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Taking a look at Lockheed Martin Prepar3D V3 (part 2)

Prepar3D v3 Review cover

In my previous review, I looked at the new Lockheed Martin Prepar3D version 3. However, I purposely limited myself to looking at the sim without any third party add-ons. It’s time to change that! This time, let’s see how nice the new kid on the block plays with others!

There’s a lot of aspects that need to be addressed when we combine P3D v3 with third party add-ons. Is the platform backwards compatible with old add-ons? And to what extent? How are third party developers reacting to the new platform? How much of your add-on collection will work? Will updating be free, or will it cost money? And so on, I’m sure questions like this are almost never-ending.

Corfu Speedtrees

FlyTampa’s Corfu has the distinction of, as far as I’m aware, being the first to support P3D v3 SpeedTrees in a commercial scenery product.

Theory:

Further on, this review will be mostly based on screenshots, with my comments and remarks with those screenshots. But before we look at it all in practice, let’s talk theory.

One of the big ‘features’ and selling points of Prepar3D has always been backward compatibility with FSX add-ons. So, in theory, everything that works in FSX should work in P3D v3. Well, all right, not everything. Everything that’s created for FSX within the limitations of the SDK (software development kit) for FSX should work in FSX. This is actually more important of a distinction than many people may think. Many FSX add-ons were created (partly or in full) using SDK’s that came with even older versions of the sim for various reasons. While they might work, there are no guarantees.

When very high fidelity add-ons are your thing (think PMDG, Orbx, VRS and many others), there are also consequences. Many advanced products for FSX actually bypassed some FSX limitations by either working partly outside the sim, by connecting to the sim on levels not supported by the SDK or by using version-checking code. This means that often, these products will not work with P3D. Or they do so only partly, which is no better than not working at all in my opinion. One very good, but quite extreme example here is the VRS TacPack, which will break functionality even with a simple update to the sim, let alone changing simulators entirely. As for external tools, a possible problem is that, although they would work normally, they just don’t know about P3D and hence can’t connect to the sim. Sometimes there are workarounds for this, other times a program update is required.

But those are the bad examples. Most ‘normal’ add-ons, which are the vast, vast majority of both aircraft and scenery, made for FSX do work in P3D v3. Products made for P3D v1 and v2 are likely to do even better.

Exploring a default airport with just FTX Global and REX Texture Direct installed.

Exploring a default airport with just FTX Global and REX Texture Direct installed.

When we take a look at how third party developers have handled P3D in general, and P3D v3 in particular, there are lots of different approaches. Some go out of their way to bring some or all of their products up to date, with new installers and support for P3D v3. This can either be a free update or a paid new version, depending on the developer. Others don’t immediately issue updates, but have no problems with users manually porting their products to P3D v3. Indeed, some developers even give instructions (or allow other users to share instructions) on how to do this on their forum. Even if developers are open minded to this approach, they usually don’t provide support if you use their products this way.

Still other developers and publishers expressly forbid using their products in P3D, even if they don’t sell P3D licences for their products. Some might say: “What do I care, I bought the product, I’ll do what I want.” Well, nobody can stop you, but remember those EULA’s you agreed to when purchasing and installing a product?
Without fail, every software EULA (End User License Agreement) states that you bought a license to use the product in the way intended. Not the ownership of the product itself. This means that if you use a product in another sim than the one you bought it for without permission from the developer or publisher, you’re in breach of a legal document (the EULA) which you agreed to. Something to think about.

PMDG 737-800 NGX, FSFX 737 Immersion, FlyTampa Montreal.

PMDG 737-800 NGX, FSFX 737 Immersion, FlyTampa Montreal.

Alright, that was another heavy-hearted and unpleasant, but necessary topic. More interesting and much more fun, let’s look at some examples of stuff that does work!
I’ve picked four examples of FSX products to try and get working in P3D v3. 2 aircraft and 2 airports. First, the Dodosim 206 payware helicopter. Then 2 Aerosoft Mega Airports, namely Brussels and Barcelona. And finally a freeware aircraft in the form of an old version of Dino Cattaneo’s F-14D Tomcat.

