward to each time I arrive at an Orbx airfield. This is something you just wont get flying the heavies and also what makes VFR flying so much fun.
This guy is enjoying the paper. Personally, I would rather spend my time spotting :)
Great texture work! I love the contrast between the old rusty look of the hangar vs the white color of the white bungalow. Very nicely modeled and textured objects. These guys know detail!
Everything is represented perfectly as in real world. Each object in its place. The depth of the photo-textures really shows and thus add to the realism on the environment. Almost nothing is left out.

All these folks are really enjoying a nice day at the airfield even though the weather is not so great. I really like all the cars.

The control tower is is very nicely done. I love the reflective transparent glass textures. Besides this, just look at the texture detail, did the photographer have do climb aboard a cherry picker in order to get those close up shots?
Another interesting thing about this tower is the activity taking place inside. As you roam about the airfield, you can clearly see the rather peaceful life of this place. But inside the tower, there is a problem. Something is wrong! But what is it? What is happening in here that all the other folks don't seem to know?
The guy in the black jacket is on his cell phone talking to someone and he seems very concerned about something. What what's even more disturbing, is the fat dude in the reflective vest. He is clearly pissed off about something waiving his clipboard and arms around pacing back and fourth shouting something I can't hear. He is not happy. So what is the deal up here? What the heck are these dudes up to? Maybe someone from the development team can clue us in on what is happening...
Moving out of the tower, we get a really good look at those roof textures. I have something I want to say about this. A lot of developers tend to get lazy when it comes to roof textures. They use some poor aerial photo which always tend to look blurry. In my opinion, the roof textures should always look as sharp as the ground textures. As this is the simulator, a lot of us tend to pan around a lot in exterior view so seeing the rooftops is something that is always in our view. Thus, the rooftops really should be done better overall. In this case, this is likely the very best looking rooftop I have ever seen. Yes, it's filthy, under poor repair, and ugly. So in other words, it's perfect. Well done job here.
If it's one thing the various developers always get right with each project, it's the ability to perfectly capture the environment very realistically! I love it!
I am waiting on an AI traffic package for the region. Once again, I am WAITING of an Orbx AI traffic pack for the region! HINT! The statics look great and they really give the airport that busy look. But still, even though there are people moving around, I still can't help but feel lonely. I like to see aircraft moving around, taking off and landing... The statics are great. Among the best. But come on guys, please give us some AI.

Still moving around, we get another feel of the immersion of this place. 

Really love the textures!

Good sir! Keeping the area clean!
Good crisp tarmac textures from the ramp, to the taxi way, to the runway, all the way out to the...
...surrounding areas! Everywhere is so crisp and sharp. Great depth too!
See what I mean?
Now everything looks great during the day in mid-summer. But what about winter?

Ah! Yes! Just as depressing and gloomy as in real life!

Now Elstree is an airport that is meant to be enjoyed from dawn till dusk. So if you are hoping for that 9pm arrival, turn back. There will be no runway lighting to greet you. But that doesn't mean that there isn't anything to see here at night though. In fact, I highly recommend you push your arrival to just before sunset. Just because there are no night operations does not mean there is nothing to see. The night work is quite good and highly realistic.

Folks still hangin out in the dark. Well, pass the beer!

Maybe some cars could have had night texture lighting though?
I just love this one! How the light splashes off the tower and on to the ground. Is that fat guy still ranting in there? Yep...
No night textures on the aircraft either? Bummer.
So Elstree. There you have it. A great airport location. Amazing textures, perfect. All just perfect. Right?



Now before I go down this road I should que my disclaimer.

