Horizon VFR Generation X Volume 2
A review by Fred ‘mulletman’ Clark

Visual flying in FSX just got a whole lot more real

It has been quite some time now since we first saw photographs of the ground imported into Flight Simulator. The last Incarnation of the sim, FS2004, featured photo real ground textures at some of its more detailed airports.

Many add-ons have come out since then, free and at a cost, but all feature the same problem. The resolution that FS2004 allowed ended up with many of the textures looking very blocky. The terrain elevation data also did not allow for hills to be portrayed as they should be.

However, along came FSX, giving the developers the possibility of super high resolution textures over large areas. 1m elevation data and 7cm texture resolution. Immediately we say 2 major developers announce that they planned to create super high res ground photos for Britain, in direct competition with one another, Just Flight and Horizon Simulations.

Just Flight took their data form Infoterra, and Horizon Simulations took theirs from a better known name, Getmapping. After many forum posts across several forums as to who’s was better, Horizon released theirs. Unfortunately though, in the rush to get it out, they neglected to include some of the features they said they were going to with the original release – Night textures and water bodies. They did however release the scenery with the promise that they would.

Just Flight on the other hand waited. When they finally released their Volume 1 (Horizon released all 3 volumes at once, Just Flight are releasing one volume at a time) it did include Night Lighting and Water bodies.

It’s not hard to write well over 3 pages of review arguing for or against each product. However everything that would be said, you have probably already heard on a forum somewhere. So its time to stop mentioning Just Flights name, and focus on Horizons rendition of the Scenery.

Milton Keynes. Every building can be picked out! I even saw a baseball diamond I used to train on.

I got my hands on a copy of Horizons product way back in December last year. Volume 2 was installed onto my hard drive long before SP1, and I got flying. Well, I say I got flying, the original version of the disk to me several hours to install due to some very buggy installation software. And even then after several hours of installing, hitting OK at the wrong moment would cause it to become corrupted and you would have to start all over again!

Thankfully Horizon knew about the problem, and posted instructions about how to install it correctly, before releasing a patch to the install on their website. After I installed SP1 I re-installed the VFR scenery using the new setup and it went perfectly fine. Its simple too – simply run the disk via the setup program, rather than directly form the DVD ROM.
The installer offers several options, including the option to install night textures that don’t exist. You can only get the feeling that Horizon released this disk prematurely. Although I understand why any developer would release a product that they knew was going to be popular earlier than scheduled, Horizon should have waited for the night textures to be complete. Or, at the very least, removed these options form the install menu (as well as the mention of night texture in the Manual and on the box), as it looks extremely unprofessional – and is basically false advertising.

The other options on the install menu are really useful. The 3 Volumes that Horizon Sell, Volume 1, Southern England/South Wales, this volume, and Volume 3, northern England/North Wales, can be installed in any order, and each is then broken down into 3 separate areas. Options to save hard disk space by reducing the resolution of an area from 1.2m/pxl to 2.4m/pxl will have an effect on how the sim looks – but can prove extremely useful, if you never fly in Wales for example, then reducing the resolution for the area will stop hard disk wastage.

There are lots of disused airfields to explore…. …but this one appears to still be in use – although not by aircraft. I would be interested to know why all those cars are parked on the runway.

The DVD ROM box contains a user manual, full of information about setting up FSX, how to improve performance within FSX, and in general tips of how to enjoy the scenery. As I said, there are errors due to the fashion that the package was released, but the majority of the manual is welcome information. Due to the massive amount of dada included on the 3 DVD ROM’s (the box states that there are 4) there is no option to buy the package as a download product.

Of course regardless of how well a package installs, the proof is in the pudding, and only once you have flown about for a while will you learn why when FSX is coupled with high res ground textures, the lines between simulation and the real world get blurred.

Getmapping’s data when used in FS has been criticized in the past for being too colourful. Purple hills, orange fields and red roads all received complains from the media, and more importantly, customers.

So I expected to see much more of the same when loading. Surprisingly despite the overwhelming strength of the colours that the data includes, the number of oddly coloured areas is minimal. In some areas the data used is far superior to other areas – Norfolk being probably the best example of this within Volume 2. Its not that the resolution is decreased, but the colours become much brighter. Orange seems to be a reoccurring theme.

Thankfully these areas are minimal. Not only that, but the areas of that colour are merged with the areas that appear in more believable tones, with absolutely no recognisable border.

Although I cannot speak for the other two volumes, Volume 2 cased a substantial problem within FSX that so far has been acknowledged, but not fixed by Horizon. The entirely of the area covered appeared underwater in FSX’s map and GPS terrain view. Although it has no impact on the fact that you can land on land, it is a very ugly situation indeed; and one that should be amended very soon.

Runways that have been placed by FSX do not necessarily line up with the ones that the VFR scenery draws onto the ground. This creates what has been termed ‘ghost airports’. Not only will there often be another runway alongside the one you are attempting to land on, but much of the airport elevation data for the airports is higher or lower than the mesh that horizon include with the package.