So the Dodosim chopper first. I picked this product for 2 reasons. First, I absolutely love this helicopter, even though it’s far from new. Second, one of the developers posted some ‘at your own risk’ instructions on how to port it over on their forum.

Dodosim 206 P3D v3

As you can see, the model works just like it should in P3D v3. The lighting effects turn out a bit smaller and less visible compared to FSX, but I can live with that.

Dodosim 206 over water

So, the results? It works! Not perfectly, it reportedly crashes the sim sometimes, but it’s usable.

Alright, Mega Airport Brussels. Quite an old airport for FSX, initially released in 2007. I picked this one because it’s my main base when flying airliner-style in FSX. The fact that it’s as old as it is makes this an interesting test as well.

EBBR P3D v3 Overview

From afar, the result seems good. The general layout is there, and looking good.

EBBR P3D v3 Detail

However, when we look closer, we see there is a lot of stuff missing. There should be a whole lot of jetways here, along with some other details. Not all buildings are showing up as they should either.

The results here? Not so good. I checked and double checked, and I copied everything correctly, but I just can’t get it to work correctly. At least not without using migration tools, which I chose not to use. The ground layout shows up correctly, as do the terminal buildings and some other major buildings. But all smaller stuff is just missing. Light poles, runway and taxiway light fixtures, jetway bridges, fences… No luck.
I’m not sure why it doesn’t work. Maybe I missed something when copying, maybe some special features or registry information is missing, or maybe it just doesn’t work with P3D v3. Do remember that this was the first Mega Airport released for FSX. It’s more than likely a lot of old FS9 stuff was used here, which would explain the compatibility issues. Aerosoft is working on a remake of Brussels, which will support P3D natively.

The next airport I tried, Mega Airport Barcelona, is one I picked because it should reportedly be simple to copy. According to the Aerosoft forum, no need to gather various files in various locations. Just one folder and all its contents. And here the results are positive! Everything showed up, and runs fine in P3D v3. As far as I’ve tested, it works just fine!

Mega Airport Barcelona

The default F-22 remained my aircraft of choice for some quick testing. Here you can see Barcelona Airport in the background.

727 parked at Barcelona

Here you can see that the gates and other small stuff also shows up as it should with MA Barcelona in P3D v3. The aircraft is the Captain Sim 727-200, which has a P3D v3 compatible installer.

So for the last product to test, we have the freeware F-14D by Dino Cattaneo. This product has P3D compatible releases, but I had an older version that pre-dates P3D in an old backup. So let’s try that.

F-14 without MFD

Dino Cattaneo’s F-14D Tomcat before copying the F/A-18 gauges from FSX to P3D.

F-14D in Prepar3D v3

The exterior shows up perfectly.

In my first try, I forgot that the F-14 depended on the F/A-18 Hornet from FSX Acceleration. So, I moved over the gauges it needed from FSX to P3D. Once this was done, it ran perfectly.

F-14D with MFD

Once the correct files was copied, the F-14 work just as it should.

F-14 Afterburner

The afterburner effects also looked fine.

From stock to infinity…

If you read part 1, you might have noticed previous shots look better than they did in part 1. Indeed, I added some products to enhance the simulator. In this section, I want to take you from stock to where I have the sim right now. I took screenshots along the way, and I’ll state which products were added.

So, the first scenario features the A2A Simulation Piper Cherokee at a typical VFR altitude over the city and port of Antwerp, Belgium. I set the season to spring, and the weather to the ‘fair weather’ theme.

Cherokee in stock P3D v3.

In this first screenshot, the only thing added to the ‘vanilla’ sim is the A2A Simulations Piper Cherokee.

REX added VFR

The next step was adding Real Environment Extreme Texture Direct and Real Environment Extreme Soft Clouds. The sudden switch to winter was probably an oversight on my part in setting up the flight.

FTX Global VFR

In this screenshot, FTX Global was added to the mix. A marked difference in ground textures is the result.

