X-Plane 12 Early Access
No, this is NOT a REview . . .
OK, so what IS it?
Oh, well, it IS an OVERview
Greetings, X-Plaineders, and welcome to X-Plane 12 early access. Let me begin by telling you that the absolute best way to find out about X-Plane 12 is to go here and download it. You get 15 minutes of free time which is enough to see some of the updates, changes, and additions made to X-Plane 11 and decide for yourself if you think it is worth it.
Does this guy have a clue?
This is the next generation of X-Plane that is going to make all other flight sims look pathetic.
Sorry, I hate to be the bearer of what some may think is bad news but is definitely not that. If you doubt that, please spend some time reviewing the Laminar website and the official discussions leading up to this early release opportunity Laminar has provided. Laminar is not a major company sponsoring a different developer to create a new product. Laminar is a relatively small team headed up by Austin Meyer, a dynamic individual with a particular vision for his flight simulator that he began realizing about 27 years ago.
Spend a few moments listening to any of his interviews or reading his blogs and you quickly find out his focus is on flying. X-Plane 12 is a major addition / revision to the blade element flight model Austin has been working on and the interaction between that model and a realistically rendered flight environment. I think it is reasonable to say that the flight environment gets defined by where forces created by an aircraft meet the defining influences created by mother nature.
After all, isn’t that what flight simulation is all about? One or two people sit in a man-made machine and fiddle with various controls, switches, and buttons to get the machine to do what it was designed to do and make changes according to how their machine is behaving in the space in which it is operating. This would include the rubber bits interacting with different ground conditions or the floaty bits playing in the water.
I would also say that this point gets hammered home when you read the “About X-Plane” section of the X-Plane manual where it says “X-Plane is not a game, but an engineering tool that can be used to predict the flying qualities of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft with incredible accuracy. Because X‑Plane predicts the performance and handling of almost any aircraft, it is a great tool for pilots to keep up their currency in a simulator that flies like the real plane, for engineers to predict how a new airplane will fly, and for aviation enthusiasts to explore the world of aircraft flight dynamics.”
Given that, I think it’s fair to say that anything the flight simulation gamer gains in eye candy is a bonus as far as the X-Plane creators are concerned, since that will likely never take precedence over the computer being available to process those flight dynamics as efficiently as possible.
Am I qualified to review how well X-Plane 12 does that? In a word, no. I am not an engineer, I am not a pilot, and I am not a flight mechanic. I enjoy flight and I use a simulator because, for various reasons, being a real-world pilot is a dream I will never be able to realize. I happened upon flight simulation years ago and remained unaware of X-Plane until the purchase of an Apple computer sent me looking for a flight simulator I could run on that platform. Years later, I am still using that same simulator despite my return to the Windows environment on the PC platform. (Now there’s another discussion that sounds a lot like the ones I’ve been hearing about X-Plane 12 and other simulators!)
There is much that I personally like about X-Plane, and it is enough that, despite trying recent renditions of other sims, I remain an X-Plane pilot. In a nutshell, that is my flight simulator background that I think serves well to support my assertion that I am not qualified to review X-Plane 12. What I can, and will, do, is offer you my perspective, thoughts, and opinions as I move my flight universe from the world of X-Plane 11 to X-Plane 12.
I still say the best way is to download the free trial.
So, what is X-Plane 12? It is X-Plane 11 with ….
- Lots of new aircraft
- Photometric Lighting Engine
- 3D Water
- Seasonal Effects
- Tropical Water Colors
- 3D Forests and Vegetation
- Ambient Sounds
- Tower Kit
- Animated Jetways
- Localized ATC Procedures/Voices
- Pavement Effects
- Volumetric 3D Clouds
- Real Weather
- Wake Turbulence
- Snow, Rain, and Ice Accumulation
It also has an updated interface, new cloud art, changes to various airport support vehicles, and a few tweaks to some of the automatically generated (autogen) items that appear in the virtual world. It is also native to the Vulkan and Metal graphic engine environments and it runs on Linux, MacOS, and Windows based computers. It also remains a playground for developers of all sorts from the weekend “lego brick” airport builder to the most accomplished aircraft designers that have taken the world of simulation to entirely new levels with in depth models featuring more intricate systems development than can be found on any other simulation platform.
X-Plane 12 is also early access. Exactly what that means is Laminar research is very clearly and transparently releasing a beta version project into its user base. Laminar went as far as they could with their in-house development and needed to know how their project would interact with the thousands of variables created by so many different computer configurations that X-Plane would find itself being installed on. I think it was a wise move for them to state this was a beta rather than pretend it was a “finished” product. As of this writing, we are already on beta version 6.
Let’s get the issue of performance out of the way since, if you decide you cannot run the software, everything else becomes moot. As the previews of X-Plane 12 were being released in various places, I started having concerns about how well my system would be able to handle the new 3D animated trees and the new clouds since they looked rather resource intensive based on my experience with X-Plane 11.
