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Orbx – FTX YSCB Canberra Reviewed

Australia is the region that made ORBX famous within the flightsim community, and rightly so: their scenery products are among the best there are. Although they’re also working ‘in’ North America and New Zealand, they haven’t left Australia entirely. Let’s take a look at one of their more recent Australian airports: Canberra Airport.

Canberra is the capital city of Australia. With a population of approximately 350.000 people, it’s also its largest inland city. The site of what is now Canberra was selected to be the (newly built) capital in 1908, as a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s 2 largest cities. In this sense it is unique, as it’s the only entirely planned city in Australia. Air transport into Canberra goes via Canberra Airport, formerly known as Canberra International Airport. Canberra Airport has 2 runways, runway 17/35 being the longest one at roughly 10.700ft. Runway 12/30 is just 5.500ft long. Runway 35 is the only one with an ILS system installed. Canberra Airport is currently going through a period of expansion and construction. Due to this, the virtual rendition of the airport will not be 100% accurate with the current state of the real airport. However, it’s accurately depicting the state of the airport in October 2009, is stated in the manual.

Installation:

Installing Canberra Airport is just the same as with every other Orbx add-on: a tried and tested system that works beautifully. For this review, I used the download version. The first step after buying, is downloading the installer which is packed in a .zip file. This compressed file is no less than 1.2GB large, so you will need a good internet connection and some time to get it in. For people with unreliable or slow internet connections, or if you just prefer a DVD: there’s also a boxed edition available. Anyway, once you downloaded that big compressed file, all there’s left to do is run the installer. This will open the FSS (Flight Sim Store) wrapper, which will check your credentials. All you have to do here is enter your order number, date of purchase and a serial. All are included in the email you got confirming your purchase. The FSS Wrapper checks the credentials you gave it via the internet (although there’s also an offline option available, I haven’t tested this) and once it gets confirmation that everything is good (which takes only a second or 2, normally) it will open the actual orbx installer. All that’s left for you to do is confirm the installation path, and wait for the scenery to be installed. Easy, and trouble free. I never had any problems with Orbx software installations. In the end, the installed  version of YSCB will take up over 1.6GB on your hard drive.

Scenery:

As with all ORBX scenery products, Canberra Airport doesn’t stop at the airport fences. The surroundings are also depicted in great detail in FSX. In this review, I’ll work from the inside out. I’ll start at the airport, and move on to the periphery later.
Let’s start with the ground textures first. The entire airport in covered in 7cm/pixel or 15cm/pixel photo imagery. If you’re not familiar with  these cm/pixel ratios, just keep in mind that the lower the number in cm/pixel, the more detail in the ground textures. FSX default ground textures go to 1m/pixel (which is 1000cm/pixel, of course). 7cm/pixel is the highest detail FSX can render. So, the airport is covered in great detail ground textures, that also look very, very good. The airport periphery is covered in 60cm/pixel ground imagery, which is still a lot better than the default FSX imagery, both in resolution and quality.
The next feature to look at on the airport are the ground polygons. Ground polygons are a way of modeling a flat surface and texturing it. The result is clearer, better looking and faster loading than ground textures, but it’s more taxing on performance, and some systems don’t like ground polys, resulting in unstable performance. Orbx covered all important surfaces of the airport (runways, taxiways and aprons) in ground polygons, but they also included the option to turn them off, and revert to the ground texturing. More details on this in the ‘performance’ section of this review. Anyway, the Canberra Airport surfaces will be rendered in great detail in FSX, whether you choose ground polys or ground textures. Flying all over the airport, I’m very impressed with the quality of the base layer.
Next, we go up: modeling. If you have any other Orbx airport installed, you already know what to expect. And indeed, Canberra is a another jewel in the Orbx crown. The models covering the airport are very detailed, and look great. And it’s not just buildings I’m talking about now. The modeling goes from large buildings, to light poles, ground equipment, parked aircraft, even cars and people. Remember this add-on covers and airport in full expansion? Well, even unfinished buildings and construction sites and equipment are gorgeously modeled. This is something I really like, as it’s unique in flightsim, an unfinished airport. To support this great modeling, Orbx also delivered great textures on those models. The textures really put the finishing touch to the airport. Great detail everywhere: on the buildings, on the ground equipment, on signs and walls.

