For a while now, it seems product development in the flight sim world has stagnated somewhat. Sure, there has still been a steady flow of the usual products being churned out but they have been much of the same we have been used to, just another aircraft add-on here or airport add-on there. New flight sims were also in the making, but we now know they will not see the light of day as anticipated. Other press announcements also promised much for the future, but could they satisfy the communities thirst for something which is truly next generation.
One such announcement came back in December 2017 from Orbx's John Venema, outlining Orbx's product road map for 2018. Now if you had not been following the Orbx Forums closely, this announcement created more frenzied excitement than a ferret in a rabbit burrow. What did you say, entire regions on a photoreal base – so, it had been done before! What was that you call it, TrueEarth, with comprehensive and complete building and vegetation placements, thousands of hand placed landmarks and POI, complete seasonal and night variations, integrated GIS components, and hand edited textures – well, OK, now you have got my attention! What about integration and compatibility – fully compatible with other Orbx products! Could this be too good to be true!
I will be honest, I have never been a photoreal scenery convert. Limited and inconsistent coverage, flat and featureless (except for terrain mesh), and with some token autogen scenery scattered about. So, I might understate it, but either way it certainly has not been sufficient to get me excited or, more importantly, to grab my flight simming dollars - oh, and those dollars! You either had to be content with flying in a limited area or have the printing press churning out the bills in a dimly lit, smoke filled room out the back if you wanted a more comprehensive coverage – and then there was the quality of the photoreal base, inconsistent colour, no seasonal variation, and in some cases, a lack of compatibility with other scenery products. So Orbx's announcement, at least, made me look twice and even the early alpha shots were more than teasing. The question remained, though, could Orbx bundle the final product to be attractive enough.
Orbx EU Netherlands TrueEarth is available from Orbx Direct as a 'download only' product. It is priced at AU$54.95, or the equivalent on currency cross rates and the download file size is approximately 77.8GB. The downloading and installation is all managed by the FTX Central 3 application and this provides options for creating a local backup copy of the product if you so desire.
Notwithstanding the file size, here is the first point for a potential problem. The installation process uses the temporary directories of your computer, typically found on the C:\ drive. If you have limited capacity on this drive, you may get an installation error. Nothing to fear though, all you need to do is remap the temporary directories to another drive with sufficient capacity. There is a thread on the Orbx Forums explaining how this is done.
Note. Orbx EU Netherlands TrueEarth is currently only available for P3D v4. When available, the same licence will enable it to to be installed to all versions of P3D and FSX.
Orbx EU Netherlands TrueEarth naturally covers the entire country of the Netherlands. While this might not seem outstanding by some standards, when you consider the diversity of the regions within the country, it starts to take on a more challenging perspective from a development viewpoint. Whilst lacking in any serious terrain relief, the country is beautiful in many other ways and provides an excellent place to explore and also venture to destinations in adjacent Germany and Belgium, or further afield to Europe generally.
Orbx have been pushing the boundaries in scenery development for over 10 years, and well before they were a commercial payware developer. The release of EU Netherlands TrueEarth represents another leap where Orbx have used a combination of ground breaking technology and a natural evolution of their existing technolgies, such as CityScene, advanced night lighting, and autogen techniques, to deliver a product previously never thought possible. Whilst Orbx have previously employed a photoreal base with a range of their region and airport products, it has never been on this scale. This is just the first of many TrueEarth releases, with the Pacific Northwest, United Kingdom, and Ireland already under development.
Specific features of Orbx EU Netherlands TrueEarth include the following:85,000 sq km of photoreal terrain;
Now I have already prefaced that I have never been drawn to the traditional photoreal scenery of the past because of its boring blandness. Whilst some efforts where made with some products it still did little to present as anything but raw orthoimagery. However, take one look at what Orbx have done with EU Netherlands TrueEarth and I will defy anyone to not be astounded to the point of being blown away by the richness of detail. This is not simply taking orthoimagery and adding some water masks. Obrx have painstakingly enhanced the base imagery to truly deliver a product that is worthy of a next generation descriptor.
When you first load up EU Netherlands TrueEarth, the consistency in the quality of the base imagery is striking. The imagery for the entire country has been colourised and balanced, removing any evidence of seamlines and other image imperfections often seem in other photoreal scenery products. This colour matching process has also ensured that EU Netherlands TrueEarth is consistantly colour matched to Orbx's Global BASE and Global openLC Europe products. The other significant outcome of this detailed process is that it delivers a comprehensive rendition of five seasons and full night lighting, two features which Orbx have become renowned for in their region and airport series.