The first comment I have about performance is my personal experience had not supported the statements I have seen about X-Plane 12 loading more quickly than X-Plane 11. It may have a couple of seconds faster load time in a default configuration but the minute a plugin, complex aircraft, or custom scenery is added, that possible advantage vanishes immediately.
Once X-Plane 12 was loaded, I set the default Cessna 172 on the tarmac of my home airport and opened the simple frame rate monitor. X-Plane 12, with the settings shown, ran about half as fast as X-Plane 11. Keep in mind that that meant I was running at about 65 – 70 fps rather than the 130 fps I achieve with a default XP 11 installation.
Now, before you panic and think you have to run out and by a new machine, let’s look at a few variables while keeping in mind that X-Plane needs about 25 fps to smoothly run the flight model and the human eye perceives motion when the rate of change is 24 fps which is the speed at which movies are filmed. Of course, faster is better and X-Plane 12 provides ways in which to do that.
Settings that are new to X-Plane 12 include cloud quality, shadow quality, vegetation density, and rendering resolution. The ambient occlusion quality setting is what remains of the visual effects setting from XP 11 since HDR is now assumed and SSAO and shadow quality allow you control over how much and what type of shadows you can have and just how well those shadows are rendered.
So that you don’t have to, I am going to go through a number of settings to see if I can determine which make the greatest impact. What we are looking at is the default Cessna loaded up at SFD’s KSFO Definitive which, in turn, is loaded into ORBX TE Southern California. The particular view being used is the slowest fps view I could find which is likely influenced by the ORBX mesh used for the mountains. My monitor has a native resolution of 3440 x 1440 and I am using the default 80-degree field of view.
Here, everything is set at its lowest point. I would dare say that if this is what you need to do to run X-Plane 12, you likely won’t want to bother! This view rather reminds me of something I would see in very early versions of flight simming but my frame rate is clocking at 150 fps!
I am not going to capture a screen for every single setting adjustment, only the ones that make a visual difference you can see in a web site photo. I will, however, give you an idea of what adjustments I am making and the results of them.
The first thing I did was increase texture quality to High and noticed no change in the fps. Also, no objects were added to the scene, but visuals became a little clearer. The clouds improved noticeably. The next step was to add a few objects with the low setting. After letting the sim settle a bit, the fps came in at 85. Immediately, it becomes apparent that the number of objects will be a prime candidate for reduction to increase frame rate. The visual quality of those objects is intolerable due to the very jagged edges so antialiasing will be the next adjustment.
I increased the antialiasing setting to the mid-range and saw a little difference with no change in my fps. I then increased it to the maximum 8X and saw a significant difference with a reduction in my max fps to 83. It seems like this setting is not going to be that expensive for what I get in return, so I am going to leave it there for the moment. My next step is to step up the objects since this scene is still pretty poor looking.
The medium setting, in this scene, did not make a difference in objects or frame rate so I moved it to high. Changing this setting takes almost as long to come back to the airport as the initial start up of X-Plane 12. When I do get back to KSFO, there is a marginal difference with my fps reduced to 70 but it still doesn’t seem right so I increase the render distance to medium and the scene begins to fill in, but my fps is down to 53. Not satisfied with what I see, I move the render distance to high and this helps a lot with a slight drop to a maximum fps of 52.
At the low cost of a frame or two, I added a medium level of vegetation and that filled in the scene nicely. Given this is an ORBX TE scenery, I don’t expect the 3D vegetation setting will make much difference here since this is not the new XP trees. Ramping up the vegetation density to maximum and checking off the Enable 3D vegetation option does not change my fps.
KSFO makes an extensive use of orthophotography and, at the moment, the lack of clarity in that photography is a little bothersome so I am going to increase the rendering resolution since textures are already at high.
Here is Ben Supnik’s explanation of FSR:
“Fuzzy Scuzzy Rendering”
FSR stands for FidelityFX™ Super Resolution. FSR is AMD’s free open source up-scaling technology. The idea of up-scalers is:
– Lots of people have 4K monitors.
– Not as many people have GPUs that can run games and simulators at 4K – they’re expensive.
– Upscaling a 2K image with a little bit of smarts uses a little bit of GPU and looks a lot better than just running the monitor at low resolution.
When you move the FSR slider to the left, X-Plane renders its 3-d image at a lower resolution and then upscales it to the monitor. This saves GPU time and VRAM at a cost of image quality. The image should look better than running at low resolution but not as good as running at high resolution.
Should you use FSR? I would only recommend using FSR if you want to/need to run at 4K and your GPU is struggling. Support has had a number of complaints about blurry rendering from users with FSR on – FSR is resulting in a less detailed image on purpose just like reducing resolution does. If you are going to use FSR, use full screen anti-aliasing – it helps.
