Active Sky 2012 is the latest iteration in a long line of weather add-ons by Hifi Technologies. Except This time, they did more than just tackle the weather. In this review, we’ll dive into Active Sky 2012 and see what it’s made off.
So, the basics. In the first place, Active Sky 2012 is still a weather tool for FSX. So, you can expect more realistic weather simulation compared to the stock FSX weather engine. But there’s more. Active Sky now also delivers a bunch of replacement textures for FSX, going from clouds, over water to runways. In this, it’s now eating from the same cake as Real Environment Extreme (and then some). So, this review will have to look at more than just weather.
Because of the included textures, Active Sky 2012 is quite a large download. If you download from SimMarket, like I did, you need to download 6 files in total. 5 data files, and the actual .exe installer. This total file size of these downloads is just shy of 3 GB. The fact that it’s split up into several files of course makes downloading easier under less than perfect internet connection, but it’s still a lot.
Installing is easy. Make sure all files (the 5 data files and the installer) are placed in the same folder, and run the installer. Of course you have to go through the usual steps like accepting a EULA, and clicking ‘OK’ half a dozen times. But that said, installing is a breeze. You’ll only need your serial (which you got upon purchase) the first time you run AS2012. At this time, it will check for a correct serial, and will also activate the product for online use.
You can safely install the product on more than one system, but you can only run one at a time online. A very fair solution, I think.
To keep this review organized, and help myself in writing it, I’m splitting it up a couple of times. Firstly, I’ll be talking about the program (running in Windows) first. How it performs in flightsim will come later in the review. Both of these section are also broken up into relevant parts. Let’s go!
The first section is of course what people mainly buy Active Sky 2012 for: the weather engine. There are a lot of possibilities with the Active Sky 2012 weather. By default, AS2012 will load real-life, real-time weather. You can choose whether it loads weather based on the PC’s system time (real-time) or FSX simulation time. You can also use ‘historic’ weather, although the word historic might give the wrong impression. What it means, is that you can set ‘past’ weather, but not earlier than 2007. Another possibility, is that you can assign user-defined weather, much like in the default FSX, but more detailed. A very neat feature is that you can even drag-and-drop a weather preset onto the map-view in AS2012, and have it update FSX as requested. Finally, AS2012 weather can also realistically depict hurricanes, thermals, and even wake turbulence behind AI aircraft.
Now, how does this work? In contrast to older iterations of the Active Sky series, AS2012 has three possible weather depiction modes. They’re mutually exclusive, so you have to pick one of the three. In the standard mode, Active sky works pretty much like the FSX default real-life weather, although more accurately portraying the actual real-life weather. According to the manual, this mode is the most accurate for surface weather. The ‘smooth cloud transitions’ mode is the mode closest to older Active Sky products, and uses and enhanced mode of writing weather to FSX via simconnect. Again according to the manual, this mode is the best for local flights and gives the best cloud smoothness, in exchange for slightly reduced accuracy. The final mode, is the default mode in Active Sky 2012: Direct Weather Control. Direct Weather Control is a global mode, meaning that the entire FSX world has the weather your aircraft currently has. The downside of this is that FSX ATIS stations (or the map view, for that matter) don’t give accurate weather and AI may go crazy. The upside is that it (again, according to the manual) has the best balance between smoothness and accuracy. Also, it has the most realistic winds aloft simulation, making this by far the preferred mode for long range, high altitude flights.
For the first time in Active Sky 2012, Hifi Technologies gives us something they call ‘Total Weather Immersion’. What this means is that, besides sending more realistic weather to your sim, AS2012 can also update your actual FSX texture files, to make it look better, or more realistic. But it’s not just generically replacing textures. AS2012 has some interesting features here. First of all, you can manually select which textures you want to install. However, this is very time-consuming, as the amount of replaced textures, and the amount of possibilities to replace them with, is huge. Second, you can just generate a random set, and install that, or use a combination of the 2 possibilities above: generate a random set, and edit it a little manually. The most interesting feature though, is letting Active Sky 2012 choose your textures, based on the actual weather you’ll be flying in. You’ll need to load a flight plan in AS2012 for this, otherwise it won’t know where in the world you’re flying. Despite the amount of textures to be replaced, installing them goes pretty fast. (read: faster than REX or FEX) The exception here being if you manually recolored files (water or sky textures, for example) as generating these recolored files from scratch can take a lot of time.
The actual Active Sky 2012 program, what’s running outside of FSX, has a good looking user interface, which is very easy to use and powerful. Sending weather to FSX can’t be easier: start FSX, start AS2012, and you’re ready to fly. There are more possibilities though. Active Sky 2012 has a flight planner built-in, for example. Just don’t expect too much of this flight planner. It’s good for direct-to GPS plans, and can handle VOR’s and NDB’s, but that’s just about it. The upside of using it is that AS2012 can generate a relevant texture set based on the weather you’ll encounter.
There’s also a convenient map view in AS2012, with a weather overlay, so you can quickly see what you can expect to fly in.
The feature I use most in the program though, is the weather report page. This page gives you a complete weather report of any identifiably station. Especially in ‘Direct Weather Control’ mode, this is useful. The weather report page gives both a textual METAR and TAF (the actual weather situation, and a forecast respectively), but it also fully decodes that METAR, making it much easier and faster to use if you’re just taking a quick look.
