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Laminar Research : FlightSimExpo 2019

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Laminar Research : FlightSimExpo 2019

 

As another year sets on the annual FlightSim community get together it was who had won. Obviously the Expo vs Conference battle was won out by the significant attendees in Florida, but you have to feel for the original conference organisers that in reality have had their show taken away from them... it shows where the money is going, but it hurts for the small people that created something significant and only then to lose it.

 

Vegas last year in 2018 was a big and successful show (FSExpo is going back to Vegas for 2020). Again Laminar Research had a big presence with three organised events, the first for a WED 2 demonstration of the Friday 7th June, with the big one set for 4.30pm on the Saturday 8th June...  the June 9th event was a competition on landing a B737-800 at PAJN Juneau, AK RWY 08.

 

Notably the June 7th Seminar was the focus from our point of view, but overall it was quite a light agenda compared to the extensive seminars in the past. Personally I don't think this was a Laminar issue as the allotted time for the seminar was only 45 min, and Laminar noted they had wished they have had more time for more details, above that 15 min was then allotted to X-Plane Mobile, so in retrospect there was only 30 minutes allotted time on the actual simulator, which is about half the usual allotted seminar time and it felt like it.

 

X-Plane Mobile

It is a bit like Apple with IOS and MacOS in that IOS is the portable (iPhone/iPad) operating system and MacOS is the desktop version, and gradually they have been coming together from their different realms, and so it is with X-Plane Mobile and X-Plane Desktop. Early mobile applications had to run in an extremely limited environment, so effectively it was a very basic simulator...  now currently it is as functional and as effective as a desktop...

 

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Only 1º of the original X-Mobile was X-Plane in the original code, to the 73º shared code now. So X-Mobile has gone from a very basic application to a full simulation application. Personally I think X-Plane is too small on a SmartPhone, I think really that X-Plane is mostly in this guise is still aimed at the tablet/iPad market, and it works fine on there.

 

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There was one area though that X-Mobile users all wanted, and that was more than the current five airports, and so we will soon have...   Global Airports.  Chris Serio has been the coder on X-Mobile, and now he announces that Global Airports are coming to X-Mobile soon and it is called Glo-Mo.

 

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Glo-Mo will come with the same 3D rendered airports (WED Based only) as the desktop version, 35,000 airports altogether with 10,000 in 3D, but to note X-Mobile Glo-Mo is a subscriber application, and not a one off download. The bonus is of course constant updates as it is now only downloaded from the cloud, the downside is cost... in other words it a new Laminar cashflow stream. Noted as coming this (Northern) summer in say late August.

 

X-Plane11.35

In the X-Plane11 roadmap the next update is v11.35...  and due today 11th June 19. But not much was mentioned of any other releases later in the year (Vulkan/Metal withstanding), so it is a sort of enjoy it while you can.

 

X-Plane11.35 will now come with 10, 275 Global 3D airports with the aim to ceiling around 20,000 airports, and for a 3 Year target that has been remarkable, but a lot of the global scenery varies between excellent to average depending on the developers skills, overall the detail is excellent and highly usable. I personally would like to see these 3D sceneries graded in stars ***** to their usability and quality.

 

Boats: Like any art coming out of Laminar the quality of the boats are excellent, and no more of those nasty white hull extra white sail artifacts that dot a lot of the sceneries including paywares. All objects are placed in the new WED 2 application, but the detail is more than the actual boats, with marinas and pontoons as part of the new detail in sixteen choices, so from now on realistic marinas will be part of your simulation.

 

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Landmarks: The landmark caravan also continues with two new cities of Washington DC and New York now being added into the simulator... Washington DC includes a large range of objects including the Capital Building, The White House, The Mall, Pentagon, Lincoln Memorial, JFK Theatre and Dulles Airport....

 

 Washington 6.jpg Washington 1.jpgWashington 2.jpgWashington 3.jpgWashington 4.jpgWashington 5.jpg

 

New York adds in the Statue of Liberty (Island), Lower Manhattan, Freedom Tower, Empire State and all the main bridges in the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Verrazano and Williamsburg structures.

 

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I will always debate the time spent on doing these "Landmark" objects, were as the simulator still requires a lot more in the general categories, in other words leave it to the 3rd parties to do these extensive cityscapes...  but New York is interesting in one point of view. The problem with NYC is that if you use a very highly detail airport, say JFK and a 3rd party cityscape it is horrendous on your graphic card, unless you reduce your texture settings right down to low or average. This NYC version of X-Plane may give you a halfway solution in a very nice NYC skyline without that nasty framerate hit, so we shall see.