We are still undecided about the future of FSR in the simulator. We added the option of up-scaling based on user requests, and if we didn’t ask for it, we’d probably be asked for it. But we’ve also had lots of “I set this slider low and now everything looks terrible.”
I tested this setting through all its steps and, as you can see in the previous screen captures, there is a visual cost to setting this too low. After trying several combinations of FSR and antialiasing on my monitor, I’ve settled at the Ultra setting of FSR with the 8X MSAA antialiasing setting. This gives me smoother edges and the same frame rate as turning FSR off and setting antialiasing to 2x MSAA. I opted for this setting while really zoomed in on some edges on the terminal that are particularly sensitive to the antialiasing setting.
So now I am at 50 fps and I’m willing to go lower to improve the appearance of the clouds in my scene. They don’t seem too bad while everything is still, but the minute I start moving my view point, they look horrible until the image settles. I’m sure this will not work while flying so this setting is going to have to get increased.
Having used various cloud add ins with XP 11, I know this is coming with a significant fps hit. For a base line, I set my weather to clear. Here’s my first surprise. Clearing out all the clouds does not change my frame rate!
So, to set a starting point and also to refresh where we’re at with settings, here are two captures at the 50 fps mark. Here we are using the VFR Broken setting weather option.
Now, let’s turn up that cloud quality. I’m going to go all the way to maximum and then back it down as needed. I am utterly stunned. My setting is maximum and the fps is only down by about 2! Laminar did say that a lot of the new features in XP 12 were going to be moved to the GPU for computation so this has not affected me at all. All of the shimmer and blurriness during image movement is gone.
The clouds look good but something seems to be missing. Oh, yes, clouds create shadows and right now, they are turned off! This item always took a bite out of my frame rate in XP 11 and I’m feeling pretty lucky with the cloud setting result. Somehow, I think that luck is going to end with the shadow setting. Well, I’m going to take the same approach as with the clouds and go to maximum and then dial it back as needed. The result of the maximum setting was a cost of about 10 frames per second, so I am now clocking about 40 fps and the clouds are incredible.
So, here is my final result where the counter is reporting 29 to 30 fps and, though you can’t see it, it is also raining. I can live with this because, when I get away from the San Francisco area that is dense with objects that will greatly increase. A simple vertical ascent over the clouds with all the objects still below puts me over 60 fps.
By the way, the aircraft that is now loaded is the Thranda U206G with flight models per frame setting at 4. If I decide I cannot tolerate it, it seems obvious after my testing that the biggest impact is the number of objects in the scene. (this is also the most CPU dependent aspect of the X-Plane 12 environment.)
Your results will certainly vary but I hope this gives you some idea of where the challenges to your specific system might come from and give you some idea if the things you will need to back off on in order to run X-Plane 12 are settings you can live with and still continue to enjoy your simming experience.
The New Stuff
Now that I’ve exhausted myself with numbers, it’s time to sit back for a few moments and enjoy the new experience of X-Plane 12. You saw the list earlier of what has been included or improved so I will try to briefly cover those items. To go into too much detail will make this an incredibly long overview.
The new interface is the first thing we see with the opening menu finally catching up to current interface design standards with the use of photo elements to identify menu selections. Menu choices remain the same as the previous version. Option selection screens such as the flight configuration maintain the familiar layouts but now have translucent backgrounds. It looks like they forgot to add this to the time-of-day settings screen as that remains the familiar solid grey.
The weather engine has been completely reworked for this version of the simulator and part of this shows up on the weather settings screen where runway conditions have many more options and manually set weather can now vary and change. A noticeable absence from this screen is the option to select a metar file for weather.
It remains to be seen how, or if, third-party applications will connect to the new weather engine. The creators of ASXP, a popular weather injector for XP-11, have yet to say whether they will be updating their plugin for the new version.
Seasons, Weather, and Clouds
From the weather control menu, we will jump right into the simulation environment and look at some of the features Laminar has added. This section is a brief survey of what you can expect from the weather settings and thus includes the new 3D trees, seasonal effects, and weather-related clouds and appearance.
First off, there is good news and bad news in this department. The good news is seasonal changes include runways. If there is snow on the ground, it will be on the runways and taxiways as well as the surrounding areas. The other good news is the seasonal effects work with orthophotos and Orbx TE scenery packages. The bad news is the new seasonal effects do not work on Orbx or other custom trees nor do they work on custom scenery airports that render their own runways and taxiways.
These scenery packs will need to be updated for X-Plane 12 if they are to take advantage of the new options. This may also affect various runway texture replacement packages that exist for X-Plane 11 if they are to be used in X-Plane 12. If you have any of these, you will need to test them.
With that said. Let’s play with a few settings and see what we get. The following screen shots include the use of a few scenery additions already available for X-Plane 12 including orthophotos, SimHeaven’s X-World scenery, and X-Codr’s Airport Enhancement Pack. The aircraft is Thranda’s U206G.
