• FS Panel Studio

    FS Panel Studio For FSX

    By Andrew Herd (14 October 2007)

    Every now and again, a package establishes such a commanding lead in the flight sim world that nothing is able to touch it - FS Panel Studio is such a product. The concept is simple; FSP is a visual panel and gauge editor which supports every version of Flight Simulator from FS98 onwards and Combat Flight Simulator and CFS2 into the bargain. The application's interface makes panel editing about as simple as it can be, while at the same time offering power users' a great deal of flexibility.

    But why would anyone who isn't an aircraft developer want a panel editing package? The short answer is that if you haven't ever felt the urge to add an ADF to a panel, you wouldn't want one, but with an increasing number of payware custom gauge packages around from the likes of Reality-XP and SimFlyer, not to mention an ocean of freeware and a slew of default planes whose panels are studded with useful instruments, little stands in the way of creating the panel of your dreams. Little, that is, apart from this:

    [Window01]
    size_mm=159,441
    position=8
    visible=0
    BACKGROUND_COLOR=16,16,16
    ident=RADIO_STACK_PANEL

    gauge00=737-400!Comm 1, 0, 0,159, 68
    gauge01=737-400!Comm 2, 0, 68,159, 68
    gauge02=737-400!Nav 1, 0, 135,159, 68
    gauge03=737-400!Nav 2, 0, 203,159, 68
    gauge04=737-400!Transponder, 0, 271,159, 68
    gauge05=737-400!ADF, 0, 340,159, 68
    gauge06=737-400!Audio, 0, 409,159, 32

    Which is - as just about the only meaningful entry in the code above tells us - the panel.cfg entry for the default Boeing 737-800 radio stack. It is true that once you get used to the logic behind the way the numbers work, it isn't that difficult to change things around, or even add new gauges, but even if you can get your head around doing that, you are still left with the problem of having to constantly reload the plane in order to see how the changes (or the damage) is looking. Although you can't go far wrong as long as you make adequate backups before you get going with notepad, hand-rolling panel.cfgs is an awfully big adventure, especially when you consider that the more modern gauges tend to come in xml .cab packs that aren't always that easy to inspect. The rewards for getting it right are tremendous, because the majority of FS gauges contain all the code that is needed to make 'em work, all you have to do is to plug them into a panel to reap immediate rewards; and with FS Panel Studio, you can edit existing gauges and even create new ones.

    So a tool that removes some of the guesswork is highly welcome and FS Panel Studio does all that and more. The package is available on CD from the Pilot Shop and installation is fast and straight forward. When the routine was done, the Start Menu showed a new program group with links to the application, its help file, the FSP web page and an uninstall routine. You can get an idea of just how powerful FSP is by checking out the online help file here.

    I did most of the testing on a 2.66 Ghz Core2Duo with 4 Gb of RAM and a 768 Mb GeForce 8800GTX running FSX SP1 under Windows Vista, but also tested FSP using FS2004 on XP on another system. The first thing you have to do after installation is to identify which version of Flight Simulator you want to work with, which couldn't be simpler, because FSP pops up a window which lets you select the version you want and check that the working folder is correct. After that, FSP will automatically search for gauges associated with a panel when you load it for the first time, including looking inside .cab files, so that you have every single element that combines to make the panel work at your fingertips. Equally, FSP can be used to create a panel and gauges from scratch, although doing this will involve some additional skills in the graphics design area.

    The preferences option in FSP allows you to set up the interface just about any way you want, including specifying which text and graphics editors you want to use, as well as a long list of display attributes relating to the panels and gauges you will be working with. In its default state, FSP loads the last panel you worked with at startup, which is convenient, because it usually takes several sessions to get a panel right. Another option which proved worth its weight in gold during the course of the review was the way FSP automatically saves backups, because if you are anything like me, there will be as much error as there is trial...

    Assuming you want to edit an existing panel, the first time FSP opens, the easiest way to get going is to select the option to 'open panel.cfg by aircraft' which brings up a list ordered by aircraft manufacturer, model and variation. Once you have found the plane you want to edit, FSP reads the panel.cfg, finds all the gauges for you and offers you a choice of panel to load, even where the default planes are concerned, some of the more complex aircraft have more than a dozen different panels, including the main panel.

    With so many possibilities, the question was where to begin, so I launched a dawn raid on FS2004 and borrowed one of the Trimotors while the EAA weren't looking, before fitting it with SimFlyer's Bendix-King KX155 and a VOR, remembering to make the appropriate changes in the aircraft.cfg file so that the Trimotor recognised it had a Nav radio at long last - and yeah, I do appreciate that the airspeed is zero, but then if you knew what I know about flying Trimotors, you wouldn't be reading this, now would you ? (-:

    As you can see from the screenshots, the result works, the only fly in the ointment being that is doesn't affect the virtual cockpit (VC) because FS Panel Studio is 2D panel editor and VCs are a different ball game entirely. However, as long as you confine yourself to 2D panels, the world is your oyster - it took seconds to add the new radio in its own pop up window to the Trimotor and the worst problem I had with the VOR gauge was finding somewhere to put it. FSP makes the process easy, because all you have to do when you want to add a gauge is: click the icon; select the gauge you want to add from the list that appears, the VOR in this case being found in the SimFlyers GPX SX .cab file; drag the gauge where you want it on the panel; resize it; go find the radio; swap that in place of the old one in the radio window; call up aircraft.cfg using the link on the FSP menu; edit it so that the plane knows it has a Nav radio (I could have done this using FSP's radio and autopilot support tool); save the panels; and go fly.

    Now if that isn't easy, I don't know what is and before I did the review of SimFlyer's GPX SX package, my knowledge of panel editing was zilch. Everything I know I have learned in about two hours flat, and all of that has been gleaned from six pages in the SimFlyer manual and the help files in FSP - so, given that I don't have a brain the size of a planet, I don't think most simmers will have too much trouble.

    If you are feeling brave, or reckless, depending on whether you have a whole two hours experience of panel editing under your belt or not, you can go on and edit and even create gauges, although doing so involves quite a jump in complexity, as you can see from the dialog in the screenshot on the left in the second row. As the manual says, with admirable understatement, 'making a new gauge from scratch is not a simple task' and I whole-heartedly agree with that - but FSP has no problem creating xml gauges and can cope with every format back to FS98, so you shouldn't have any problems. However, I suspect that the majority of simmers will buy it to add gauges to existing planes and FSP is quite simply ideal for that purpose, although using it like that ignores 95% of its capacity.

    Some of you will want to go on and edit gauges, the main reason most simmers have for doing this probably being to extend the arcs on airspeed indicators and stuff that makes flying freeware more convenient, and although this is more complicated than shuffling gauges around using the panel editor, FSP has a tutorial explaining the basics and as long as you are familiar with editing graphics, you will be amazed at what can be done in half an hour using the package. There are five tutorials in all, covering: editing your first panel; adding a new panel to an existing aircraft; adding a pop up GPS to a panel; editing a gauge; and creating a new gauge, which covers all the popular areas.

    If you want to see another panel edit done using FS Panel Studio, take a look at the shots in the third row, where I have added an entire GPS SX stack and a pair of VOR heads to the default Cessna 172 in FS2004. Once again, this didn't take that long to do and once you have got the idea of how panels and gauges work together, you will find it hard to resist altering just about everything you use...

    Verdict? One of the most useful tools ever released for Flight Simulator, FSP is a classic app. The interface is best described as 'comfortable' which is another way of saying that it looks a little mature, but that really is the only thing I can find to criticize about it. If you want to edit panels, this is the first and last app you need to consider.

    Andrew Herd
    [email protected]

    Learn More Here


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