From the time that Orbx began X-Plane development late last year, many in our community have asked for a product that compares to the Full Terrain X (more commonly known as just ‘FTX’) series available for Prepar3D and FSX, Orbx’s answer to the ageing default terrain features of these sims. It introduces new high-resolution ground textures, land-classes, and new tree models. However, with the emergence of X-Plane as a large-scale competitor to Prepar3D and FSX, this approach would have to change.
Something like the FTX series in X-Plane would be unlikely to sell very well due to the prevalence of Ortho4XP, a free tool that allows users to create photo-scenery for personal use. Instead of bucking the photo-scenery trend like the FTX series, Orbx introduced TrueEarth, which rides the orthoimagery wave and integrates high-quality, colour-corrected aerial imagery into its scenery packages.
These type of region specific detailed scenery was pioneered by the folks at Earth Simulations in the MSFS world. Since their dissolution a few years back in 2015, Orbx acquired their assets recently back in August which the team will utilise and gave it a new breath of life in future Orbx products (that, in addition to refreshing the released Earth Simulations products and making it available across MSFS/ESP platforms, Aerofly FS2, and of course X-Plane 11).
Today, I will have a look at Orbx’s first such offering for X-Plane: TrueEarth Great Britain South.
As with all Orbx products, X-Plane and otherwise, FTX Central makes it easy. FTX Central allows the user to install and update all of their Orbx products directly from one place, from one app. Currently FTX Central is only available for Windows, however, TrueEarth does support macOS and Linux platforms.
The compressed download size for TrueEarth GB South is 26GB, and 126GB when fully installed. This process took me about 3 hours (including initial download and subsequent unzipping/installing). One tip for installation is to ensure that you have enough space on your “temp” drive. This can be changed in FTX Central’s settings. It took me a few minutes to figure this out after I ran out of space on my C drive.
One last recommendation: make sure that your scenery_packs.ini is in order and that any VFR sceneries are not conflicting with TrueEarth GB South.
The installation process is first rate, I rate TrueEarth’s installation method very highly. FTX Central is easy to use, it has a simple UI. It is virtually a “one-click” install.
Moving on to the scenery itself, I found myself dumbfounded at how different TrueEarth looks when compared to Ortho4XP tiles. I came into this not really knowing what to expect in this regard, though some speculated that TrueEarth would simply be “Ortho4XP rebranded”. I can wholly put this rumour to bed. GB South includes so much more than just high-quality imagery. From new power lines to improved vegetation, TrueEarth GB covers a huge area with very impressive accuracy.
Here are some comparison shots of Ortho4XP and TrueEarth:
You can check out more comparison shots in our Quick Look video on the Threshold YouTube channel.
One aspect of scenery that always boosts the level of immersion in any sim is vegetation and foliage. TrueEarth GB South lacks neither of those things, in fact, it claims to have over 130 million trees at the correct location and height.
In general, tree placement is very good. It appears Orbx have used custom foliage textures for this scenery and although it seems there are only a few individual shapes of tree used in each “area”, it still gives a great feeling of “volume” that one would associate with a forest.
There are issues with tree placement, with some infringing on major roads and highways. This is a small issue, but is visible from anywhere less than ~5000ft. A notable example is this is around highways to the south of Luton airport. I first noticed this issue while filming comparison clips for our Quick Look video.
In all, I think the vegetation is done very well. It gives a very good impression of “volume” and really adds to the realism factor, especially when compared with Ortho4XP overlays.
TrueEarth GB South is also a VFR scenery and includes hundreds if not thousands of windmills, power lines, and lighthouses, as well as notable landmarks such as Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace, and Wembley Stadium (please note: this is not a full list! There are many more landmarks included).
The package includes full representation of Canary Wharf and numerous other skyscrapers such as The Shard, The Gherkin, and The Leadenhall Building. The buildings of Canary Wharf are vitally important to the approach into the nearby London City Airport and I am glad they are represented in such detail.