 

Sound

Laminar Research has now brought on board a specialist for sound. Daniela Rodriguez Careri is from Argentina and she is bringing her skills to soundscapes in using the FMOD system built in to X-Plane11. In v11.35 the KingAir C90 and the Boeing 737-800 have had the full dynamic FMOD aural makeover, but expect all the default aircraft to get the same treatment over time. Sound detailing exceptional and now reaching payware standards (but not the specialised sound packages).

 

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All sounds including (basically noises) in opening shutting of doors, systems and switchgear, all are dynamic and give you a far deeper immersion simulation.

 

Systems

Over the last few years Phillipp Ringler has took over the systems portfolio from Austin Meyer, and that is not a bad thing as Austin has a tendency to wander away from the computer with one project or another (see below). Last update saw Phillipp concentrate on the Autopilot, Oxygen Systems and Anti-ice/de-ice systems and the Propeller governors. In 11.35 the areas again covered are extensive.

 

Fuel System: The Fuel System has had attention (mostly because addon developers have been complaining loud and clear). In many ways the fuel systems in X-Plane have not had attention for years, even for a decade... so they are extremely basic. Biggest complaint was the restriction of the actual fuel tanks and fuel systems available, like say the tail trim tank. So the system has had a huge welcome update in v11.35 with header/feeder, AUX and trim tanks all now available. Transfer of fuel has also had attention, for auto/manual and cross feed systems. Trim fuel is also a biggie in that the centre of gravity can't be adjusted with the flight, or in flight like with Concorde that requires different fuel weights at different positions on the aircraft for supersonic flight. Fuel tanks can now also be oddly shaped (wing tanks) and the developers will now all rejoice.

 

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Bleed Air: Another system that has had no attention for years. Overall there are multiple ways to start aircraft engines and in fact the bleed air from the engines can be a significant effect on the realism of the simulation with not only the starting procedures, but with also the environment on the aircraft. The sources are multiple as well with not only the on aircraft main engines and built in APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) but also the external GPU (Ground Power Unit). Again the Bleed systems were pretty basic, but here all bleed systems have had a significant upgrade, with Pack, Anti-Ice, Starter Motors and hydraulic pumps all getting attention. And again keeping the developer happy is now they can design up to three packs and with multiple isolation valves, if any bleed air is used it also will have an effect on the engine performance...  electrical systems are also affected if you use the air conditioning, fans or heaters...  again in other words it will bring more realism into the aircraft's systems and also affects the aircraft's performance.

 

APU (Auxiliary Power Unit): Early X-Plane systems of the APU were quite basic, it turned on and you got electrical power to the aircraft, and that was basically it. Certainly in expensive addons you can get the full APU treatment, but now those features are now built in as default. Now there are electrical and air bleed loads, the APU EGT (Exhaust Gas Temperature) also now responds to APU loads. Start up and cool down times and if you have an APU fire you have the loss of pressure and the instant loss of power.... and yes the APU will go on fire via the particle effects, and all these are customizable for 3rd party developers.

 

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Extra Improvements: Phillipp Ringler also adding a few extra improvements that he felt were required. A few listed are an extension of his last output in v11.30... with DME hold functionality on all NAV radios, and now you get separate audio with NAV and DME radios. Your battery condition is now affected by the use of the starter motor torque and igniters, or in other words, churn the starters too long and you will run the battery down.

 

New autopilot modes for track, Flightpath, angle and ref speed climbs are also a follow on from v11.30 and you now get HOTEL mode for turboprops or a 'propeller brake' while allowing the turbine to run, and therefore also the generator in providing electrical power and bleed air, but the prop is stationary (see my Carenado SAAB 340 review).

 

"DC dies while AC Lies" is related to analog gauges that has the characteristic of “lying or dying” when power is removed, that system feature is now active. And finally is the Non-Rigid nose steering that adjusts the camber of the steering as it turns.

 

Collins 65

Not noted in the Expo seminar is the inclusion of another Autopilot system in the Collins 65 in v11.35. This Autopilot is mostly found on the KingAirs and is a nice new addition to the extensive list of default autopilots now available... my guess it will go into C90B. Images here are of the Carenado KingAir version, but they are identical.

 

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Designing AVA

Austin Meyer always has a side project to keep him busy. His latest is designing an electric BETA's Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft or Ava. It looks like a huge GA drone with 8 Vermount maple electric motors wrapped in Carbon Fibre. it was designed in Plane-Maker and flown using the standard X-Plane flight model. The rotors lift the plane up vertically and and then tilts forward for flight, so it a hybrid in the sense of a tilt-rotor.

