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Tom_Weiss

OPUSFSX review

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Real time Weather is one of the features that FSX allows but does not do too well, several products have been around these many years to do exactly that, one of the latest is OPUSFSX, I've been using several add ons over the years and with good results, I got OpusFSX a few weeks ago, does it do something that the others did not ?
 

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I've been only using OpusFSX to render FSX weather since I downloaded it and I liked it at once - the density of clouds, the consistency over a geographic area all felt right.
 
Before I continue, this review is only about the Weather that OPUSFSX generates, there is a feature I did not have the time to explore, the LIVE CAMERA, so I did not cover it in this review.
 
Besides my other flights in FSX, I also set a flight over Nevada and Hawaii and tested it over a period of a week - to see how the weather changed - weather is a big thing for me, almost as important as the terrain I am flying over. The changes in day to day weather as I flew over an area over a period of days gave a feel of overall realism.
 
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For some, ´weather´ can be a Sun and a few clouds here and there with a haze layer over the horizon - and that works OK in some sims where weather is just another load on the CPU that is competing with all the rest, but not in FSX.
 
For many years I wondered what I was enjoying so much in FSX - after all I am doing not much just setting a course and flying, what is that makes it so entertaining ?
 
The answer is simple - the variety of terrain and weather.
 
At first - the default terrain in FSX is quite OK, the many geographical areas make it interesting and with FSX comes a rudimentary weather download that is good enough, but as you go deeper in FSX is starts to get boring, and you start to notice that it is always the same terrain over and over again.
 
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This is where for some FSX starts to become a money pit as you start to want more.
 
Thankfully there are a few solutions that are not that expensive , like Flight Environment Extreme and Real Environment Xtreme that provide much better  cloud, sky and sea textures and as bandwidth allowed it, in HD x4096 versions.
 
And as I discovered that there are photoreal terrain maps that I could download (... buy) so I felt like I was flying over the real thing, and there also is ORBX for those that like a more detailed environment - but I got hooked on real terrain so that option was less and less interesting over time.
 
So all that remained to provide the complete that 100% immersion feel was real weather.
 
There are many good real weather programs around - and I used several of them, but they all came short, specially the rain-shower-in-a-clear-cloudless-day effect, which time after time ruined the experience.
 
So thanks to one of our Moderators, Ironhand, and not for the first time, I discovered OpusFSX.
 
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OpusFSX provided a completely new experience - dense consistent cloud coverage with several layers, rain, fog and haze, all delivered in a consistent way.
 
I am a firm believer in that if it is good, it works from the moment you install it, be it a new TV set, a flight sim or an add on.
 
Opus FSX is one of those - it works and improved the overall experience in a significant way, it brings real weather to FSX with the visual effects that are needed to render it in a realistic way and that is something that I never experienced until now in FSX.
 
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I asked Stephen Percy of Opus Software to explain a bit how OpusFSX works

 


Q: you guys started Opus Software Limited in 1987, is this your first add on for FSX ?

 
Our main business is in the Telemetry and SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) industries. We are well established in this industry and our products are very polished having been developed and enhanced over a 30 year period. Recently we decided to develop the OpusFSX interface because I was not happy with the current weather and camera Addons for FSX and wanted to improve these and try and make the sim a bit more realistic. We are RW pilots and have been flying for over 17 years, mainly touring around Europe. We just wanted to make FSX match more closely our RW experiences, especially with respect to weather and turbulent motions. We also had an extensive library of communications and other software libraries that we could make use of. After trying out all the usual methods of weather injection in three other rejected weather engines, we eventually pioneered our method of weather interpolation and injection, and after being satisfied with the results we finally launched OpusFSX in March 2012.

 

Q: How does Weather Importing (or Downloading) work ?

 

Firstly do you mean Imported or Downloaded weather ? The Import option simply instructs the LWE to read the METARs from a user specified Import text file rather than downloading them from the chosen weather server, default the NOAA ADDS server.

 

The Import option allows users to import, or read in, sets of METARs covering the area of the weather map (800 x 800 miles) either to load various weather scenarios or just to recreate some previously saved weather. A GLOB (global) METAR code can also be used for people to create any form of 'global' weather, normally used to create very poor or specific weather for circuit training or general flying.

 

Whenever the LWE refreshes the weather, rather than conducting a full update, the LWE reads the previously downloaded METARs (unless Imported) from the OpusWeather.txt file. In other words a weather refresh 'imports' METARs from the OpusWeather.txt file. This is the text file where all the downloaded METARs were saved during the previous weather update.

 

So importing just implies reading the METARs from a file rather than downloading them from the NOAA server. Of course when downloading, all met stations located within, or just beyond the edge, of the current 800 x 800 mile weather map are requested for download from the server. On the other hand when METARs are imported they cannot be requested, they are just checked to see if they can be located on the map, if outside the map they are discarded.

 

I hope that makes sense.

 

Under normal circumstances all relevant met station METARs (all those on the current weather map) are requested for download. This real world 'actual' weather data is combined with the world-wide NOAA GRIB forecast data to produce the real world weather covering the entire weather map area.

