• Review: Photo Real Chicago And Atlanta

    Newport Scenery For Chicago And Atlanta

    By Bill Otten (22 November 2008)

    Most of us sim-pilots, like real pilots, tend to have a 'home base' around which we typically fly. Or it becomes our starting points for long flights, and the welcoming familiarity on return flights. So having it look as realistic as possible to the real world environment is a strong desire for us. And if you're using your flight simulator as an integral part of your real life pilot training it becomes almost a necessity. Because of this, we've seen many program offerings of photo realistic scenery over the past few years for FS2004 and lately FSX. This review focuses on two of those photo-realistic program packages from Newport -- one for the Atlanta metropolitan area, the other for the Chicago metropolitan area. Both were of particular interest to me. Chicago is my home town, and while I currently live in Florida, I naturally tend to make Chicago a destination flight pretty often. Busy air corridors, rapid weather changes, and familiarity with nearly all the small GA airfields as well as O'Hare and Midway airports are several reasons Chicago gets my attention. And Atlanta turns out to nearly always be one of my connecting hubs as a frequent flyer out of KTPA (Tampa) on business. Besides that, I enjoy flying for a virtual airline that serves the southeast and Atlanta is a major destination there also. So when the scenery packages for these two areas were announced on FlightSim.Com I wanted to give them a thorough review.

    Both packages are available from the FlightSim Pilot Shop and can be had as instant downloads. They both have similar descriptions in the Pilot Shop, identical in fact to all the Newport scenery programs. For the Atlanta program the listing says: "Atlanta Photo Real X is more than 1,225 Square Miles around the city of Atlanta, Ga of 2 m per pixel satellite image ground textures. This awesome scenery is perfect for those who like to fly VFR, or for those who are residents of the Atlanta area and would like to fly over their house. This is a very frame rate friendly add on, in fact most customers are reporting that they get better frames with this scenery than default FSX scenery. Supports SP2 and Acceleration." Substitute a different city name and the difference in square mile coverage and you have all that Newport reveals about the scenery, and that may hint at some of the drawbacks of this series. More on this as we progress.

    They're both large files so a DSL or cable line is highly recommended, no dial-up would be suggested here. The Newport - Photo Real Chicago X scenery is a 799 megabyte download, and the Newport - Photo Real Atlanta X scenery is a hefty 1.4 gigabyte file. I have a high speed business cable line coming into the house here and downloads of the files took some time to complete even then. Highly recommended is a downloader program for large files like this in the event you would have to resume a paused download if the line drops. As it was, I did not use one and wound up having to make several attempts to get both of them in complete files. This is not a program problem, but a consequence of the large downloads and getting them without problems. I had some corrupted .bgl files come down in the Chicago scenery resulting in an error message (error11FD) and Atlanta took a couple of download attempts before I got a complete file. I fault my cable line for these problems. Once I got clean copies extraction went well.

    Installation went smoothly. The programs come in a zip form, you unzip them to a temporary folder and then there is an executable installer in the extracted folder. Click on the executable installer and sit back while the installer finds your FSX folder and installs the program. One small sniglet for me was the fact that the installer puts the .bgl files into the Addon Scenery/Scenery folder. I tend as a reviewer to need to switch scenery files on and off in the scenery library for comparison purposes, it would have been nice to simply have the installer place these .bgl files into their own folder for this reason. I moved the files by hand into separate TyN_Atlanta and TyN_Chicago folders within the Addon Scenery library folder. For reasons I'll get to, you'll probably want to do the same. The read me files says:

    How to Install:
    1. Extract this whole file.
    2. Run the PhotoRealChicagoX.exe
    *If your scenery is NOT showing up in flight simulator, then try this:
    >>> Start FSX, go to
    >>> Settings 
    >>> Scenery Library     
    >>> Add Area
    >>> Browse for Local Disk(Usually C)\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Microsft Flight Simulator X\Addon Scenery\Photo Real Chicago X
    >>> Select the Folder, hit OK

    Unfortunately, as I noted the files extract directly to the Addon Scenery/Scenery folder. No Photo Real Chicago X (or similar Atlanta) folder is ever created with the installer. That's why they don't need activation through the scenery library file activation....any .bgl files placed into the Addon Scenery/Scenery folder is already checked and will be active. Luckily, all the files are easily spotted with unique numerical file names and can be moved and placed in a proper separate folder.

