Monday, June 30, 2008

Multi-graphic card support under Vista (or lack of)

I've been trying to get my ATI x1900 PCI-express adapter to work in the second PCIe slot along with my nVidia 8800 GT PCI-express card. Vista keeps disabling the ATI (secondary PCIe slot) and notes that an incompatible video card has been disabled. According to this article at Microsoft, it explains that WDDM drivers under Vista now require "homogonous" video card support due to the new simplified VGA stack. Basically, meaning regardless of if you have it in a PCI slot or anything else, all graphics adapters MUST RUN under the same display driver. Right down to it sounds like the exact same model (not sure about this, as it sounds like some of the unified driver settings from ATI and nVidia might work ok, as long as it can use the same driver). Anyway...that is a bummer. I might look into installing XPDM drivers, which sounds like it will make everything revert back to the more complex old XP vga driver stack..but that sort of sucks. I really don't need a complex, high end second card. I just want to use it to display auxillary display screens of the glass cockpit in FSX (I hope that even works).

Also, I got my two 15" TFT-LCD touch screens from Newegg tonight. WOW, is all I can say. These kick the crap out of the 8" lilliput touch display (funny, they can use the same vista driver for the touch display I found for the lilliput, though...good, because they didn't have any for vista on the install disk). Anyway, I went with the HyVision MV155 Megavision with a native 1024x768 display. Gotta run and try FSX with this new monitor. I now have 7 monitors on my desk I'm trying to play around with...sigh. I really need to move this into a dedicated cockpit...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Initial Cockpit design considerations

So, I've been going over what all I am going to need for an initial design plan for a cockpit. First, while a lot of folks in the full cockpit simulation experience are going for triple projectors for the wrap around 210-degree experience (sans virtual cockpit) and letting the ACTUAL cockpit obscure the view from there, I don't think I want it to be quite that big. With a 19" LCD monitor, that works out to about a 13.4" viewable x-direction, and typically, that represents about a 45-degree field of view at roughly 20" to your eye (that is with a 3" eye spacing, which puts you back from the center of the pivot about 3.6"). Left and right monitors pivot around that 16.3" focal point. But, if that is what I'm doing, then I really begin to question how the TrackIR (that I love so much in a virtual cockpit mode) becomes almost a liability. You don't want your FLIGHT view panning around behind your instruments. And, as I add MFD, PFD and possibly an 8" LCD touch screen radio stack, you really don't want your view jumping around.

So, I'm back to the following specs:

  • 3 main view displays using 19" LCD and TH2go on a 16.2" radius for a 135-degree wrap around display experience.
  • 1 15" MFD for artificial horizon and all the PM general aviation glass cockpit (I don't think this needs to be touch screen, and it will need to interface through a modest networked PC) via either PM or FSUIPC for display. Could also be used to display the analog gauges for older prop planes.
  • 1 15" display for a moving map/radar image. This may need to have touch screen support???
  • 1 8" LCD touch screen enabled display for the radio stacks. I think I've almost 100% decided this. I don't want to have to do all the panels and wiring for inputs into a hagstrom keyboard encoder or anything, and seems a lot easier to have differing setups and change things if it is a "virtual" glass stack. I really need to get a touch screen monitor to begin playing with this. As long as I can just touch the knob to tune it up/down, which PM seems to do from the limited demo's I've seen (need to do more on this via networked PC on my laptop, since the FSX blanks all other pgm windows (even on second monitor ports) when you are in full screen view.
  • Think it is already obvious I'm going to have to have a very modest second PC networked in here to handle some of the secondary instrument displays. Just need to begin playing around with which options work best.
  • I'm also going to need a modest 5.1 surround sound system, with focus on a good base with optical inputs. Need to make sure FSX supports that...hum...
  • I'm going to need a good chair (like from an old wrecked car or something).

Sunday, June 15, 2008


I flew from Cascade airport to Boise on a VFR route yesterday in a twin beachcraft. Pretty cool with Tile Proxy running. Buzzed our cabin and everything...grin. The boys evey did very well piloting the little ultralight around and were loving it.

I have to admit, the F/A-18 Hornet sure makes you appreciate how fast those military jets can fly. I barely get taken off and messing around with looking around (plus the exterior views are simply AMAZING in 3 monitors), and I'm already past Boise. Damn, those planes haul ass.

I got an F-14 Tomcat, but the quality of the instrument panel is crap. F-15 is a little better. I really want a couple jet trainers, and will probably try to find a good F-16. I've already decided this is going to need me to do some sort of a cockpit build. Just have to figure out details. I'm pretty serious about doing it with 2 PC's and 5 monitors. I just need to figure out specifics. It crowds my desk too much playing with it the way it is. I'll make sure it doubles as a race car pit too, since the flight yoke should work fine as a steering wheel, and the rudder pedals have two axis toe control for the brakes (they come with inserts to make them rigid on the rudder axis). I almost have too many inputs with the 6 axis quadrant on top of the 3 that are on the yoke, and I'm not real good at making mixture control changes, but it works out very well for a twin (like the beachcraft) to be able to control your taxi with just the throttles...then you have the prop levers and mixture controls. I'm using the ones on the flight yoke for flaps and gear...running out of assignable axis in FSX for any more. I'm sure a C130 or something would start making me short, with quad engines...grin.

