Active Sky 2012
Publisher: HiFi Technologies
Screen shot by HiFi Technologies
Active Sky 2012 is a software add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator X® that enhances graphic textures and sounds for land, sea, and sky. Developed by HiFi Technologies, it provides "ultra realistic" lights, roads, railways, runways, taxiways, clouds, sun, moon, water, waves, and light flare "in full high-definition quality," HiFi promises. It also enhances sounds of rain and thunder. HiFi calls it "total weather immersion."
HiFi's Active Sky 2012 offers these among many other features:
- Accurate winds aloft
- Hurricane simulation
- High resolution runways
- Winter runways showing snow, ice, and billows
- User customization
- User-friendly menu
Active Sky 2012 performs 14 functions. The list of features in HiFi's product description seems very technical and complicated at first glance, but I discovered after examining the program that some of the listed features are user options while others describe how the program works. That distinction simplifies everything down to three basic functions and one advanced function.
When the program loads, it retrieves data from its database and downloads data from the Internet. Its first menu screen displays a list of Active Sky 2012 news items and updates accompanied by clapping and rolling thunder.
|SAMPLING OF ACTIVE SKY FUNCTIONS|
|Weather Conditions||Flight Planning|
The basic functions of Active Sky 2012 are graphics, weather, sounds, and flight planning. I categorize them as "basic" because they are menu driven and require a low level of user input.
Graphics: The basic graphic functions are the improvements of graphical images for land, water, and sky. The nine textures are: clouds, water, sky, airports, lights, railroad, roads, lens flare, and lightning. The sky graphics affect how the clouds look, what color the sky is, and the vigor of lightning. The ground graphics affect colors and textures of water surfaces. The land graphics affect the appearance of airport surfaces, roads, and railway lines. Users can select from a collection of eleven themes. Installing these enhancements can be done only when FSX is not operating, and it took several minutes on my Windows 7 computer.
My comparison screen shots below were made by first shooting under default FSX without Active Sky 2012. Then I shot exactly the same locations and viewpoints after installing Active Sky 2012's graphics.
|LAND & WATER GRAPHICS|
|Screen shots by Bill Stack|
|Screen shots by Bill Stack|
Weather: The weather function has three features. Users can get official weather reports from airports around the world. Weather data include ceiling, visibility, cloud types, precipitation type, temperature, pressure, and wind speed and direction on the ground and aloft. These data are displayed graphically with icons and text and in the standard METAR format. Users can also get real-time airmets, sigmets, and pilot reports displayed in tabular form. Of course, these data are available only from airports that normally produce them and post their reports on the Internet. Users can also create their own weather conditions of clouds, precipitation, temperature, and winds.
HiFi says Active Sky 2012 provides "improved thunderstorm and hurricane depiction." The thunderstorm I saw looked and sounded better than the FSX depiction, but I was unable to witness a hurricane. The program simulates a hurricane when it "detects hurricane strength wind data from hurricanes," HiFi's manual explains, but there were no such storms anywhere on the planet when I reviewed this product.
Even before I installed these enhancements, Active Sky 2012 was already influencing my simulator. FSX repeatedly changed weather to "User defined," and a message scrolled across the top of the screen informing me that new weather data had been downloaded. This was a result of my having both programs open at the same time. When I used FSX alone, I saw no background influence from Active Sky 2012.
|ACTIVE SKY WEATHER|
|Weather Map||Airmets, Sigmets and Pireps||Custom Inputs|
|Screen shots by Bill Stack|
Sounds: Users can select improved sounds for lightning and precipitation, which are accessed through the graphics menu. They seem realistic enough, but I was unable to capture them for examples.
Flight Planning: Users can create their flight plans usable in FSX. As with the FSX flight planner, they can enter departure and destination airports, waypoints, and cruising altitudes, and they can import existing flight plans. In addition to the FSX flight planner, the Active Sky 2012 planner enables alternate airport, cruise speed, climb rate, and descent rate.
Simulator Launch: Users can launch FSX from within Active Sky 2012, which enables them to prepare their weather and graphics in advance of using the simulator.
Help: The 95-page manual can be accessed by mouse clicking the HELP button.
I categorize the following features "advanced" because they require more user input than the basic features. Some require more computer knowledge and higher skills than average such as scripting and coding.
- Custom Weather: Users can create their own weather by inputing data from other sources, such as their daily newspaper, or by creating their own entirely fictional weather.
- Custom Graphics: Users can add or remove graphics themes. They can modify colors and resolutions of ground, water, and sky appearances. They can also add their own snapshots from external graphics add-on programs. I saw no ready method for restoring FSX default graphics, however. The "Default" theme is Active Sky's default, not FSX. I presume users can create a theme for FSX conditions.
- Backup: Users can back up default FSX graphics through Active Sky's Settings menu. Texture files should always be backed up before any graphics are altered with Active Sky or any other program.
- Station Database Management: This feature enables users to modify Active Sky 2012's features "on-the-fly" such as physical stations, data stations, airports, NDBs and VORs.
- Installation Wizard: This feature enables users to add the XGauge weather instrument to their aircraft pop-up panels.
As I said earlier, some of the items in the product descriptions's lengthy list are operational methods that users cannot control. Knowing how this program gathers and provides its information is useful. As examples:
- "Quadrangle Distance-Weighted Interpolation Technology" fills the gaps in weather data.
- An "In-Flight Weather Display Gauge" gives full in-flight mapping, radar imagery, and textual weather information.
Installation and Configuration
HiFi's Installation Wizard installs, updates, or uninstalls the program. It extracts and deposits all necessary files into the appropriate folders. Users can install the program so it relates to all aircraft (by default), or they can select which aircraft to associated Active Sky with. The installation program is entirely menu driven and easy to use.
When FSX starts, it asks users for permission to run the unique program: XGauge.dll. Active Sky 2012 will not function without it.
A 95-page manual in portable document format (PDF) describes everything a user needs to know about Active Sky 2012 from installation, through use, to custom inputs and troubleshooting. It uses succinct descriptions, clear text, and color screen shots throughout. It's as professionally made as the program itself. It can be accessed from within the Active Sky 2012 program by clicking on the HELP button.
|Screen shots by Bill Stack|
Active Sky 2012 by HiFi Technologies is for Microsoft Flight Simulator ® versions X (FSX) only. System requirements are specified in the product description. They include:
- Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7
- FSX Deluxe with Service Pack 1 (required for networking configuration)
- An internet connection for real-time weather
- Pentium 2 GHz processor or better
- 1 GB RAM or better
- 25 GB free hard drive space
Most modern computers that handle FSX are able to meet these requirements. Users should compare their computer and simulator capabilities to the system requirements listed in the product description to be certain.
Technical support is through forums on the HiFi Technologies website. Readers seeking technical information not reported in this review should contact HiFi Technologies because they are best able to answer such questions.
HiFi Technologies makes sophisticated add-on software for home flight simulation. Active Sky 2012 is the first of its products available from the FlightSim.Com Pilot Shop.
HiFi Technologies' Active Sky 2012 is several programs in one. It enables users to enhance their visual graphics on land, water, and sky. It enables creating flight plans that are better than those made by FSX. And it enables users to gather more detailed real-world weather or create more detailed custom weather. Graphics apply around the world, and real-world weather applies wherever data are available through the Internet. Users will enjoy experimenting with the program for a hands-on feel for what it can do, and they will benefit even more from reading the manual.
Bill Stack is author of several books about flight simulation, a regular author in flight-sim magazines, and a contributor to Flight Sim Com. His website is www.topskills.com