One qualm I have with the VFR objects is the representation of the Shard. Although it is undoubtedly a hard building to model (with all its different pieces), it just doesn’t match the standard set by other objects in the scenery. I’ve attached a screenshot below to help explain my point: it looks as though the building only uses one or two textures and is in general in lower quality than the surrounding buildings.
In general, the VFR objects are of a high quality and it seems that buildings of particular interest such as the Gherkin carry higher-quality imagery, which I find good for identification, however, can stand out when surrounded by lower quality towers.
Outside of London, power lines and windmills are done to a pretty high standard. Gone are the huge default overhead lines, replaced by wooden posts of a much smaller size. On my merry way through the English countryside, I also found Stonehenge, which is represented in good detail. There does appear to be an anomaly with the roads surrounding it though (covered later).
Along with the eye-candy, TrueEarth GB also includes improved autogen, both for performance and better region based buildings.
One of Orbx’s claimed improvements is for better UK-type houses, i.e. semi-detached housing. However on closer inspection, it looks to be the case of “one step forward, one step backwards”. The changes in the individual houses seem very minimal, but with TrueEarth, there seem to be less total houses (both tested on the same object setting). Comparison below:
There also appear to be some issues with road overlays, as some appear broken up. One notable example of this is around Stonehenge as I mentioned earlier, where the access road seems to have a 50-metre gap in it. These issues are rare though and shouldn’t really be noticeable from above VFR altitudes.
Before I proceed any further on the topic of performance, I’ll quickly outline my PC specs and X-Plane 11 settings to avoid any confusion. I use a medium-spec rig consisting of an i5 7600, GTX 1060 6GB and 16GB of RAM. I’d expect to have around 30 fps smooth in X-Plane on high settings outside of any very complex scenery areas.
All tests were conducted on HIGH objects settings unless otherwise specified.
The million dollar question: what is the FPS drop?
On the whole, FPS rates were pretty good for a package of such size. Simply flying around London in the Aerobask Robin lost maybe 5 frames. Different people will take this in different ways - some view a 5 frame deficit as nothing to be worried about. For others it is unacceptable. Personally, I did not find myself constantly looking around at the FPS counter while flying VFR around some of the most densely packed areas of the scenery.
However, when transitioning to tubeliners, the equation changes somewhat. For a start, most heavy metal aircraft are substantially more complex than their GA counterparts and it shows in my testing.
Combining one of the most performance heavy aircraft in the scene (the FlightFactor A320) with potentially the most complex and detailed scenery will, of course, lower your framerate. For my torture test, I loaded up at London Heathrow in the FF A320 to see just how many frames-per-second TrueEarth takes off. My findings: around 10 or so. The X-Plane FPS counter read at 20fps (albeit very smooth). Users with higher-end PCs will likely find the TrueEarth footprint is a lot less.
Something to keep in mind: I run X-Plane at a lower frame-rate than many find acceptable (it has never really bothered me!), so the effects on my system may have been magnified somewhat.
Orbx have done a stellar job with TrueEarth GB South. It is X-Plane’s first region-based VFR scenery and has exceeded my expectations. It certainly meets Orbx’s high standards and should be the benchmark for any region-sceneries to come.
TrueEarth is a totally new concept in the X-Plane world. As I said previously it will set the benchmark for any more sceneries of the sort - so is it worth it? I say, absolutely. The amount of scenery you get for just $40 USD (£30 GBP, €33,89) is pretty remarkable. Add to that one of the world’s busiest commercial airports located inside the borders of GB South and I would say this product is worth the money for both GA and tubeliner pilots.
To see TrueEarth GB South in more detail, check out a Quick Look video over on the Threshold YouTube channel.
You can purchase TrueEarth GB South via the Orbx website for $54.95 AUD or approx. US$38.78, €33,89, £29.96.
Threshold encourages informed discussion and debate - though this can only happen if all commenters remain civil when voicing their opinions.