One thing I've begun gaining an appreciation for (and I suspected it a little, but it is even more obvious as I get into this) is how you really almost need to specialize and begin to focus on a single plane. The more detailed you get on your cockpit, the more specific you have to get on what you are going for (had that same problem with the mame to do as much as possible, but all very well). If you try to cover too many bases, you do it all very poorly rather than simplify and do a few very well. I know I want fighter jet type setup, and if possible a twin commercial type. Unfortunately, that is about as diametrically opposite as you can get. But, maybe I can get the yoke/quadrant setup ok in there, and put the fighter stick and TQS in as well. Gauges may be a little interesting, but putting in something like a $169 Shuttle micro PC for dedicated additional displays may be ok.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Got all my hardware in and sort of mocked it up on my desk last night. Was up until 3:30AM dinking around with it all. The HannsG monitors are pretty much what you'd expect for $170. Two have dead/stuck pixels on them (one has one stuck and a grid of 4 dead on it) and they all seem to get some very characteristic "sparklies" on them in certain places (it looks like it is obvious stuck/coupling row very near the stuck pixel). Also, the image isn't that crip or clear, maybe that is just a function of it going through the analog interface and the triplehead2go, but somehow, I don't think so.

But the visuals of playing with 3-wide monitor in I'm pretty sure I'm just going to have to try to find a better display (possibly get some higher cost 20" displays, I think, and maybe I'll keep one of these 19" for gauges/MFD's, because it really needs that).

I've bought a LOT of "gadgets" and strange input devices in my life, and I was skeptical about the TrackIR 4 motion monitor, but I can honestly say that it is possibly the best working input device I've ever seen. The head movement in the flight sim (all 6-axis) is almost FREAKY it is so realistic, even right down to leaning and looking around dashes and the 3D cock pit instrument panel. I'm not sure where I take it from here, but it almost certainly needs to move to a dedicated cockpit and a 5 monitor setup (triple wide main displays with two MFD's for the glass cockpit instrument panels to the lower left/right). Flying the F/A-18 Hornet up around Cascade is simply amazing. Need to try a winter date and see how it does, but it is very cool.

There are three different things that FSX does for rendering scenery.
  1. Is the terrain mesh data, which is all elevation information. There are quite a few different ones out there besides the default. One really good one for North America, is FSGenesis.
  2. The second is the actual texture map that FSX applies to the terrain height mesh data. The default one is not too bad, but it is pretty generic and you really don't get a good feel for being at the exact site, but it does all for autogeneration of houses, trees, buildings, etc. and for different times of the year for snow and stuff. If you get Tile Proxy, which is as sourceforge community project, you can have it hook into most of the major satellite mapping services out there and it will on the fly skin the scene with real mapping texture. This obviously has problems with seasonal changes and you get no "autogen" structures (the next topic). Here is a sample of default FSX vs. Tile Proxy.
  3. The last one is what is called "autogen". Normally, FSX will generate trees and buildings that actually stand out of the landscape. When you do photo realistic satellite skinning, like Tile Proxy, it is more difficult to support this reasonably, but it only affects really low level flight, and there is work to get some level of autogen back enabled.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Flight Sim Cockpit - Take 2

I just got back from visiting Washington DC last week, and we spent time at the Air and Space museum. While there, I had the chance to play around in a flight simulator (for $8) that tilts up and down and rolls 360', called SX-Interactive from Simworx. Looking online, they only run around $85k, new (grin). There is an even better one, called FS2000 from Maxflight that does both 360' pitch and roll. That is only $150k new (HA!). That was fun, and I got renewed interest in going back and trying to build my flight sim cockpit (sans-rotation and stuff for now...grin). Though, this motion cockpit video looks cool (and this one).

After searching for a little while, I turned up a bunch of YouTube videos showing multi-monitor flight sims and PC car driving games, mostly running Microsoft Flight Simulator X. A lot of them seem to use a couple products. First, the Matrox TripleHead2go, which is a product that takes 3 monitors with 1280x1024 native resolution (like a 19" LCD 4:3 display) and maps them all together to look to the video card like a 3840x1024 single display. Also, since most current generation gaming rigs can support 2 monitors/video card, and typically, you can run two video cards in a system, you can extend that to have up to 6 displays easily on one computer to show off wide view flight cockpit and dedicated map/instrument displays. So, I picked up 3 19" LCD normal 4:3 HannsG displays for $169 each to try with the Matrox TripleHead2go. We'll see if I get something better and use these for instrument/aux/map displays later. Also got a new nVidia 8800 GT PCI-X DX10 with 512MB GDDR3 video card and a new 3.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Wolfdale E8400 (45nm process).

Next, is getting all the input devices. I wanted the cool feature of the TrackIR 4 6 axis input that seems to be supported for looking around in FSX. I also wanted at least a good flight yoke and throttle mixture setup. I went with products from CH Products Flight controls. And I already had rudder controls from CH. That was good for commercial type flight, but I also wanted an updated USB input fighter stick and throttle control. Picked up one of each, also from CH Products Flight controls.

Hopefully everything gets here by the weekend for me to try to set up and play with it a little on Father's day, Sunday. Lots to learn and get worked out and figure out what works well and what is just gadetty and not great. I have high hopes for the TrackIR, but I think it is going to be weird to turn my head, but keep my vision focus on a static monitor. We'll see, and hopefully if I turn up the gain a little, it will not be too weird (slight turns of my head should move it quite a lot and not cause too much eye strain).

Next, I'm going to have to really go back and brush up on my private pilot ground school. Especially on the navigation part. There is a pretty good site, geared toward flight sim at Flight Sim Navigation. Also, my father-in-law is a long time private pilot, that maybe I can get interested in helping out with and playing around with flying different aircraft in a "sim" that he wouldn't normally be able to. I think it is really something that he would like.

Here are a couple links:

Home Built Cockpits
Mikes Flight Deck
Flight Sim Cost Proposal
FS2000 Commercial Model
Microsoft Flight Simulator X
CH Products Flight controls
Flight Sim Navigation