UTX Europe v2 VFR

Finally, Ultimate Terrain X Europe v2 was added. It works together beautifully with FTX Global to give a very nice result on the ground. Note the more realistic roads and accurate placement of ‘industrial’ styled ground textures in the port area.

In this second scenario, I’m taking the PMDG 737 NGX in a McPhat livery out from Corfu International Airport (LGKR) on the Greek Island of Corfu. I’m flying in summer with the ‘Building Storms’ preset.

Corfu stock scenery

Again, the stock simulator with only the aircraft added for this first screenshot. I absolutely love the PMDG NGX, and the McPhat liveries are second to none. Too bad they’re not more easily available.

Corfu REX

The results when adding the REX products are subtle, but certainly visible. The sky has turned an ominous grey that certainly adds immersion to the ‘Building Storms’ theme.

Corfu FTX Global

Adding FTX Global leaves the sky and sea alone, but gives the land an impressive overhaul. The airport doesn’t stand out as much and the ground textures just look much better. If you look closely, you can also see some effects added by FSFX Packages 737 Immersion in the engine intakes and just behind the wings in this scene.

Corfu UTXE v2

While not doing anything with textures, UTX Europe v2 has a massive impact in this scene. The accurate coastline dramatically changes the situation at the airport.

Corfu FlyTampa

As a final touch, I replaced the default airport with the recent release by FlyTampa. The result is stunning, and really brings out the best of the simulator.

For a third example, I’m once again in the A2A Cherokee, but this time in the French Alps, near Courchevel. I’m flying in winter with the ‘Winter Wonderland’ weather theme. The differences here between add-ons are less dramatic, but nonetheless worth taking a look at.

Alps with REX

In this first shot, we see the A2A Cherokee with REX Texture Direct and REX Soft Clouds already active.

Alps with FTX Global

Adding FTX Global changes the ground textures as expected. FTX Global certainly emphasizes the forested nature of the ground textures.

Alps wtih UTX Europe

In this third and final screenshot, UTX Europe v2 was added. The previously peaceful scene is now suddenly filled with small roads and rivers, as well as a more diverse placement of landclass textures. It might not look as scenic, but it more realistically represents the real world.

And for a final example, I’m leaving Europe for the USA. Back in the PMDG 737-800 NGX, again with a McPhat livery (these liveries are careware, only available during the ‘Movember’ charity event, in case you were wondering). I’m flying over Lake Michigan near Chicago, cruising at FL320 (32000ft). It’s autumn/fall in the simulator and the weather is set to the ‘Major Thunderstorm’ preset in P3D.

FL320 stock simulator

Starting off again with just the aircraft being added.

FL320 REX

Next, the REX products are once again added.

FL320 FTX Global and Immersion

Adding FTX Global overhauls the ground textures. Adding 737 Immersion adds nicer looking contrails to this scene.

FL320 UTX Europe in USA

And finally UTX Europe v2 is added. If you don’t see any difference, that would be right. There isn’t any. UTX Europe is limited to Europe, quite obviously. To see an effect in this scene, I would need a product that actually covers this area. For example: Ultimate Terrain X USA v2, or FTX Global Vector, neither of which I currently own a license for.

Flight

And this last part is one mentioned I would do in part 1. Like I did in part 1, I’ll be flying the Aerosoft Airbus A320 from Vienna to London. But this time in a modded simulator. We’ll be departing from FlyTampa’s Vienna and heading to Aerosoft’s Mega Airport London Heathrow Extended.
The scenery en-route is improved by FTX Global and Ultimate Terrain X Europe v2. Real Environment Extreme (REX) 4 Texture Direct and REX Soft Clouds have been used for clouds, sky and water textures. Finally, I’m using FSFX Packages PrecipitFX and A320 Family Immersion for improved effects.
I stuck to the Winter Wonderland weather theme instead of using Active Sky Next, to keep the flight similar to the ‘stock’ example, and show off the FSFX Packages effects.

The Aerosoft Airbusses include an Avator model in high-viz jacket. Here, the pilot is inspecting the landing gear.