The next feature of EU Netherlands TrueEarth which jumps out at you is the level of detail in the cities and towns, right down to the smaller villages and urban areas. The evolution of Orbx's CityScene building technology was first seen in their CityScene Gold Coast product. The application of the CityScene technology provides for far more detail and accuracy than traditional autogen. This has significant improvement impacts on the quality of the autogen in a number of ways. It enhances buildings with an unusal footprint, it provides higher detail, such as roof detail, and provides for better long range visibility. Now, you cannot talk about the Netherlands without talking about water. This is the next major area where the quality detail of EU Netherlands TrueEarth stands out. With large river systems and the Port of Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, not to mention the large bodies of water in and surrounding the country, this was going to present natural challenges for any photoreal scenery developer. In the same approach Orbx took with the land scenery, extensive work has been undertaken to again balance the colour of the water textures and painstakingly remove the anomalies associated with the orthoimagery. This is no mean feat when you consider the high volume of water vehicle traffic in the country and their footprints and the obvious effects of sun glare on orthoimagery.
The amount of water also presents another problem, bridges, and we are not just talking about a few bridges here and there, for the Netherlands is littered with them. I am sure nearly every flight simmer has encountered a bridge in scenery which is misaligned or even completely out of place. In the case of EU Netherlands TrueEarth, Orbx have painstakingly matched all the bridges accurately to the terrain and imagery and major bridges have been custom modelled. Orbx have never been content to develop just basic scenery add-ons, instead, they have always done that bit extra. In the case of all their region series products, they have made it a standard to give all major airports within the coverage area a makeover. With EU Netherlands TrueEarth, Orbx have done even more than that. Every listed and unlisted airport in the Netherlands has not only been included and matched to the photoreal underlay, they have also been updated to the region series standard.
I have already mentioned the increased level of detail and other benefits which come with the application of the CityScene technology, but Orbx have not been content with leaving the autogen scenery there. There are areas of EU Netherlands TrueEarth which are not covered with CityScene technology. As has become a default standard with their region series, Orbx have created custom autogen textures specifically for the Netherlands. Buildings with these custom autogen textures have been accurately placed throughout the country. No scenery add-on would be complete without autogen vegetation, and EU Netherlands TrueEarth does not disappoint in this area either. Orbx have compiled autogen vegetation from multiple data sets. With varying degrees of density and variety, the autogen vegetation has then been hand edited and accurately placed to provide a high level of accuracy.
The Netherlands is a country with some unique architecture and prominent landmarks. What would a scenery add-on of the Netherlands be without traditional windmills – and the scenery is dotted with these, and all modelled beautifully. Objects seem to endlessly fill the scenery whilst maintaining a natural, balanced look. In a country which relies on wind turbines for part of its energy requirements, EU Netherlands TrueEarth is literally dotted with wind turbines. Orbx claim to have accurately placed approximately 2,500 of them in the scenery – it certainly seems like it but I will let you count them if you want. With accurate vector data, including AI traffic consistent with the regular region series, flying VFR in the Netherlands is a breeze. Finally, the Netherlands is renowned for being flat, to the point that some parts of the country are below sea level, and with the exception of some foothills and low range hills in the southeast and central parts of the country respectively. However, the 5 m elevtion mesh in EU Netherlands TrueEarth provides visible terrain relief. A small consolation from 3,000 ft and even irrelevant the higher your flight level, but nonetheless, it is there.
To say that EU Netherlands TrueEarth is a scenery add-on replete with a level of detail unsurpassed nearly fails to describe how good this scenery is. Orbx have always pushed the boundaries and lifted the bar and yet even these cliches fall short in portraying the extent to which Orbx have gone with this product. Every little detail appears to seamlessy integrate into the landscape. Sure, there are minor errors, but in a package this large these can be forgiven, if you can even find them at all, and Orbx have always been proactive in providing regular updates to their products to correct such errors.
Orbx have packed a lot into EU Netherlands TrueEarth and for a scenery add-on covering the expanse of the Netherlands, you could understand there might be some limits to how far they go. Of course, maximum use of the Orbx libraries has been made, but there is still more to this scenery. There are so many custom buildings and objects dotted throughout this scenery. It seems no matter where you fly there is a custom object of some kind.