One of the things that makes AirDailyX what it is, is our affinity to give our honest opinions. And it does not feel right to hold back my honest opinions due to commercial pressures or if it is regarding a developer whom we have a close relationship with. The moment I start to hold back, is the moment I no longer feel comfortable writing for a blog I have given so much of my life to over the past year. I start to defeat my own purpose. I would never want to compromise such a relationship or portray the people of Orbx in a negative light. And I certainly would never give my opinions in a disrespectful manner. It is my position to be as constructive and respectful as possible while expressing these feelings. My will to take the time and write these impressions is purely driven by my passion for flight simulation. My intentions are good. I hope our dear friends will understand.

The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my partners.

I have to honestly say that I am not fully pleased with the project. Whereas the looks are spot on 150%, it's the performance that has me upset. What is the point of something that looks so great if you can't reasonably enjoy it? As I stated earlier, Shoreham, a much larger airfield with very crisp texture work (abate not as crisp as Elstree here) gets me at least 30 FPS and it looks damn great.

As I stated earlier, I am bored with the grass strips.  I am sure there is a positive market for all the English "grassports"  under development, but they are simply not appealing to me. I even tried installing some of the older UK2000 airfields in an effort to get more pavement and almost threw-up all over my keyboard. Orbx has spoiled me to the point where it's very difficult to fly anywhere else. It wasn't the PMDG that made me want the FSX/P3D platform so bad. It's was Orbx. It still is. I was perfectly pleased with my VFR flying experiences in FS9. But those damn blasted Orbx previews just kept making my mouth water. I wanted more! So much so, that I dropped nearly $1,200 on system upgrades this year just so I could enjoy them better. Orbx is my reason for finally joining the FSX crowd. 

But what I don't like is the appearance of a lack of uniformity between the Orbx development teams. Many independent teams working within their own methods and skills. Now don't get me wrong here. It is not my position to insult the business model Orbx follows. In fact, it works very well. But the issue with this is, you just don't know what you are going to get till you get it. And by this, I am purely talking about performance. Each and every Orbx scenery is perfectly beautiful just like Elstree here. Sure some may look better than others but all of them are absolutely stunning no matter how new or old. Payware or freeware. They all are amazing. But why are they all so different performance wise?

I had a long talk with my wife about this subject. I was wondering if I were crossing the line by publishing my feelings on this subject and she had a good point on something. This is what she said to me:

"If I buy a particular TRESemmé brand of shampoo for my hair, and my stylist recommends another version within the same brand, I fully expect that no matter which type I use weather it be volumizing, split remedy, or other, the one thing I fully expect is that the brand will completely live up to it's quality standards no matter what sub-product I choose." 

This really got me thinking and asking myself about the quality control methods at Orbx, and why it seems (to me) a slight lack of uniformity between sceneries. I see it all the time from reader comments here at ADX and on other sites and forums. People complaining if they learn that a certain developer is working on a particular airfield. And if the name Holger Sandmann comes up, they give such high praise. Why is this?

In my personal experience, some Orbx airports like Orcas Island, Cushman or Felts among others are just amazing in both looks and performance. But if I go visit Harvey Field or Jefferson County, forget it. Down to single digits with major stutters. 

Another example lies with the airports around the Calgary area. As an extremely talented FS development artist, all Vlad's Canadian airfields seem to perform poorly on my system.
Airdrie is such an amazing piece of artwork. It's beautiful all the way down to each blade of grass. But I was totally shocked to find my frames drop into single digits on approach to the rural airfield in a simple ultralight. Taxiing was even worse. There are few options to disable within the scenery options menu and when I made my concerns available to Vlad, his response although polite, was basically to say that my system is inferior which left me feeling a bit insulted and blown off. If I can run a much larger Orbx airport with positive performance, how is it that a small rural airport runs so poorly under the same settings?  I was thinking I was the only person with these issues but my partners had the same experiences as well. Another user also made these same issues clear in the forum topic. So what's the point of it all if you can't reasonably enjoy it? Or if only a minority of people can? Getting back to my point, there appears to be little uniformity between the developers at Orbx and thus, sometimes, it can really be a box of chocolates on what you get when it comes down to performance. But I can not assume this is everyone experience. Only my own.