 

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X-Plane was used to create the flight model and design the aerodynamics for effectiveness... in other words if this experimental aircraft will actually fly, and if it did then how would it react in the air. So all the details were honed in the simulator and test flown... of which there was a flight demonstration.

 

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Obviously it flies, but the last image threw you completely, in yes X-Plane proved the aircraft could fly but Austin Meyer has actually built and is flying this hybrid machine!

 

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So if Mr Meyer is not at the 2020 FlightSimExpo you can safely guess he was killed in an aviation accident, if he appears, then it also proves X-Plane's dynamics are actually correct... what a way to prove something, interesting concept though.

 

Vulkan/Metal

The focus of this seminar was always going to be the new APIs or Application Programming Interface of which is the main interaction of the programming graphical user interface (GUI) components..   X-Plane since it's creation has always depended on the OpenGL API created by SiliconGraphics in 1991, even with updates you can guess that an API created in the early 1990's is going to be totally outdated by today's standards.

 

Vulkan- Windows/Metal-Apple API is the more modern system for graphic processing in multi-threading high-performance realtime 3D graphics. Vulkan is intended to offer higher performance by having or giving you a more balanced CPU/GPU usage. Currently graphic processing in X-Plane is not very efficient, it relies on single thread chip processing and the graphic card to do all the heavy lifting (the bigger the graphic card the better).

 

So X-Plane11 is moving over to the Vulkan/Metal API universe, but we are looking at a core section of the simulator in doing so.. so changes here are deep but highly progressive in creating a very modern and efficient simulator.

 

The progression of replacing OpenGL (OpenGL will still be available for the XP11 run, but not for XP12) with Vulkan is pretty much the full focus of Laminar's resources right now and the reprogramming of the switch over has been going on for over a year or so.

 

So this seminar was to see the progress and an update of what to expect when the changes happen, which will be X-Plane v11.40... and what you expected was a Vulkan/Matel demonstration of it actually running live... that didn't happen, but what you had was notes and data of the progress.

 

Current Development

This is were we last saw the progression porting of the changeover and about half of the list was then completed, currently the whole list has now been completed.

 

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With that list now all crossed out then X-Plane can now run in Vulkan/Metal...  and here is the image (not a video) of X-Plane now running in the new API.

 

FSX Vulkan_3.jpg

 

Performance

So what is the biggest power hungry area of X-Plane? It is the textures and mesh that creates the X-Plane environment, and although OpenGL was good, it was also slow. That slowness created screen freezes and glitches, it also created restrictions on tile loading and screen building.

 

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Replacing Vulkan with OpenGL means that that these processes are now becoming more efficient, but X-Plane now also has to work harder... but it also means you as the application creator can also have more access to the process, so you gain a little speed, but also more movement in what you can actually adjust for efficiency.

 

So some numbers in that Nvida processors do run faster, but not significantly so, Ben Supnik notes at around 15%. The biggest gains are for AMD processors which don't run currently very efficiently in X-Plane, and what Vulkan does is pretty well level both chip designs lineball more equally with a 20% to 30% gain.

 

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A note is that an old graphic card is still an old graphic card, and it won't suddenly come to life if there is less pressure on it, and that is because it is still under the power line and doesn't use the latest processing technology. The help here with Vulkan is with good modern graphic cards (8K+) in raining in that runway GPU memory and that view is supported here with this graph, if you have that modern Graphic Card and even with a few different choices, they will pretty well all run together as a group...  that older video card is really left now out of the game (the lower red line).

 

FSX Vulkan_8.jpg

 

On Metal/OSX then there are more gains for AMD processors, Ben notes even 50% faster (graph below left is "lower is faster"). Those spikes (circled) are stutters, which are plain nasty in a simulator, so the idea is to eliminate them for a smoother simulation...

 

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...  it is the same in Vulkan with the those sets of dots high up, you could call them "Stutter Dots".

 

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That is effectively where the Vulkan/Metal transition situation is right now... so what is there left to do, and there are two items with "Texture Paging" and "Plugins"

 

Texture Paging

As we noted above with using Vulkan/Metal that a lot of what that OpenGL API used to do, can can now be transferred under Vulkan/Metal to the actual X-Plane simulator code itself. 

 

Better efficiency gains are gained by moving critical areas away from the main system memory (slow) to the VRAM memory (fast).

 

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So first you need to transfer the non-critical areas that don't need fast video processing to be put back to the main system memory and then replace it with the critical areas that do need that on the spot fast processing, and a good example here are the clouds (puffs) to be moved over to the faster VRAM memory from the slow system memory.