Now then, let’s move on to the area outside the airport boundaries. The entire area covered in photoreal ground textures in this add-on measures no less than 50km sq. It ranges quite far away from the actual airport, covering the Canberra Nature Park in the northwest, Majura Pine Plantation to the north, Fairbairn Pine Plantation and further to the east, a large part of Queanbeyan to the southeast and the industrial suburb of Fyshwick to the southwest. One large difference between the area outside the airport boundaries, compared to the area within, is the lower resolution ground textures, although the 60cm/pixel resolution is still high. What I don’t really like in the ground textures in this area is that you can see cars in the aerial images on the highways. These 2D, low detail blobs aren’t something I like to see. But nonetheless, it’s a joy for the eye to be flying low and slow over this area. Modeling, and the accompanying texturing, in this area is also very detailed. Especially in industrial areas, it really looks good. But even in other areas (residential, agricultural…) you get a gorgeous representation of Australia in FSX. Additionally, Canberra blends in nicely with Orbx’ AU Blue Region, for improved landclass and autogen placement. Having AU Blue installed will also add some extra features to Canberra: accurate road traffic, realistic autogen houses, light poles along roads and the airport add-on terrain blending into the surrounding terrain.

Effects and animations:

As far as animations go, by far the most impressive feature to be found in this add-on by Orbx is the PeopleFlow animations. PeopleFlow is the name Orbx gave to the technology they used to animate 3D human figures on and around the airport. This really adds to the atmosphere of the add-on, as it makes if feel a lot less like a static piece of software, and a lot more immersive. Other animations you get are animated windsocks, and road traffic if you have AU Blue installed.
Included effects all concern lighting. Included lighting effects cover the runway and taxiway lighting, light poles on the roads and aprons, and on the airport buildings. This amount of lights makes the airport really ‘light up’ at night, and looks great.

Extra’s:

There are 1 extra included with this add-on that I want to mention, and that’s the YSCB Control Panel. The control panel is a small external application, which you can use to turn some features included in the airport in FSX on or off. The first option is whether you want to use ground polygons or ground textures on the airport (or ground poly runway with ground textures for everything else). You can also choose to included static airliners. The amount of cars in the car parks scattered around the airport can be  selected in 4 different levels, OFF, LITE, MEDIUM or HEAVY. Other options cover the industrial estates, mesh and fences, light poles, ground equipment and ground service personnel on the airport. This control panel is a very important application if you don’t have a super-high-end pc, to get acceptable performance from YSCB. Another extra feature is the FTX Aero tool, which can be used to change some ground texture settings, and change the texture_max_load setting in your FSX.cfg file.

Apart from what’s extra included in this package, there’s something on the horizon that will make Canberra even better: Cityscape Canberra. Just like the already available Cityscape Portland, Cityscape Canberra will be a very accurate rendition of downtown Canberra, covering ground textures, buildings and autogen. To top it of, it will blend in perfectly with the YSCB add-on reviewed here. Cityscape Canberra is scheduled for release before the end of 2011.

Performance:

And that brings us to performance. Now, this is something you should really be aware of. Canberra Airport is a huge add-on for FSX. Not only does it take up 1.6GB on your hard disk, it’s also very taxing on performance. If you just turn all features on, and all FSX sliders to their highest positions, you’ll most likely end up in a slideshow in FSX. Luckily, Orbx is fully aware of this, and the manual has a large part of it dedicated to helping people get the best performance out of YSCB. To get acceptable performance on my humble system (a laptop running a 2.6 GHz dual core processor, 4 gigs of RAM and a 1 gig GPU) I had to turn quite a lot of features off, or to the lite setting. Also, my FSX becomes very unstable when using full ground polygons, so I’m running YSCB with ground poly runways, but ground textures everywhere else. That said, even with all features off or lite, you still get an amazingly good looking airport in FSX! I’m very impressed with that, because I was quite hesitant at first to start turning features off. Once I did though, I really got the enjoy Canberra. I don’t use all features that come with the add-on now, but I’m not running a slideshow anymore, and I also don’t have to fear FSX will crash on me after 5 minutes. And again, even with those features off, it’s still one of the best looking add-on airports for FSX available. If you’re lucky enough to have system that can run all features ON, you’re going to be overwhelmed by the level of detail in this product.

Conclusion:

Orbx did it once again. They delivered a stunning looking piece of scenery, and although it’s very detailed and heavy on system resources, they managed to built it so that even someone with a midrange system can truly enjoy it. In my opinion, it is that achievement that makes Orbx the true masters of FS scenery development! That said, most screenshots in this review come from the Orbx website, so you can see the true potential of this add-on. I left the Orbx footer on the images, so screenshots with that footer are from Orbx. Screenshots without are taken by yours truly at my optimized settings.

Like:

  • Very, very good looking
  • Being able to adjust performance, using the control panel
  • The detail doesn’t stop at the airport boundaries

Don’t like:

  • After I finally got over my aversion to actually using the control panel to turn demanding functions off, there’s nothing left I don’t like about YSCB by Orbx.

Useful links:

About Lars

Virtual pilot and Simflight.com reviewer. Hobby photographer and occasional aircraft spotter. Student of aviation technology, and all-round aviation lover with some limited (just under 20 hours of which 4 solo) experience in real life gliders.

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