 

The central region of this weather map is injected into the simulator using a method pioneered by Opus. We tried all other weather injection methods in three other weather engine designs, injecting METARs via SimConnect in a variety of ways and using FSUIPC4 (essentially the same) and rejected them all mainly based on what FSX does internally to this weather, especially rejecting the very poor weather interpolation inside FSX.

 

The real world weather covering the entire weather map, broken into very small 16 x 16 km (or 10 x 10 statute mile) cells, coinciding with the highest resolution of weather cell inside the sim by the way, is constructed using our heuristic weather interpolator called WINTER. The resulting weather is both highly accurate and extremely consistent over the entire map area. Enough so to provide an excellent depiction of the real world weather. We have even used this weather in preparation for flights across country in the RW ourselves and its always been spot on.

 

On the rare occasion when a small weather cell contains more than one Met station the LWE uses knowledge of the users point of departure, destination and alternates to give precedence to the correct Met report. In other cells the reported weather is simply prioritised and averaged. To put things in perspective there may only be a few locations in the entire weather map (covering 6400 cells) where this occurs and seeing as the weather cells represent the highest resolution of internal weather in FSX its a perfectly acceptable practice.

 

Each time the weather is updated or refreshed a new weather map centred on your aircraft is constructed before the weather is injected into the sim. Under normal circumstances, it is not possible for users to fly off the map, nor is it possible for users to fly beyond the limited weather stored within the sim.

 

The LWE actually maintains nearly one million meteorological parameters to maintain the weather map. It is also responsible for providing real time supervision for turbulence control, depicted via the fully coordinated DHM head movements and Bump Aircraft motions (in either 2 or 3 DOF, degrees of freedom). The turbulent motions, including clear air turbulence, is depicted using the RW captured accelerometer data, recorded on board light aircraft and a B737-800.

 

Q: and how is Cloud Density set ?

 

All aspects of the surface, lower and upper atmospheric weather (i.e. all surface conditions, visibilities, cloud formations, upper winds and temperatures etc.) are determined by the actual weather and meteorological conditions in the reported METARs and in the GRIB forecast data. This can either be reported live or at any time over the past 24 hours as historic data. Historic NOAA GRIB forecast data can also be used. By default, all METAR data is downloaded from the NOAA ADDS site.

 

Q: and Visibility  ...

 

All surface visibilities are determined by the reported METARs. When no visibility restrictions are reported the surface visibilities are set using the specified user preference, these can and will be adjusted by the WINTER algorithm based on reported or localised conditions.

 

Similarly the visibility layering is determined based on the local conditions, the conditions in the nearby vicinity, the wider area, and such things as cloud bases etc.

 

Q: and the Cloud Smoothing - how does it work ?

 

This attempts to coax the sim into preserving the cloud coverage immediately surrounding the aircraft. Users should read our Cloud Popping post in our Using The Live Weather Engine SimForums topic. Cloud popping, for reasons described in the SimForums post is entirely an FSX anomaly, often not understood by the general user. Cloud smoothing just tries to lessen the odds of FSX making large scale adjustments to local cloud boundaries.

 

The users can also monitor the Opus Lower Level Cloud cover map, that map shows the exact cloud cover injected into the sim. The sim's tendency to extend or retract cloud boundaries during and in between weather updates can clearly be seen by referring to this map. The actual cloud cover is of course determined entirely by the reported weather.

 

Of course I should mention no actual weather engine can place individual clouds, decide on what bitmap texture to use, or fix the precise boundaries of the cloud cover.

 

The LWE does determine the various cloud types for each reported cloud layer along with many other parameters, again all determined by the current meteorological conditions.

 

All other aspects of the cloud are determined either directly from the METARs, determined from the meteorological conditions, or affected by the wider area weather patterns. Opus does not tweak the weather to give eye candy, it simply tries to interpret and interpolate it to the best of its ability using known conditions and effects, treating the METARs as gospel and consulting weather gradients, and all other meteorological conditions in both METARs and GRIB forecast data.

 

Q: In Game Operation ...

 

The LWE monitors your flight and using the weather settings maintains the weather held internally within the sim to try and provide the most accurate RW weather, within the limitations of FSX that is. Each time the LWE determines a weather refresh or update is required a new weather map is generated along with all new lower and upper atmosphere targets etc.. Then the central weather region is injected into the sim.

 

The unique Opus methods also allow 100% accurate weather and ATIS at the user's specified Destination from over 200km away. The LWE also needs to know the user intended Max Cruise Altitude, that way it can assist the sim to correctly meet its cruise level targets.

 

The LWE also maintains various detailed maps and weather reports, both on screen and in various text files, for the user to access and monitor all aspects of the weather. We have even used the Opus visibility weather map to monitor trends and improvements in surface conditions before setting off to the airfield.

 

Q: How real is the Weather ...

 

The weather is all 'real', we are not interested in manipulating the weather to produce eye candy. It is created and determined entirely by the RW METARs which are reporting the 'actual' RW weather conditions at the numerous Met stations. The WINTER algorithm intelligently interpolates these reports to provide an accurate rendition of the RW weather over the extent of the weather map, the central portion of which is injected into the sim.

