Like many geeks, I’ve been an enthusiastic digital camera owner for some years now who, so far, is not troubled too much by in-depth knowledge of camera’s, lenses and what not. Basically I fiddle with the controls until it looks ok on the screen. Typically I assume a pose that is not really elegant (camera at arms length, chin on the chest and frowning at the minuscule screen). And then I point, click and hope for the best. Sometimes this produces nice results but producing nice results when you want them under difficult light conditions (too much or too little) is quite a challenge.
I was editing my Paris photos and did some google searches to figure out how to make more effective use of photoshop. It turns out that the new Google search field in Firefox 2 has gotten a lot smarter. I typed “photos” and google already provided a nice autocomplete list with highly relevant options such as “photoshop curves”, which led me straight to this more than excellent site which I have been reading the entire evening: The site provides a nice technical introduction to various important concepts such as depth of field, focal length & aperture, various types of histograms and how to interpret them, the working of the level and curves tools in photoshop, etc. The site is organized around tutorials and provides great examples that make it easy to understand the concepts under discussion. I’m now planning to work my way through all of the site.

X-plane 8.50

A few months ago, I posted something about early betas of x-plane 8.50. Well the final version is here and seems to be working as advertised. A lot of feature work has been done in this release, much of it related to the simulation quality but also some nice improvements in the rendering engine.

I just took the Piper single propeller plane that comes with it for a flight from Marseilles to Paris Orly (after first flying from Nimes to Marseille with a custom Cessna 150). This is a nice flight because I have custom scenery for both ends of the flight. Also it’s a pretty long flight and it provides plenty of opportunity to play with various settings and fiddle with the ‘optimal’ throttle, mixture and prop ratio. The latter is pretty realistic because the simulator takes into account all kinds of variables to calculate speed, fuel consumption, oil pressure & temperature, etc (you name it, its there).
The flight was pretty uneventful except that I kept fiddling with the weather. Real weather was pretty awful (about 1 mile visibility) so that was not much fun in terms of visuals and my capabilities (not quite IFR capable yet :-). Also it was a good opportunity to put the new scenery loading logic to the test. Flying to Paris really is not fair because this happens to be 400 MB of custom version 7 scenery. A fresh startup of x-plane with the plane on Orly or Charles de Gaulles typically takes a few minutes longer just because of this scenery.

I’m happy to report that the in the background loading of scenery seems to be working pretty well. The simulator froze a couple of times for loading the stuff from disk (would be nice if that was done in the background as well). But aside from that no more freezes. All the texture loading (to the videocard) and other calculations seem to be taken care of by the second core on my dual core cpu. I think I experienced at most 20-30 seconds freezing overhead over the whole journey. The Paris scenery seemed to come in batches. First I flew into a really nasty ugly empty version 7 area (pretty ugly compared to the default v8 scenery) but then it got better as I got nearer to paris and more textures, 3d models, etc came in visual range. Orly looks great on approach. There were several warning messages about too much textures etc. This is partially due to my rendering settings and also to the fact that the scenery is pretty old stuff.

sightseeing over paris

I’ve written quite a bit on x-plane lately. That was before I discovered a few good quality scenery packages. One of these packages is a 400 MB version of Paris, the capital of France. Wow. You can download it here, for free!
Here’s some screenshots (all running beautifully smooth). This is by far the most realistic and detailed scenery I’ve seen for any area in any flightsimulator. X-plane shows off it’s exceptional capabilities. Notice the detail in the background? All part of the scenery. This is typically where you’d see a mess of blinking pixels in ms flight simulator. It simply can’t handle that amount of detail. In x-plane all the screens below were with my default x-plane settings: render on graphics card, everything set to high except for roads and objects (default, see my earlier discussions), 4x anti aliasing. Framerate was excellent most of the time. I hit some bottlenecks while panning the view, otherwise everything stayed smooth and responsive.

Btw. this is a x-plane v7 scenery, not a v8 scenery. This means it is lacking some of the new features. Outside paris everything is the nice and default v8 scenery coming with x-plane.
arc de triomf.jpgEiffel tower and the SeineLe Louvre