The following screenshots were made using the default weather options ranging from Clear to Large Cell Thunderstorms. The images say much more about what the simulator environment offers than what three pages of description from me could. It is autumn in Green Mountains of Vermont. The image taken over the clouds was done with the weather setting at Precision IFR. That dense overcast stretched all the way to the ground.
On the ground, we have several options for conditions ranging from dry to heavy snow and ice coverings. The differences between some of the condition settings can be subtle, coming down to the difference between standing water and puddled water, and the difference between standing snow interlaced in a wet surface and the crackled white topcoat on an icy surface. Selecting any of the snow settings will coat the ground with snow.
Settings include dry, three levels of wet, three levels of standing water, three levels of snow, three of ice, and three of ice and snow together. I’d say that sixteen options for runway conditions pretty much covers it all. The dirt runways feature the extra challenge of vanishing under snow cover where the asphalt runways are always clear enough for landing. Of particular note is the puddles. Reflections are spot on capturing shapes and colors and raindrops create ripples.
Here are a few examples of what the runway condition settings will do. These views have an asphalt apron in the foreground, a dirt runway mid-ground, and an asphalt runway in the background. (Later in this review, Angelique will mention the effect these settings had on her frame rates when testing on her iMacPro. I have not noticed a frame rate impact and that very likely comes down to a difference in video card since that is where most of this is processed.)
Maximum standing water:
These next images focus on the dirt and asphalt runways.
These last two are of the asphalt runway. The first image is the runway cover with the maximum snow setting and the second is the cover with maximum snow and ice. Here you can see the subtle difference.
For my final seasonal screen capture, I noticed, when using the snow cover, it effected more than just the ground. I think these guys have been standing still just a little too long! Perhaps a “no snow” attribute will be needed for some objects.
Before departing from the seasonal aspects of the simulation, let’s have a look at the new trees that were featured in one of the first teaser videos released by Laminar as X-Plane 12 was moving through development. What was not apparent from that video is the trees have five phases if you are in an area where this normally happens.
Using New England as the location for this test, the trees can be partially leafed out for early spring, fully leafed out for late spring and summer, partially colored for early fall, more brightly colored for the peak of the foliage season, and leafless for the winter. Of course, the trees are very detailed 3D models, and they are animated. The ground textures, which continue to be criticized since they have not changed from X-Plane 11, demonstrate some shading changes with the seasons.
Lastly, here’s what happens when you deselect “Enable 3D vegetation” on the Graphics settings page. The resulting trees are less desirable than the X-Plane 11 trees.
Along with the new trees, many airport vehicles have seen updates and most now include operators which does make a difference. There are updates and changes to terminal building components some of which may be automatically applied and some of which will necessitate a change in the airport to encompass the updates. A new feature to X-Plane 12 is the automated jetways that are controlled through the ground services menu which, by default, is accessed via the Shift + G keyboard combination.
Perhaps not so obvious at first glance, but visible upon closer inspection, is changes made to the autogen including the road networks as these two views of Boston show. The first in each pairing is from X-Plane 11, the second from X-Plane 12. In the X-Plane 12 view of the city from the Back Bay, notice the detail of the main road closest to the center of the photo with its crosswalks and lane designation lines. The skyline appears to have some new façades and the building type and location algorithms have apparently changed.
Lighting, Water, and Sound
I made the comment earlier about X-Plane being a flight environment and a huge contribution is made to that environment by light and sound. As far as the sound is concerned, all I can say is thank you, Laminar, for finally adding ambient sound to dead airports! Many sounds have been updated, added, and enhanced to create a more immersive environment. Unfortunately, I cannot capture sounds for you with a screen shot so, as I mentioned at the start of this review, your best bet is to download the X-Plane 12 trial and listen for yourself. You won’t be disappointed; I can tell you that much.
Much has been made of the “washed out” environment of X-Plane 11. That is no more in X-Plane 12. I personally have been a frequent user of plugins for X-Plane 11 that would improve the tones, gamma, and shading of that simulator. My first look at X-Plane 12 immediately informed me that I would no longer need to saddle my sim environment with that type of plug in.
The revised lighting model is incredible and brings things to life as never before. Here’s a comparison between the two versions with 11 being the first photo and 12 being the second. The reflections and texture enhancements that are possible because of the new lighting model allow for a depth to every surface.
Water, as much as ground textures, has been a common area of criticism by users of X-Plane 11. Here, as well, being fond of float planes, I used plugins to improve that feature. These will no longer be necessary in XP 12. The appearance and the physics have seen major changes all for the better. The physics are real enough that a fully loaded Skyhawk will not leave the water.
Testing other float planes will have to wait since the ones I have will no longer work until they are updated for the new water environment. The water also changes with weather conditions which is a combination of the new lighting model and the new water graphics. These four captures allow you to see the same scene with different settings chosen from the runway conditions option with the final capture showing the scene under the clear sky weather setting.