UK2000 are working very closely with Horizon, and as a result their merges are seamless.

The good news is that Horizon Simulations have teamed up with UK2000 Scenery to start fixing the problem with a series of Airport’s that flatten the land around the airports, getting rid of the cliffs, and align the runway with the ground image.

In exactly the same way that the previous version of the VFR scenery did not offer seasonal textures, neither does this version. Images are taken from the spring/summer/autumn months in the UK and as a result, even though there is eftively only one season, I think that the colours do not distinctively say “this is summer” or “this is winter”, and so you will not feel that you should be flying in clear skies when it is overcast in December.

One of the surprises that Horizon announced just before release was that they had upgraded the planned 10m mesh to a 5m mesh, and what a fantastic decision they made! I was totally amazed to see a railway valley opposite my house represented in full detail.

And when flying along road I travel nearly every day, I could pick out rise and falls in the road with ease.

The scenery is very flat when at ground altitude. This is simply because of the lack of autogen. However, I found that when flying at 3000ft the flat landscape was non existent and such was the level of detail in each house and building it comes to life. Even up at the higher altitudes I was enjoying the landscape, the trees and bushes along the edge of fields being a particular highlight for me.

If, like me, you begrudge still not having autogen available, then Horizon have been regularly previewing one of the upgrades that they plan. The 3D objects demo (for the demo area/volume 3) is available on their website, and the full release will hopefully come later this year. Not only this but Horizon also has plans to release ultra-high resolution towns and cities, at 60cm resolution free. And I thought the 1.2m resolution was stunning!

Although I have mentioned many things that don’t make this product sound any good, I would certainly say that for any UK VFR flyer, this product really is a must have. The superb resolution of the textures, the hours you can spend finding all the little Easter eggs (race meetings, words on the ground, closed airports), the detailed terrain mesh all make this one hell of a product.

If Horizon go ahead and produce what they have promised, I cannot see myself leaving the UK in FSX anytime soon. Something I rarely did in FS2004 – look out the window – has become the only way to fly for me in FSX.

Mulletman's Generation X Photo Gallery - Click on thumbnail for full size picture
UK2000 are working very closely with Horizon, and as a result their merges are seamless. There is a distinctive colour change here, but I defy you to find the line between them. The scenery looks stunning as it stretches away into the distance.

Getting closer to my home – Great Horwood.(on the road that I live on).

You might be amazed at what is around your home, here Winslow is in the distance (my home town) . And this is Winslow itself – My house is in this shot, although I’m not telling you where!. The railway valley I spoke of in the review.. Milton Keynes. Every building can be picked out! I even saw a baseball diamond I used to train on.
VFR flying is demanding when the terrain is shrouded by cloud. Slightly too far out here – but the band of scenery across the UK is clearly visible.

Birmingham Airport and the NEC. One of the better aligned airports.

Some 3D landmarks have been kept, although the rest of the autogen is gone. This is Birmingham town centre.
A merge near Aylesbury. You can see the Bucks County show going on in the centre of the picture!. An area of missing ground detail. Whatever area you are over will disappear from Map view. Another overview of the scenery stretching into the distance. Luton Airport, with some ghosting going on.
Sharp cliffs put Luton on a plateau. Another border merge near Luton. The FSX cars should work on the scenery, everywhere. There are lots of disused airfields to explore…. …but this one appears to still be in use – although not by aircraft. I would be interested to know why all those cars are parked on the runway.
Snetterton racetrack, in Norfolk. A small meeting appears to be going on. A more famous racetrack close to my home. Yet another meeting seems to be happening here. The Majority of volume 2 is quite flat, however venture over to Wales and the terrain changes dramatically. An FSX bug is causing these lines across Afon Mawddach. A fix is available on AVSIM.
Look at the level of detail on the ground!  Aberystwyth. Britain’s Amarillo.  Shadows form the original photos are cast over the scenery. In some cases this is pleasing, in others it’s unrealistic. Looking out of the window and seeing the rocks is far more daunting that looking out onto the default terrain textures!



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System Specifications

  Minimum Recommended
Software: Flight Simulator X (Standard) Flight Simulator X (Deluxe)
Operating System: Windows XP(SP2)/Vista Windows XP(SP2)
Processor: 1.5 GHz 2.0 GHz
RAM: 512 MB (XP)/ 1024MB (Vista) 1024 MB or greater (XP)
Graphics Card: 64 MB 128 MB or greater
Hard Disk Space:(per volume) 6 GB (for 2.4m/pix scenery) 22 GB (for 1.2m/pix scenery)
Graphics Drivers: DirectX 9.0c Compatible DirectX 9.0c (Shader Model 2.0)
  Mutley says.. . . .

Thanks again goes to Fred for writing this excellent review.
This is certainly looks like scenery to die for!


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