The user interface of the program is structured and easy to use. All options are grouped on relevant pages, so you don’t have to go looking for something in an unexpected place. There is very little delay or lag in switching pages. I’m positively impressed with this side of the product, and I can certainly give it the thumbs up here.
As you don’t have to do anything in FSX to make AS2012 work, I’m leaving out the ease-of-use section here. It’s so easy it’s not relevant to write about it. How’s that for a compliment? But the weather and the textures certainly are worth talking about.
The first thing I noticed, in all 3 weather depiction modes, is that if I run AS2012 and FSX, and place my aircraft in Ostend (EBOS) the weather I see in FSX very closely resembles the weather I see out of my window. I happen to be living only a kilometer or 2 from the airport, which makes it easy to make that comparison. What I can’t say with 100% certainty though, is how it handles weather away from any large reporting station. I’ve done some long flights with AS2012, and I haven’t seen any large weather shifts. At least not in actually relevant weather features: no sudden 180° wind shifts (if you use FSX default real weather, you’ll certainly know these), no sudden pressure or temperature jumps (again, something FSX default weather throws at you all the time). So it certainly is a lot better than default FSX weather. What I have seen in AS2012 when using direct weather control, is sudden shifts in cloud coverage when I’m flying over water. For example, one moment, you’re flying over a solid overcast, with nothing but clouds as far as you can see. 2 seconds later you’re flying over a field of cumulus clouds, with nothing but puffy white clouds between you and the horizon. But personally, as long as it’s just the clouds shifting, and not wind, pressure and temperature, I can easily live with that. I’ve also seen some strange visibility behavior, mainly with ‘drag-and-drop’ weather. But in general, visibility simulation is a giant leap better than in normal FSX. So, in my opinion, Active Sky 2012 beats default FSX weather by a huge margin. It’s not perfect, but it tries pretty hard to be, and in effect, comes quite close.
First of all, I’m impressed with Active Sky 2012 being shipped with such an extensive texture library. However, I also get the impressing you can feel that it’s the first time they do anything like this. And you can also notice where the real strength of the product lies. The replacement cloud textures are good. Especially if you let AS2012 choose the textures for you, you get a very realistic experience. The sky textures are also good looking. Especially dusk and dawn can be pretty impressive. However, a sky texture for the daytime that fits a clear winter day perfectly, will look weird on a warm spring day when clouds are building. This is not a bad point for AS2012, but it just means you’ll have to pay attention when installing textures, and you might get some surprises if you decide not to install new relevant textures another time.
What I’m definitely not impressed with though, are the replacement airport textures. This of course is a matter of personal taste, but I think the default FSX textures are better than many of the AS2012 textures for runways and aprons. The details in these AS2012 are just a lot too pronounced, giving you the impressing you’re looking at these surfaces magnified. I think they would look a lot better if the details were smaller, and more subdued. You’d get a better idea of the actual size of the surfaces if they were. To be honest though, I haven’t tried every texture set they provided. I did try more than one though.
The Active Sky XGauge is a 2D gauge that can be added to any aircraft in FSX. What it does is read the actual weather from AS2012, and display it on a mapview, exactly like the mapview in AS2012 itself. Installing the XGauge is easy, as AS2012 comes with an easy to use, fully automatic installation tool for it. It’s also nice to have the gauge itself. However, I don’t use it, and the actual implementation could be better, I reckon. My remarks on it are the following: the update rate is very slow, the clickspots are smaller than the actual visible buttons, and the graphics resolution is too small. I applaud Hifi Technologies for adding it in the product, but I won’t be using it myself because of these points. But that’s just me.
So, for a conclusion here. I like the program, and how easy to use it is. I absolutely love how it sends accurate weather to FSX. And generally the textures aren’t bad at all. On the other hand, I’m definitely not impressed with the replacement airport textures. And there’s another thing I don’t like: the price. Active Sky 2012 currently retails for €59.49 on SimMarket. This is quite a steep price, no matter how good the program is. But with one add-on doing both weather and replacement textures, you get quite some bang for your bucks. Looking at it objectively, I think Active Sky 2012 is worth it’s price. But that doesn’t change that fact that €60 is a lot of money. On that note, if you plan on buying AS2012 for the textures only, there are better (and cheaper) products that are better known and longer established in that department. The real power of AS2012 lies in the weather, and in combining weather with relevant textures.
That said, when taking all features into account, Active Sky 2012 is a very good product, one which I can truly recommend to all FSX users who like flying in something else than clear skies.
- Easy to use program with good looking and intuitive GUI.
- Very realistic weather depiction
- A very user friendly experience overall
- Replacement airport textures not up to the level of other features in the add-on
System and Add-ons Used:
Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4×3.3GHz (stock speed)
MSI N650GTX-Ti Twin Frozr II
120GB SSD (OS + ‘Workspace’)
2TB HDD (FSX + data)
Windows 7 64 bit
FSX + Acceleration
Add-ons in this review:
– Active Sky 2012 obvisously
– GEX Europe
– PMDG 737 NGX + McPhat freeware repaint
– VRS F/A-18E Superbug
– A2A WOP3 Spitfire