It is worth noting the effects that the changing light in the above has on the surrounding terrain and the Cessna itself. It is also worth noting how the water’s ability to subtly shift tones can complete the feeling a changing environment creates.
It would be nice if Laminar was somehow able to solve the coastline / beach problem but, in the meantime, the new water does help to smooth out their appearance to an extent. The new environment also does a much better job with the wake created by the floats of the moving aircraft. It also helps with judging how far above the water the airplane is flying.
Laminar has also stated that part of the water enhancement includes capturing the water environment of the tropics. Here’s a comparison of the water in an inland lake in New England with the water of the ocean surrounding Barbados.
One caveat about the new water environment is that it is playing havoc with some island scenery packages that have modified the mesh around the island. These packages will need to be updated to remove the very ugly and disruptive anomalies that occur where the scenery package merges with the water.
One note about lighting is the model has changed so much that many lights used in scenery for X-Plane 11 may need to be redone for X-Plane 12 to avoid a washout effect. This can be seen in SFD’s San Francisco Definitive, and he has confirmed that this change will happen for the X-Plane 12 version of that package. If your particular favorite airport exemplifies this behavior, check with the developer and see if they plan on releasing an update. Where night lighting is working properly, the improvements are obvious.
X-Plane 12 on Macs
Paul did a great job finding out most of the ins and outs of the X-Plane 12 Early Access or if you wish the beta version, but Paul did his review on a PC with Windows 11. I doubt that there are differences between Windows and macOS however, performance wish there are huge differences. Anyway, your personal reporter Angelique van Campen tested X-Plane 12.00b6 on an iMac Pro with macOS Monterey 12.6. When time permits Angelique will also test the Early Access with macOS Ventura. Most likely there will be no performance increase seen on macOS Ventura.
Since I can’t run X-Plane 12 on my iMac Pro Apple’s Windows bootcamp, I’m not able to compare myself if the X-Plane 12 menu settings are different on a Early Access Windows versus macOS, but I don’t think so. Ok, macOS Early Access X-Plane 12 doesn’t has the “reshade” possibility and no VR. Oh, that’s not fully correct. The macOS has VR included, but as far as I know there’s no hardware that supports macOS VR.
What is different is the performance. We all know that the current Macs aren’t game machines however, the Mac Studio could make a difference due to Apple’s own Silicon Processor. As a side note; I tested this Summer X-Plane 11 on an Apple 24‑inch iMac with the 4.5K Retina-display. This model was configured as follows; a M1 chip, 8-core CPU/GPU and 8GB memory. so this is one of the basic models. The reason I decided to go for a basic iMac configuration was because of the delivery time. Actually, next day delivery! Although I couldn’t set all the sliders to MAX, I was surprised how it did perform, but far below what I prefer.
Paul highlighted already all his Windows related X-Plane 12 settings and most settings are basically the same. The Rendering Settings tab and then in particular the upper section which is related to the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) and CPU (Central Processing Unit) performances although this was thru for X-Plane 11. No doubt this is the same for every OS (Operating System) X-Plane version, but I would like to show you ones more the difference between Early Access X-Plane 12 and X-Plane 11. On the screenshot below on the right-hand side X-Plane 11 with on the left-hand side X-Plane 12 Early Access b6.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to control or if you wish to adjust like the cloud quality or the shadows. Shadows was always an issue with X-Plane 11, so I hope this will cause less frustration with X-Plane 12, but there’s more. The “Number of World Objects” is replaced by World Objects Density however, I think that more options are included like the rendering distance and the vegetation density.
What’s also added it the enable/disable 3D vegetation and as expected to me, the “Use Metal driver for faster rendering” option is gone. No no, the Metal option for macOS or Vulkan for Windows is still there, but it’s now activated by default.
As I mentioned before, with X-Plane 11 we could say that at the Rendering Settings page all the slider on the top left are related to the GPU impact while all the sliders on the top right are CPU related, and I had hoped this is the same for X-Plane 12 however, on the top right sliders one slider popup window tells me that this is GPU influencing namely slider Vegetation Density. One is for sure CPU related which we already had in X-Plane 11 namely World Objects Density, but the 3 remaining top right sliders don’t mention if it is CPU or GPU related.
Just to be sure and not to make any mistakes, I decided to contact the Laminar Research team and then in particular Ben Supnik. According to Ben “The CPU/GPU relationship isn’t the same as v11 – *most* sliders affect GPU. Vegetation can affect both but often affects GPU more, and the only one that really hits the CPU is 3-d buildings. The left side is now “overall settings for graphics” (e.g. AA, texture res) and the right side is now “specific things in the world” (clouds, shadows, trees, etc.)”
What Do I See?