 

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As we noted that textures are the number one roadblock to an efficient simulator, in loading, resolution and processing. So to get your graphic card to be very productive then it requires to process the pages more efficiently and for most times in the background... More textures in the VRAM however can cause stuttering unless you to write the code that resizes the textures automatically, and this then ensures that the low-resolution textures are always at a minimum and are always ready. If you can do this then this is were the biggest gains can be found.

So the focus now is on the Texture Paging itself, (loading) page in the background, automatically raising or lowering texture resolution (very interesting) and having those "Low Resolution" textures always ready.

 

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Plugins

A big issue is that when Vulkan/Metal replaces OpenGL, then a lot of current addons (aircraft) and Plugins will simply stop working because they are created under that OpenGL API's rules. So you can't simply fully eliminate OpenGL just yet, but OpenGL will be gone on X-Plane12.

 

So for now to allow developers to transition to the new brighter faster world of Vulkan/Metal APIs there has to be a compromise. First OpenGL aircraft and Plugins will be still supported via an exchange through the VRAM to Vulkan/Metal, but it still has to work. My gut feeling is that Ben Supnik still expects a lot of aircraft and plugins to break as he noted that v11.40 will be a long (tedious) beta run, but in a goal Laminar is trying to minimise that painful rollover effect.

 

FSX Vulkan_21.jpgFSX Vulkan_20.jpg

 

In many ways it will be a mirror to the 64bit conversion of a few years ago, with "a bit of pain now" for a better future. And don't let us forget this is deep gutting of the simulator to bring it up to a world class and a future proofing of your simulation flying, and will fill in areas that Laminar couldn't attempt under the older API (water, better textures, larger tile footprints and of course extended night lighting).

 

There are a few other areas that Laminar want to get also transitioned now, in the UI (User Interface) and 2D panels (menus) that will work still unmodified on the Vulkan/Metal API (in other words in not to redo them all) and with current Addons.

 

v11.40 Schedule

The Vulkan/Metal X-Plane version should get preview or beta this year (note late 2019) with a full transition due in 2020...

 

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Developer Tool updates include WED2.1 and others, Blender Model Exporter and Blender 2.49 updated to 2.7x with a conversion.

 

A personal note is that Graphic Cards are feeling the strain, even if they are maxed out to 16gb of VRAM, although the current trend is to use two or more Graphic Cards together with the "Crossfire" or (SLI" (Scalable Link Interface) to create a single graphic card interface. But my current needs (I don't use a lot of custom orthos) is 12gb, so 16gb would give me a 4gb headroom.

 

Summary

In reality if you wanted a future roadmap of X-Plane development, then you would have come away from Orlando a bit short changed. X-Mobile is getting Glo-Mo or global airports away from the current five and few more enhancements and that is due end of the northern summer.

 

X-Plane11.35 is out now, but I recommend waiting for b2 as b1 has an issue. This v11.35 has new objects in Boats and associated items like piers and pontoons, more Landmarks with Washington DC and New York, Updated systems with Fuel, Bleed systems and APU enhancements with also a new Autopilot system with the Collins 65 system. Two aircraft in the C90B and Boeing 737-800 have also had extensive FMOD sound enhancements.

 

Austin Meyer has been working on a new project called AVA, which in reality is a full GA sized drone, created and tested in X-Plane the real version is an amazing aircraft if it doesn't kill Austin Meyer in the meantime.

 

Big news was of course the Vulkan/Metal API transition from OpenGL. A lot of the work is now well and truly crossed off, but two in Texture Paging and current Addon/Plugin support is still under development. A preview or beta is noted towards the end of 2019 and a final is not due until 2020, the beta is expected to be long painful and focused on addons (aircraft) and plugins.

 

For any other items on the longer roadmap the seminar was rather thin, no additions to v11.40 or notes on past the API's to v11.50 (I expect the ATC for 11.50)... or even hints of pretty well anything else... with just Vulkan and Metal shows the list is also now getting rather thin, if you discount major water, texture and weather overhauls of which I now expect to passed into the X-Plane12 release.

 

Overall Laminar Research had a great weekend, but don't expect much now until the end of the year and the v11.40 beta release, and after the huge feature packed past last few years it feels overall rather empty.

_________________________

 

X-PlaneReviews can't cover absolutely every change or bug fix with the version update, and so the 11.35 Release notes are available here at the Laminar Research Development pages:

 

X-Plane 11.35 Release Notes

 

X-Plane 11.35 is available now for download. Run your X-Plane installer application or download from Steam.

 

______________________________________________________________________

 

Analysis review by Stephen Dutton

11th June 2019

Copyright©2019: X-Plane Reviews

 

Slide images are courtesy of Laminar Research

  

(Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions)
 

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