The major cities and towns feature some beautifully crafted custom buildings, from cathedrals, churches, and museums, to dock, harbour, and refinery complexes, not to mention the plethora of bridges. Then there are the traditional windmills, and where else would you be but the Netherlands for a traditional Dutch windmill. Among other areas, Orbx have recreated the famous UNESCO World Heritage site of the windmills of Kinderdijk. There are a number of different types of windmills at Kinderdijk and Orbx have modelled each of them to provide a fantastic representation of this site.
EU Netherlands TrueEarth seems to be crammed with custom buildings and objects. Be mindful though that some of Netherland's cities are densely populated, so trying to find these beautifully crafted buildings can sometimes be a challenge in itself, particularly in the larger cities. They are like hidden gems in a maze of autogen, but this is what sets EU Netherlands TrueEarth apart from just another scenery add-on. Where others may just be content with autogen, Orbx go that extra mile.
The quality and time Orbx have invested in the custom buildings and objects lifts EU Netherlands TrueEarth to a new level – it truly brings the scenery alive. Whilst the Netherlands might be somewhat featureless as far as terrain relief, this has been replaced by the sheer quantity and quality of building and objects, making for a great place to explore.
As part of the installation, a 12 page User Guide is provided in Adobe Acrobat format (.pdf) and is accessible from the FTX Central 3 application. Other than providing an overview of EU Netherlands TrueEarth, it also provides comprehensive information on the EU Netherlands TrueEarth Control Panel, quick reference simulator settings.
With my frame rate locked at 31 frames per second and most of my settings set high to very high, I enabled all features in the EU Netherlands TrueEarth Control Panel. I then flew a range of aircraft around the scenery area. Whilst I noticed some frame rate drops, around Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, these areas are renowned for such performance drops. After various setting changes and testing, there is nothing to suggest this frame rate drop is a direct result of EU Netherlands TrueEarth. In all other areas, EU Netherlands TrueEarth performed excellently within the settings I have in P3D. Of course, this is also system dependent and paying heed to the relevant sections in the User Manual should avoid any disappointment and provide optimum performance for your particular system.
So, Value for Money! How many superlatives are there in the English language to describe this? Simply, in a word, outstanding says it all. At AU$54.95, if EU Netherlands TrueEarth is indicative of future TrueEarth products, then Orbx could be on a definite winner. For the money, this would have to be one of the greatest Orbx scenery products since the release of FTX Global BASE.
Orbx's EU Netherlands TrueEarth is currently only compatible with Lockheed Martin's Prepar3D Version 4. At the time of writing this review, Orbx are working on optimising the product for Microsoft FSX, FSX:SE, and Lockheed Martin's Prepar3D Versions 1 to 3. However, no timeline is available on when this will be complete. FTX Central Version 3 and Microsoft .NET Framework 4.5 are also required.
The specifications of the computer on which the review was conducted are as follows:
Intel i7 990X Extreme 3.46GHz;
NVidia GTX980 G1 Gaming, 4GB, 1228/1329MHz;
12GB, Kingston DDR3, 2000MHz, XMP T1 CL9 HyperX;
Windows 7, (64bit); and
Lockheed Martin Prepar3D v4.
Additional Major Add-Ons. Active Sky for P3D v4, Active Sky Cloud Art, SPAD.neXt, FS Global Ultimate region series, Orbx FTX Global BASE, Orbx FTX Global VECTOR, Orbx FTX Global openLC series, Orbx FTX region series, Orbx FTX airport series, and Orbx FTX Global Trees HD.
Orbx's EU Netherlands TrueEarth is stunning and it delivers on so many levels. Orbx have gone to great lengths to produce a very high quality photoreal scenery add-on of the likes never before seen in a single product of this type. Leveraging the various scenery technologies that Orbx have developed, they combine in one product to produce a scenery add-on which will surely become the new benchmark for the future. What is even more exciting is, this is the first of many planned scenery add-ons in the TrueEarth series, with a number of other titles already slated for a 2018 release. The accuracy and level of detail in the scenery is incredible and the quality of the custom modelling of buildings and other objects demonstrates the passion the individual developers have for producing a product of such a high quality. Geographically, it is positioned to offer many flying adventures to countries already covered by Orbx's European region series, or it simply provides an excellent focal point for flights in the gorgeous country of the Netherlands. Sometimes words and screen shots just cannot do a product justice and this is true of EU Netherlands TrueEarth - there is just so much in it. The end result is Orbx EU Netherlands TrueEarth is a scenery add-on of the future, and oh what a future it is looking to be.