The Aerosoft Airbus includes an Avator model in high-viz jacket. Here, the pilot is inspecting the landing gear.

Parked at the gate

The Aerosoft A320 parked at gate C40 at FlyTampa’s Vienna. It’s snowing in this shot, but the PrecipitFX effects are much more subtle than the default ones. It not very noticeable in still images, but it looks awesome in action.

Taxiing at LOWW

A couple of nice things to see in this taxi. The very good looking FlyTampa Vienna, PrecipitFX Snow effects, and A320 Immersion jet wash throwing up snow behind the engines.

LOWW Takeoff

The jet wash effect at full throttle. You might also notice there is no AI traffic. I did this flight on IVAO, and happened to be alone at LOWW.

Initial Climb

Compared to the similar screenshot in part 1, the view here is radically different. This is REX 4 and REX Soft Clouds, FTX Global, FlyTampa Vienna and FSFX PrecipitFX all working together to make the Aerosoft A320 feel at home.

REX Clouds

Although P3D does a good job on clouds by itself, REX still manages to add to it.

Europe in winter. I really like how well FTX Global and UTX Europe work together.

Europe in winter. I really like how well FTX Global and UTX Europe work together.

A320 Contrails

Another of the A320 Family Immersion effects: contrails! They definitely look better and more realistic than the stock ones for the Airbus.

Overhead Brussels

Overflying my not-reallly-working copy of Mega Airport Brussels. At this part of the flight I had some frame rate issues, even though I was at FL360, and the frame rates on departure and arrival from high-detail airports were good. Probably due to the incompatible EBBR scenery. Let’s hope the new version from Aerosoft is ready soon.

This screenshot really shows off what REX brings to the table. This scene is pretty much all REX: sun, lensflare, sky textures, clouds and even ocean textures.

This screenshot really shows off what REX brings to the table. This scene is pretty much all REX: sun, lens flare, sky textures, clouds and even ocean textures.

Snow and grass

An old peculiarity that’s still there in P3D v3. A very sudden border between snow covered and green ground textures.

London City

Part of London, along with London City Airport, on approach to Heathrow. This is how London looks with nothing but FTX Global and UTX Europe v2 installed.

The beautiful Aerosoft A320 showing off it's new volumetric lighting effects from A320 Immersion. They're subtle here, but the more visible moisture, the stronger the effects get.

The beautiful Aerosoft A320 showing off it’s new volumetric lighting effects from A320 Immersion. They’re subtle here, but the more visible moisture in the air, the stronger the effects get.

Our first view at Mega Airport London Heathrow Extended. I was quite pleased with the frame rates I got. Perfectly flyable without any problems.

Our first view at Mega Airport London Heathrow Extended. I was quite pleased with the frame rates I got. Perfectly flyable without any problems.

The Immersion package showing off it's reverser spray effects. I was pleasantly surprised that even very large scale effects didn't reduce the sim to a slideshow in terms of frame rates.

The Immersion package showing off it’s reverser spray effects. I was surprised that even very large scale effects didn’t reduce the sim to a slideshow in terms of frame rates. Also note that the slight crosswind is blowing the effects off to the side.

Heathrow Detail

A good view at the level of detail at London Heathrow when taxiing to the gate.

Heathrow at night

When shutting down the engines, P3D decided it was time to switch from ‘dusk’ to ‘night’. This resulted in this shot with a radically different view from the rest of the series. A bit of a shame the feel is so different from one minute to the next.

In the end, I was very pleased with this flight. The frame rates were better than I was expecting, certainly considering how massive and detailed the departure and arrival airports were. Even with the impressive A320 Family Immersion jet wash effects, the sim kept running smoothly.

Surprisingly though, I did notice some lower frame rates and stutters during the cruise phase, flying at FL360. But this was limited to the area around Brussels, so I’m pretty sure it was caused by the incompatible scenery I still have active there. This flight, and the ones I’ve done besides it, have reinforced my impression that Prepar3D version 3 runs smoother and more stable than either FSX or previous version of P3D.