It could be an easy section to discuss this, but the reality is different. Ok, one thing will be easy and that is that most modern Apple Intel 27″ iMacs have a 5K screen however, what you see within X-Plane is always 2560×1440 pixels so never the 5K or 5120 × 2880 pixels. I always set within X-Plane my settings to 1920×1080 pixels which works fine for me and it offers higher frame rates. So that was easy, isn’t it?
But that was only the start, now the Rendering Settings. With X-Plane 12 there are many more rendering settings possible and that means how do I compare all of that, right? Besides that, the overall X-Plane 12 performance and – keeping in mind that this is an Early Access – it also depends on which or what scenery you’ve loaded, or what ortho package, or which aircraft or an yes, so I can continue.
We also need to keep in mind that as of this writing, in the mid of October 2022, we have X-Plane 12.00b6 (beta) and not sure how many updates will follow and what that could have doe consequences for the final FPS (Frames per Second) or the overall performance.
It can be expected that X-Plane 12 needs more CPU and GPU power since several features have been impressively improved like the 3D clouds or 3D vegetation and others. That said, it could be that for those simmers who run X-Plane on macOS, it will lead to less performance with the settings they had in the past, as far as you can compare them with each other. I did test the Early Access X-Plane 12 also with Ventura, Apple’s latest macOS, but don’t think, no, don’t expect higher performances due to the new OS. Ventura has lots of new features and improvements, but not that X-Plane will run suddenly much better.
The only way to find out how X-Plane 12 beta performs on macOS Monterey and Ventura is to try it with certain rendering settings and see what happens. I can tell you already that I was surprised. Ok, first, no difference noticed between Monterey and Ventura. But Paul informed you already about the look and feel which is indeed at some point stunning, but we also found that the ground textures are basically the same as the out of the box X-Plane 11.
That doesn’t surprise me since I also followed all the discussions during the Alpha program. If during these beta updates the ground textures will be improved or not, I’m not aware of that, so I leave that open. Some had hoped that Laminar Research had changed that too, but the team has good reasons why they didn’t do it. Remember, X-Plane is famous about its highly realistic flight dynamics and X-Plane 12 is again a huge step forward. Although the environment, the sky, sky colours, clouds, vegetation and so on is much improved, ground textures are with b6 still unchanged.
A Scenic VFR flight around KEYW
Once more to all who read this; my goal with this short VFR flight impression is to show you the overall performance in FPS (Frames Per Second) of X-Plane 12.00b6 with certain rendering setting.
I first take you on a very short “default X-Plane 12” scenic flight from KeyWest International Airport (KEYW). When I write “default X-Plane 12” it means that what you see in the first part of the movie are all default X-Plane 12 ground textures, with default KeyWest International airport, default water including their textures, default clouds (who look awesome by the way) except for the aircraft. I’ve chosen for this scenic flight the VSkyLabs CT4E Project.
Then, halfway the movie, I start the taxi, takeoff and short flight all over again, but now after I installed Orbx TrueEarth Florida HD scenery, the Orbx KeyWest International Airport (KEYW) and flying again the VSkyLabs CT4E Project aircraft.
And what is then the idea behind this; does it make a huge difference when I don’t use Orbx for my scenic KeyWest flight or does it? Lets check that out. As you can see in the movie, the frame rates between the two different flights differ – of course I would say – but when I write “differ” then it’s just a couple of frames. Sometimes the default flight has slightly higher FPS, at other moment it has less then the Orbx configured flight.
Most of the circumstances are the same – time of the day, weather, flight path and so on. I won’t say yet that the FPS impact is the same as with X-Plane 11, but it seems that my iMac Pro can handle it better then expected. Of course, not all iMacs are the same, but when you have a recent iMac from let’s say the year 2017-2018 and up, you should be able to run X-Plane 12 with acceptable frame rates, but honest is honest, not high frame rates. The actual rendering settings is a matter of trail and error. As a side note; I got in contact with Org user gr8mac where we shared some info about this Mac Studio and his experience with his older iMac 27 inch from 2017 maxed out.
I’m also not sure if all my sliders are set too high for Mac, but I was surprised about the outcome. Ok, it’s not spectacular and I don’t see 50 or more FPS, but hold on, it’s a Mac and although this is an iMac Pro with an Intel Xeon 10-core CPU, it was never a game monster. I’m sure when I had an Apple Mac Studio with M1 Max or Ultra, it will be much higher, but that’s for the moment not the case.
Since there’s no longer an option to tick Metal support ON/OFF, it’s by default always activated and this should lead to less stutter and thus a smooth flight. I noticed during this first test, that the FPS are relatively stable. Sometimes I see a small stutter, but that could be due to the fact that’s still a beta version.
Right on. Time for another macOS performance test, so let’s move on.
