Ultimate Weather FX
By Bill Stack (27 February 2009)
For many years, continual criticism of Microsoft Flight Simulator's® default weather has been that clouds and precipitation don't look or behave real enough. My basic criticism of every recent version has been that overcasts don't obscure views of the ground from aloft, especially while enroute, which ruins the entire IFR experience.
Ultimate Weather FX by Zinertek Technologies of
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, seeks to remedy these
shortcomings. Zinertek promises a "brand new level of realism to
your Flight Simulator . . . with breathtaking clouds and
precipitation effects." They promise that "your environments and
weather themes will be instantly enhanced no matter where you
Ultimate Weather FX was designed as a stand-alone add-on to MSFS that enhances weather generated by FS9, FSX and third-party weather-enhancing add-ons.
"Our product enhances both the MSFS weather themes as well as the user-defined weather themes depicted by software such as Active Sky or FSMeteo," Zinertek said. "Our product provides new skies, clouds, and effects which are then used to depict the current weather generated by Active Sky, FSMeteo, or the Sim's own weather engine."
Clouds generated by Ultimate Weather FX are noticeably more realistic than clouds generated by FSX, but determining how much better is difficult. You can't see before-and-after effects simultaneously, so you have to rely on your memory or Zinertek's before/after screen shots.
Ultimate Weather's clouds change shape, just like real clouds. If you watch them for 30 or 60 seconds, you see their shapes change.
Dusk and dawn natural lighting are quite realistic and much better than the MSFS default. This was true of the ground, the clouds around the aircraft, and clouds in the upper atmosphere.
For the optimum use of Ultimate Weather FX, you have to increase the weather settings in your simulator. You'll still see some enhancements without increasing your simulator's weather settings, but the best enhancements require increased settings. This is all explained in the User Guide.
The airport lighting was nice, but it's difficult to tell exactly how much nicer without having a "before" and "after" picture.
The 3D aircraft lighting is installed separately from the
weather. The User Guide clearly explains how to install it.
The user guide is made available for reviewing or printing right after the program installation is complete. That makes accessing it much easier than user guides accompanying other MSFS add-ons.
It's written in clear, nontechnical language, and it contains useful screen shots.
Ultimate Weather FX did not diminish my frame rate. The simulator continued to function normally regardless of how many clouds, how dense, or what time of day.
The aircraft and airport lights are nice extra features for a weather program.
Ultimate Weather FX can be used on MSFS versions 9 and 10 (FS 2004 and FSX). Different features apply to each simulator version, however, because of inherent programming differences within the simulators.
"The FS9 version also comes with exclusive bonuses such as new rainfall, snowfall, and virtual cockpit precipitation effects," Zinertek said. "Features that the FS9 version of Active Sky Graphics does not have. In fact, we are not aware of any other products having these new features."
Ultimate Weather FX can be uninstalled from your
simulator if you don't like it. I uninstalled it to reevaluate the
MSFS default weather and compare it to Ultimate Weather FX.
Otherwise, I would have left it installed because of its obvious
I found two issues with Ultimate Weather FX: overcasts and aircraft lighting.
In producing overcasts for IFR flight, Ultimate Weather FX was no better than MSFS. That's because Ultimate Weather FX enhances what MSFS creates instead of creating its own weather. Terrain below is still visible from thousands of feet aloft when skies are supposed to be obscuring overcast. If you want overcasts that obscure views from aloft so you can simulate instrument flight realistically, you'll need a better weather generator such as Active Sky, Zinertek says.
The incandescent and xenon aircraft lighting are separate programs from Ultimate Weather FX and from each other. We can have incandescent lighting or xenon lighting, but not both. To switch between the two, we have to reinstall one over the other. In the real world, some aircraft have incandescent lighting while others have xenon lighting, but it's one or the other for all aircraft with this add-on. The differences between typically yellow-toned incandescent lights and typically white-toned xenon lights are clear in the comparison photos.
For the 3D aircraft lighting to work, you must have the A2A Shockwave 3D Lights Redux add-on already installed in your simulator. I don't, so I couldn't evaluate the aircraft lighting.
That Zinertek's 3D Aircraft Lighting requires another add-on to work at all begs the question of what it does that A2A Shockwave 3D Lights Redux doesn't do. Zinertek's answered my question as follows: "Basically, our product provides 2 new and more realistic light maps (Xenon and Incandescent) which further enhance the 3D lights that users already have on their FS9 and FSX aircraft. Our product also provides the 3D lights installer which allows users to easily switch between the Xenon and Incadescent lights at any time. This way they don't have to manually modify their aircraft's .cfg files in order to switch the color of the lights."
The "*.cfg files" are configuration files that basically tell MSFS what to do, and they are easily edited with any simple text program such as Windows Notepad. But you have to know what you're doing, or you can mess up the whole simulator. Therefore, Zinertek's programs for changing the color of aircraft lighting is better than editing the configuration files.
This add-on definitely creates more realistic weather and lighting effects than the MSFS defaults. Its best weather results are available after add-on weather generators have been installed. The 3D lighting effects work only when A2A Shockwave 3D Lights Redux has been installed. For these reasons, I recommend Ultimate Weather FX as an enhancement to the MSFS weather generator and especially as enhancements to the other named add-ons.
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 web site is www.topskills.com