 

As far as possible all aspects of the weather, including turbulence and clouds, are determined entirely by the actual meteorological conditions both on the surface and in the atmosphere.

 

We do allow the user to alter the default surface visibility, which determines the maximum allowed surface visibility when 9999 or 10SM conditions are reported. But this surface visibility is a preferred limit, the LWE has the final say and can and will reduce this based on other reported conditions in the vicinity.

 

Users can also top patches of fog and mist with thin layers of stratus just to make them visible from above since the FSX code does not take into account poorer visibility layers at lower altitudes.

 

Other options such as the Auto Cirrus setting can be used to mimic the real world, in this case by examining the entire weather map and enabling cirrus cloud (not reported in METARs) whenever the conditions are changeable due to approaching weather fronts for example. This mimics the RW where cirrus can indicate changeable conditions and approaching weather fronts up to 24 hours away.

 

The OpusFSX interface is all about bringing greater levels or realism to the flight sim and the Live Weather Engine lies at the heart of the interface. This product is continually being enhanced and upgraded.


 

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so, back to the review ...

 

Installing and using Opus FSX

 

OpusFSX is a small download, 21.3MB, which can be downloaded from here

 

http://www.opussoftware.co.uk/opusfsi/downloads.htm

 

it costs US$44.95 and you can try it as as demo before you buy, setting it up is very simple and takes no time at all, once it is done it can be quickly configured and works from the get go, it also loads almost instantly and you can load it with FSX already running.

 

There is no mystery there, click on SPY and a window opens to show what it is doing, click configure to ... configure it

 

 

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 which looks deceptively simple, but there is not much more than that

 

 

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and there is LIVE CAMERA, which also looks quite intuitive to use

 

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The screenshots I posted in this review show REX Essential HD textures, there are others that you can use and the results probably will be similar, it will also depend on how your FSX config is set up.

 

I have a good rig, you can see it here

 

 

in terms of performance - always an issue wih FSX, I still manged the locked 40FPS I am used to while flying over photoreal terrain , so OPUSFSX is certainly not going to be something that overloads a bit more FSX.

 

In Conclusion ...

 

I could not recommend more enthusiastically this product - there are others that are outstanding as well, but this one certainly did grab my attention, its ease of install and configuration are a bonus and somehow do not reveal the quality of the product itself, but after several weeks of flying, every time I did it, I could not be but impressed by the weather and visibility conditions I was in.

 

That is it - go buy it ;):)

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Great review.

 

I have tried other real WX apps before (ASE, the current version of REX, etc) and Opus is the one that continues to impress me. I've gone from almost never flying with "real" weather to ONLY flying with real weather provided by OpusFSX. Sometimes, just for fun, I'll load Opus and FSX just to look out the virtual windows to see what the weather is like. What's even more fun is to load them up and visit somewhere during the daytime where there are real time webcams. It's fascinating to see how similar the scenes sometimes are. All in all, a program worth getting.

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and it changed the way I used to fly - now instead of flying at low altitudes I go higher to enjoy the clouds and the view.

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Yep, I bought this after seeing you guys using it here and it truly is fantastic, the accuracy of the weather engine is so damn good, coupled with ORBX scenery it's making my around Australia trip a LOT more interesting.

One of the very best add-ons out there   :smile:

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and it does not disappoint time after time - and finally we can have real bad weather to fly in.

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Opus Software is proud to announce the release of OpusFSX version 3.34.

Version 3.34 is available free of charge to existing customers. This latest release includes many exciting improvements and additions.

The Side Effects feature introduces turbulence and wind shear within 80 km of your destination airfield based on local features such as terrain or even obstacles and buildings on approach. British sites with some well known International airports are included as standard, currently 59 sites are provided. You can also configure your own customised site effects.

General DHM Options have been added allow general DHM and associated 'Bump Aircraft' turbulence to be enabled for VC view modes, 2D view modes, and other general view modes without needing the Live Camera interface to set up camera views.

Live Camera Control enables you to make adjustments to the current eye point for any VC, 2D, or Custom view using either 6-axis GamePad controllers, the arrow keys within the LCC dialog, or any assigned joystick buttons or key sequences specified via the Shortcuts dialog. This is very useful for making seat adjustments, roaming about the cockpit, or flying or walking around the aircraft.

A Set Camera feature is included with Live Camera Control (LCC) so that you can make temporary adjustments to views. This is useful to overcome the FSX bug which shifts the camera view slightly at different locations in the world.

The PMDG 777 upper wind and temperature wx file is now be created automatically when you activate your flight plan. Select WIND DATA REQUEST on the WIND page in the 777 and it will automatically load these values into the FMC. The LWE now accommodates systems running at increased simulation rates (requires the free version of FSUIPC4).

Further anti wind shift measures have been included within the Sim Friendly GRIB Data processing and we have also improved interpolation of surface visibilty.

The OpusFSX client is now compatible with 3rd party packages such as WideView and WideTraffic.

Visit the OpusFSX Homepage for details and download.

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I've been an enthusiastic supporter/user of OpusFSX for over a year now. My only regret is not having bought OpusFSX sooner.

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