A ToLiss A319 IFR flight from KPAE
I could start with the amount of frame rates I see while doing my preparations at KPAE. I could say that I hardly see any differences in FPS between the same settings with X-Plane 11 and X-Plane 12 Early Access, but I have to watch out. What said before, the rendering settings in X-Plane 12 Early Access are different then what we all know from X-Plane 11, so sometimes it’s guessing what something does besides the naming or popup information window.
As previously explained by Ben Supnik from the X-Plane.Com development team, left GPU, right CPU isn’t no longer valid for X-Plane 12 so basically, you start low with your settings and then you slowly increase some sliders and see the outcome.
I’m not a favorite of the default ground textures and therefore I decided to install the Orbx TrueEarth US Washington, Oregon and California HD packages, but what when I want to have Winter time, right? With X-Plane 11 you could install ortho textures like the ones from TrueEarth Orbx, SpainUHD and others, but you only had one season namely Summer. That said, after I parked my ToLiss A319 at KPAE – yeah yeah, I know, it’s more a Boeing field then an Airbus field – and added a snowy condition, I noticed that the world has become white. Amazing, it seems now possible that even with ortho textures around me, the world can become white. Check out the following screenshots.
As you can see on the above screenshots with the same rendering settings as I used in Florida, the frame rates are low although circling around in the air still doesn’t give me any stutters and a smooth movement can be seen. Still, when I’m on the ground at KSEA, I feel that with my current rendering settings, this is a bit too high. The problem is, but it was already with X-Plane 11, the moment you jump into the flight deck, the frame rates drop, and sometimes they drop dramatically to unacceptable values and yes, this also depends on the type of cockpit and its instruments or DUs (Display Units).
I also noticed, not strange, that when you select for “standing water” or “snowing”, it has a huge impact on the frame rates. The outcome for example for standing water and a slight shiny gloss over the apron is gorgeous, but this come with a price! During my climb out from KPAE, I’ll highlight something else that has a huge impact, but it’s so beautiful. For this you must checkout the YouTube video somewhere at the end.
One last word about the implementation of snow. I checked this phenomenon with other ortho textures, and how they change when there’s snow selected/added and I can tell you, Wow! As can example I installed SimHeaven ortho textures from the Netherlands. In X-Plane 11 you needed SimTiles to modify the ortho textures to Winter look, but with X-Plane 12 this is no longer needed. Just add snow and instantly, ok, after a reload, your landscape has become Winter Wonder land. In one word awesome!
The actual IFR flight
I depart from a remote area at KPAE which is close to the holding point of runway 16R. After I did all the preparations and yes, in the movie you’ll notice that this will also cost frame rates, I and the ToLiss A319 taxi to the holding point. I mentioned before, while I check the outside of the ToLiss A319 and having good frame rates, I look to the gorgeous blue sky, to the few cumulous clouds and to the reflection on the ground. My goodness fellow simmers, this looks great.
Surprisingly too, the takeoff does cost frames, but not as much as I expected. The moment the aircraft becomes airborne, the frame rate counter goes close to the 19.9, but I’m still – and I mentioned this before – surprised that the “image” doesn’t stutter too much. And yes, there’s a difference between seeing the frame rates in the cockpit and looking on the outside to the scenery and aircraft.
As you can see at the end of the movie when climbing out to FL320 while approaching Mount Rainier, the frame rates drop due to several clouds. It’s perhaps not only the clouds that look highly realistic, but perhaps it’s also the shadow and sun that reflects on the A319 while flying thru the clouds and the ground sunlight reflection. This is so much worth it, but what I said before, it has a price. Just to show you the difference, when I remove the clouds and select CLEAR skies, then the frame rates go up with almost 10-15 FPS. That’s visible on the end of the video.
I stopped recording here since my macOS goal was to give you an idea what to expect on an Mac and what to keep in mind when you want decent frame rates. It will cost a bit more time to fiddle around with the different sliders in the rendering settings.
Our Final Thoughts
Let me, your personal reporter Angelique van Campen, start with the summary. I did follow all the comments and suggestions during the Alpha period. The Beta period is more open and can be used, tested and having fun by every one who buys the Early Access X-Plane 12b. I’m still impressed by what I’ve seen so far. Of course, we all know about the 3D vegetation, the clouds, the sky colours, the water and waves, the “shadow implementation”, the seasons not to forget, the added new aircraft types as well as the highly accurate remodeled flight dynamics, float aircraft behavior, the assistance of real pilots in improving the engine start cycles and so much more.
Some are perhaps slightly disappointed that Laminar Research didn’t modify or replace the X-Plane 12 ground textures. I mentioned it earlier, the X-Plane 12 beta period has just been started and perhaps, I’m included, this “ground texture modification” is somewhere on the to-do-list of the development team. Who knows!