Conclusion

We’ve looked at Prepar3D version 3 both without and with third party add-ons added. There’s a lot that can be said about the new simulator. Obviously, it’s not a revolutionary new platform. Rather, it builds upon old but tested foundations and tries to bring them into the modern era. Sometimes kicking and screaming. Whether you view this evolution rather than revolution as good or bad, depends entirely on personal point of view. Both points can be made, as they most certainly have been made in countless forums and blogs.
The big upside is quite good backward compatibility and a relatively easy transition for people used to FSX or earlier P3D versions. The downside is that the core simulator keeps hauling around some outdated design choices and problems.
The development team behind Prepar3D is working hard on trying to fix those old problems (along with new ones that pop up). And in my opinion, they are doing a remarkable job. Is it a perfect simulator without problems or bugs? Certainly not. But, talking purely from a software point of view, it is most certainly better now than FSX has ever been.

However, personally, I see three issues working against P3D v3 becoming “the” mainstream simulator product: limited distribution (online only, to a limited audience), the murky licensing situation, and the mixed reaction by third party content creators. Until these are resolved, P3D might be popular with hardcore flight simulator users, but it will remain obscure to the larger public.
Although I really like P3D v3, I’m not going to try convincing people who are very happy with their FSX installations to buy into it. FSX isn’t disappearing from my system any-time soon either. But if you have been hesitating about Prepar3D for a while, now might be a great time to take the leap. I’m not promising all sunshine and rainbows if you do. But overall, the results might pleasantly surprise you.

FTX AU Moorabbin

The Just Flight P-38 (default with P3D v3) flying over Moorabbin Airport near Melbourne, Australia. YMMB is Orbx’s first P3D v3 ready airport for Australia, and is used here with the FTX AU region installed.

Useful links:

Prepar3D v3 Review Part 1

Prepar3D website

Prepar3D Add-ons on SimMarket

Software used:

Lockheed Martin Prepar3D v3 Academic

A2A Simulations Piper Cherokee 180   (SimMarket | Product Page)
Aerosoft Airbus A320   (SimMarket | Product Page)
Aerosoft Mega Airport Barcelona X   (SimMarket [FSX] | Product Page [FSX])
Aerosoft Mega Airport Brussels X   (SimMarket [FSX] | Product Page [FSX])
Aerosoft Mega Airport London Heathrow Extended   (SimMarket | Product Page)
Captain Sim 727   (SimMarket [FSX] | Product Page)
Dino Cattaneo F-14D Super Tomcat   (Product Page)
Dodosim 206   (Product Page [FSX])
Flight1 Ultimate Terrain X Europe v2   (SimMarket | Product Page)
FlyTampa Corfu   (SimMarket | Product Page)
FlyTampa Montreal   (SimMarket | Product Page)
FlyTampa Vienna   (SimMarket | Product Page)PMDG 737 NGX   (Product Page)
OldProp Solutions FSFX Packages 737 Immersion   (Product Page)
OldProp Solutions FSFX Packages A320 Family Immersion   (SimMarket | Product Page)
OldProp Solutions FSFX Packages PrecipitFX   (SimMarket | Product Page)
Orbx FTX Australia   (Product Page)
Orbx FTX Global Base  (Product Page)
Orbx YMMB Moorabbin   (Product Page)
Real Environment Extreme Texture Direct + Soft Clouds   (SimMarket | Product Page)

Test System:

Intel Core i5-2500K
8GB DDR3 RAM
MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G
Windows 7 64 bit

F-22_FTXGlobal

F-22_PortOfAntwerp

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[…] Prepar3D v3 Review Part 2 […]

A truly egregious commentary really. You start with a problem and end with one…the EULA. For the regular user it is no problem at all. There is now a ton of stuff available for P33 .. addons and utilities of every sort. The depiction and performance is second to none, and by that I mean FSX with a dozen addon enhancements is not needed .. but the VAS improvements in v3 have reduced OOMs to zero. Frankly for the price of the Academic version, it is sheer stubborn-ess, and the noise of the commentariat that I am sure has stopped… Read more »