Now I know there are other factors like location and the surrounding autogen density that can also have an effect on performance, and I do recognize the developers of Shoreham for making an entire town that had almost no affect on my frames. So it seems some teams are clearly far more advanced than others. But my question is: How is the communication between the teams? And: Is there any cross mentorship? 

Now with Elstree, the reason for the low performance is quite clear and you already know what you are going to get. It's right on the box: "Incredible 1cm, 2cm, and 3cm/pixel ground poly. So if you have a lower end to mid range system, that's your cue right there, proceed with caution. At least with this scenery, you fully know what you are going to get and it looks just so damn amazing. You want it! You have to have it! You saw the pictures above, I myself slipped in the oil! It's simply incredible and among the very best i have ever seen. (BTW How many times have I said that already?) I tip my hat to the development team. I am just that impressed.

But my true question is: is this texture depth really necessary? Do I really need it to look this good in order to enjoy it? 

Is it worth sacrificing the performance?

I imagine the response would be something like: It's the price you pay for such accuracy and immersion. Maybe they will say they received no performance complaints from the beta testers or other customers.

But in my opinion as good as it looks, the texture depth defeats the purpose of enjoying the scenery. And I am sure requesting lesser textures for projects like this are simply out of the question. So whereas it's very detailed from a visual aspect, from a performance aspect, it's just too detailed. I feel that the general performance of this airfield is compromised by everything from the gritty rooftops down to the oil on the ground at such a high resolution. I want a good looking airfield just like the next person, but at what cost? It's my belief that FSDT is pushing the boundaries too far with their texture detail. CYVR kept wanting to crash P3D so much I had to remove it.  But on such a small scale that Orbx products are, I don't want to feel the same way here. 

With CZST, this method worked perfectly due to the size of the airfield and the fact there were very few small buildings. But Elstree is much bigger, and has far much more.
I think the lack of a newer platform from Microsoft has led developers to continue to push the limits even harder with FSX. So how far will it go? As I said, the likes of Shoreham and Felts are damn good enough texture wise with great performance. With Elstree however, once in the area, here come the stutters. So I go from mid flight at about 60 FPS to about 10-15 on approach.  I can manage the FPS but its the stutters of my system trying to keep up with that deep resolution that just ruins the whole experience for me. It loads it all so quickly. I never see un-textured buildings or blurries. But slow nonetheless. And I do believe many simmers are using upgraded mid-range systems like myself. 

But for what it's worth, performance is the only negative thing I had to say about Elstree. I admit, I was like a child with excitement when I saw the very first renders. I just couldn't wait to have it. But I am also a bit sad.

I know I am new to P3D, and I do realize my system is perhaps not the best for the platform. But if any of the Orbx staff or our readers feel I am over reaching in my feelings here, please tell me. If I am simply a N00B, you can say that too. I am planning a lot more P3D and Orbx impressions for the future, and I want to be on the right track.

I had a great and many positive things to say about Elstree because it still looks so amazing. It really does. The developer is extremely talented and the end result clearly shows. Without a doubt, Orbx is among the very best in the elite of FS scenery developers. I am a huge fan and will continue to be for the long haul.

I highly respect the various developers of Orbx, and I commend all of them for their hard work. 

I really love Elstree... I do. I just wan't to be able to enjoy it too..