    Okay, the read me file (you DO read those don't you?) instructs that you must have the scenery texture resolution set at 2m or higher in order to get the full impact of the photorealistic scenery. That's an easy setting change. I also run with normal Autogen settings. Here are screen shots WITHOUT the Newport scenery activated of both Atlanta (left) and Chicago (right):


    I typically use Ultimate Terrain X along with Ground Environment X Nhanced on my system (this particular system is a Pentium D 2.8 Ghz with 2 gigs of RAM, and an NVidia 8800GT card with 512Mb, not the latest, greatest but probably typical of a lot of FSX user systems). Frame rates depend upon the detail levels, over countryside the system does well with plenty of autogen buildings and trees, over big metro areas the system will drop into single digit frame rates at times. With the addition of the Newport sceneries I didn't see any drops in frame rates, which meets the developer's claim of being frame rate friendly, but I did not see any increase in frame rates as the developer stated was possible in his advertisements. Using my stock setup of Ultimate Terrain X/Ground Environment X Nhanced I don't see the dreaded blurries, but as many have reported when using photorealistc sceneries, I DID encounter occasional blurries with the Newport sceneries. I tried to work around it by expanding the terrain radius distance to maximum but that impacted frame rates as expected. The blurries I considered a very minor issue, and for me didn't impact the total experience all that much but needs to be mentioned regardless. One great finding was that the photorealistic scenery roads meshed very well with the scenery outside of the photoreal scenery boundaries. That may be due to using Ultimate Terrain X which is known to have precise road, railroad, and river placement. So it was nice to see those parts come together without error.

    Here are screen shots using the Newport scenery files, again with Atlanta on the left, Chicago on the right:


    It is immediately apparent that the photorealistic Newport scenery does indeed add a heightened realism, no argument there. The detail is very good...streets, buildings, all appear properly. In the Chicago shot I like the railyard in the foreground, being able to see a large number of rail tracks. I was able to spot many landmarks down to tiny details. There are some drawbacks however that tend to diminish the overall impact of the scenery's initial appreciations and to me the drawbacks dealt the scenery a diminished rating. To begin, there are no seasonal changes. The photos were taken at what appears to be late spring or early summer in the Atlanta scenery, and the Chicago scenery at a time when an almost total lack of greenery was present, but not during a snowy period. So a lot of the Chicago scenery appears with that gray washed out look to it as you see it above right. Other parts of Chicago appear to have been photographed in spring or summer, as you go north of the city some scenery blocks are much greener. Atlanta is better, being sufficiently green although neither scenery changes with a changing of the calendar. No winter, no autumn textures.

    Unfortunately, it gets worse. There are no night textures either and when you fly over the Newport photorealistic stuff at night the area constituting the Newport geography is still in daylight mode with the streetlamps tossed in. Beyond the boundaries of the Newport files, FSX resorts to the darkened landscape we're accustomed to, with a much more appropriate number of street lights and building lighting. Here's what the difference looks like:


    Newport photo realistic at night (above, left): Notice the bright area with darkness beyond the file limits... Then, the typical FSX night time texturing (above, right), looking much more realistic.

    ...and the appearance of Newport geography showing the boundary between it and normal FSX night on the left, and the stark seasonality difference (supposed to be winter) on the right:


    So here's my bottom line conclusion on these two scenery programs, Newport Atlanta Photo Real X and Newport Photo Real Chicago X: If you're content with flying ONLY during daylight hours, within a single season without any changes to autumn or winter scenery textures, then you may want to consider these. For me, the lack of seasonal texture changes and night textures, the stark and unrealistic photoreal textures of day showing up during night time flight and the glaringly obvious transition boundary between the day textures from the Newport scenery clashing with normal darkened FSX night textures honestly removes it from consideration for me. I suppose I could activate/inactivate the Newport scenery for appropriate times, but that would entail a bit more (seasons, night/day, etc.) than I'm willing to do. A quick and thorough read of the FSX scenery programs will reveal several companies offering photoreal scenery along with night time and seasonal textures, they may be better choices from the FlightSim.Com Pilot Shop. Using the rating system often seen here on FlightSim.Com by noted reviewer Andrew Herd, I'd have to withhold a reward rating for these scenery packages. Andrew states in how he derives review rewards: "If a product doesn't have an award then, it doesn't mean to say it isn't worth buying, quite the reverse, it might be very good indeed, but something in the mix will have let it down."

    Bill Otten
    [email protected]
    Purchase Newport Atlanta Scenery
    Purchase Newport Chicago Scenery

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