My part for this review was only related to those who have an iMac, iMac Pro, Mac Pro, or Macs with the Apple Silicon processor. When you have an Apple Mac Studio then I’m sure you’ll have no problems with X-Plane 12 and good frame rates. Apple may have an excellent reputation, but they never had a game reputation however, that is perhaps changed with the M1 Apple Silicon Max and Ultra ARM processors, and besides that, X-Plane 12 has both commands for either the Intel or Apple Silicon processors. In other words, X-Plane 12 is also native Apple Silicon compatible. And yes, I agree, the price you pay for an Apple is high, sometimes way to much, but on the other hand, selling your Apple PC after several years is possible for a good price.
OK, back to me part.
X-Plane 12 does has an impact on your frame rates. How much that will depend on the type of Mac you have. That doesn’t mean you can’t run X-Plane 12 on your Mac. The only thing you need to keep in mind what airport you’re using, or which aircraft you take. Besides that, weather and its apron reflection with standing water can be crucial for your FPS. Although my iMac Pro does a good job and no, it doesn’t do an excellent job with X-Plane 12, I’m impressed by what I’ve seen.
So one huge step forward in realistic flight simulation.
Last but not least and that is how does X-Plane 12 deal with Apple Silicon processors. According to Ben Supnik “X-Plane 11 is an x86_64 app, as are all plugins ever written for it. So if you run it on an Intel Mac, it just works, and if you run it on one of the new ARM Macs, it will run using Rosetta, which will translate the code as you fly.
In the future and this is applicable to X-Plane 12, we will have an X-Plane build that is “universal”–that is, it contains ARM and x86_64 code, and we will have a plugin SDK that contains both ARM and x86_64 code. At this point, plugin authors can start recompiling plugins to contain both types of code as well. Users with ARM Macs will have the choice to (1) run ‘natively’ in ARM for higher performance and use only plugins that are universal or (2) continue to run x86_64 code under Rosetta, so that all plugins work.”
This was an article from Ben that goes back to November 2020.
Now it’s up to Paul to inform you about his experiences Windows 11 X-Plane 12.00b6.
There is much more that can be said about X-Plane 12 that I’ve not touched upon or have forgotten about as I went in and out of the simulator and back and forth between it and X-Plane 11, including the flight experience and the new ATC module.
Every review needs to end somewhere, and this was intended to be an overview of what the new flight environment brings to our flying experience, and it seems to have become a little bit more than that! I guess that means ATC and other things will be covered when X-Plained.com returns to cover the “final” release of X-Plane 12.
Personally, I have found X-Plane 12 to be quite an exciting update to X-Plane 11 and am looking forward to the coming months when the scenery and aircraft become available for this upgrade. I think my biggest disappointment thus far is that all my float planes have been broken by the new aquatic properties.
Attention attention : last minute note from Angelique van Campen
While editing and combining our own X-Plane 12 Early access impressions, I noticed that Paul didn’t highlight the new aircraft. Not that you can always discuss everything and it’s normal that we forget something, but this is worth to highlight since I’m impressed which the set of modern aircraft. With X-Plane 12, Laminar Research added the following aircraft:
- Airbus A330-300 (commercial)
- Cessna Citation X (business)
- Cirrus SR22 (General Aviation)
- Grumman F-14 Tomcat (fighter)
- Lancair Evolution (business)
- Piper PA-18 Super Cub (General Aviation)
- Robinson R22 Beta II (helicopter)
- Schleicher ASK 21 (glider)
- Van’s Aircraft RV-10 (GA)
Paul Beckwith and Angelique van Campen
|Add-on:||Payware Laminar Research X-Plane 12 Early Access|
|Publisher | Developer:||X-Plane.Com | Aerosoft | Laminar Research|
|Description:||X-Plane 12 Early Access|
|Software Source / Size:||Download / Approximately 60GB - 125GB (unzipped)|
|Reviewed by:||Paul Beckwith and Angelique van Campen|
|Published:||October 10th 2022|
|Hardware specifications||Angelique van Campen:
- iMac Pro
- Intel 3GHz Intel Xeon W / 4.5Ghz
- Radeon Pro Vega 64 16368 MB
- 64 GB 2666 MHz DDR4
- 1 internal shared 1TB SSD (Big Sur 11.x)
- 1 internal shared 1TB SSD (Bootcamp Windows 10)
- 1 external 2TB LaCie Rugged Pro SSD (Big Sur 11.x)
- Saitek Pro Flight System X-52 Pro and X-56 Rhino
- Honeycomb Alpha Flight Controls
- Honeycomb Bravo Throttle Quadrant
- Ryzen 9 5950X CPU @ 3.40GHz
- 64 GB DDR4 3200MHz RAM
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 10 GB GDDR6X
- Honeycomb Alpha Yoke
- Honeycomb Bravo Quadrant
- CH Products Pedals
|Software specifications||Angelique van Campen:
- macOS Monterey and Ventura
- X-Plane 12.00b6 Early Access
- Windows 11
- X-Plane 12.00b6 Early Access