EDITORS NOTE: After this impression was published, there was a bit of conversation that took place on the Orbx forum regarding my claims on Elstree's performance. SEE HERE After some advice from Russ White (Elstree's developer) I now realise that the performance issues I experienced actually have very little to do with the 1,2,3 cm/pixel texture resolution. I was also happy to see that my mid-range system specs were also not to blame for my single digit performance. So after a quick and easy task of removing the volumetric grass, the frames suqeezed up enough and got me out of single digit frames but the prime culprit here that caused such poor frames was in fact Elstree's geographical location. I am referring to one of my favorite places in the world diplicted in the picture below:  
Thus given the enormity of dense autogen in the London and Canary Warf areas, even with Elstree unchecked from the scenery library, the frames were only slightly improved. So perhaps this can somewhat go to blame on my system being unable to handle large cities with heavy autogen like the Seattle area in the FTX PNW region which performs about the same as London here. So Elstree, an amazing work by Russ and totally 2 thumbs up from me. But sniff.... I still can't enjoy it. This also leaves out me getting the Aerosoft London scenery any time soon. Besides, it's not compatible with FTX anyway and to even get it to work requires jumping over some major hurdles.  

I could bump down by autogen sliders but then the neighborhood areas around Elstree would look barren and empty so whats the point?

So finally another pavement England airfield with no grass and damn... I have to pass. Until my next supercomputer that is...


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Anonymous said...

Honest opinions are why I come here. Thanks for that write up.

Anonymous said...

I think it would behoove Orbx to have some cross pollination going on between teams. Even more so with regions.

Anonymous said...

When it says "Bandwidth warning" y'know AirdailyX is up to something good!

Anonymous said...

This is a very informative and honest review. Orbx can either address your poor experience due to their products performance, fix the flaw, or shrug this off. But definitely can not take it against you as you did not blatantly say that their product sucks. Your review reflects appreciation where credit is due, but also provides honest opinion which leaves a room for improvement. We, as your readers, appreciate nothing else but honesty and we thank you for giving us one every time...

Anonymous said...

Great reviews! Don't forget that many more factors come look around the corner when it comes to performance. FSX is a give and take playground and for each setting, each time of day, each plane and each direction the sliders need to be adjusted and played around with.
The eye candy is amazing in this product where the performance might be an issue for many.

I'm not a fan of the new model of work by ORBX, it's their choice and their company but due to that choice they start to lose the old trusted look and quality they had in the past. I'm thinking they are more money focused then the quality focus they have had.
Never the less, these reviews and airports with high detail are a nice addition!!

Anonymous said...

You hit it right on the head, D'Andre. Sharp pixels and performance don't see eye-to-eye. Don't care how much brush stroke you make out of a canvas, if it doesn't carry it's own weight then what good is it to the eye of the beholder. One thing you forgot to stress is the fact that all these "flowee" things (people flow, etc) are just a huge drain on the system. Animation is good for asthethics but a major pain if you're running them on average systems. I stopped buying orbx stuff because they are becoming more and more generic-looking these days. Grass fields and animated animals, insects and people just does not cut it for me anymore. And what's with the $32 worth of grass across the board for every airport scenery product? I think they need to really afford price to scenery where it really deserves value. Not all of their grass pasture sceneries are worth $32 everytime.

Anonymous said...

These days I only support the Orbx developers who have also made freeware, theres a core couple of them if you check the names mentioned on their freeware website

Anonymous said...

Great in depth review, open and honest so nothing to argue there, at the end of the day what is decisive is the used hardware and we all have our opinions on that, I can honestly say that on my system it runs smooth with all sliders pretty much maxed out, real weather, AI at 100%, the works, I get between 23-36 fps, having my fps locked at 40 and yes I've tried all seasons dusk, dawn etc.
there always will be a trade off between what's possible with used Hardware and what not, we all make our own choices and have to live with those accordingly I suppose

Anonymous said...

It's not the texture resolution that is causing any negative performance, it's the huge amount of 3D grass in the scenery. If you use the Control Panel provided with the airport you can quickly turn off all the 3D grass and have much better performance.

Anonymous said...

Nice review D'Andre.
There will be many more hard runway airports to come for Eng and Wales!
John L

DAndre Newman said...

Looking forward to it John!!

Anonymous said...

What weather program did you use in the screenshots D'André? Some of those clouds look freaking stunning ;-)

DAndre Newman said...

REX+Overdrive for P3D

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