Best Flight Simulator – Which One to Choose? Part 1
The flight simulator community is experiencing something it hasn’t seen in a long time: real choices. After a decade of Flight Simulator X (FSX) dominance, there are now serious software alternatives. So how you do you choose the best flight simulator application? I’ll take a look at four options: Lockheed Martin Prepar3D, X-Plane 11, Dovetail Games’ Flight Sim World, and Flight Simulator X Steam Edition. Also keep in mind, I’m the DIY Flight Sim guy. I do my best work with a drill and a miter saw and I spend more time editing video than I do flying a simulator. But still, people ask my opinion, so here it is…
Lockheed Martin Prepar3D (P3D)
Lockheed Martin is a $46 Billion dollar defense contractor. They build ballistic missiles, armored fighting vehicles, combat ships, rockets, satellites, robots, and a lot more… and real airplanes too. LM purchased certain licensing rights from Microsoft to further develop its ESP simulation platform, which is now Lockheed’s Prepar3D. The P3D development team is a tiny segment of this giant mega-corporation. P3D markets its capabilities as training simulation for commercial, academic, professional, or military interests. They do not make products for armchair flightsimmers like you and me. This is why P3D issues the odd warning against using its product for entertainment.
P3D works so well. I remember when I first installed it on the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim. The software automatically detected and properly assigned my flight controls. First time in my life I’ve ever experienced that. P3D is an improvement over FSX and retains familiarity in the menus and options. The frame rates are better, the scenery is better, and many FSX add-ons also work in P3D. Multiple monitors and Saitek switch panels work well in P3D. So P3D is my choice for the best flight simulator software right now, but that comes with a caveat (read on).
Lockheed builds a great product and if you happen like it, that’s fine, but if you don’t then remember that Lockheed is not very concerned about us or the flight sim consumer market. Out of Lockheed’s 126,000 employees, only a few of them work on the Prepar3D program, and P3D is a tiny part of Lockheed’s revenue stream. I’m saying that Lockheed’s priorities could change in the future and we may not have access to P3D any more. And yet, Lockheed offers a great product for retail customers right now and it is my choice for the best flight simulator.
X-Plane 11 by Laminar Research
The X-plane franchise has been the #2 choice for flight sim pilots for years. Will it become the #1 best flight simulator now with X-plane 11? I installed the X-Plane 11 demo on the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to really experience X-plane 11 on my rig yet, but you guys want my opinion, so here it is. I think X-plane could become the new standard for home flight simulators in the next 10 years. Austin Meyer is the lead developer for X-plane, and this is his baby. X-plane is an essential part of Austin’s identity, so I think the X-plane team has a passion that is perhaps not present at Prepar3D. Plus, X-plane is here for us… the flight sim community.
As of right now, the X-plane community is smaller than the FSX community so there is less choice in 3rd party add-ons. X-plane is 64 bit and that doesn’t necessarily mean your frame rates will be higher than P3D, but X-plane is able to fully utilize the RAM you already have in your computer. This could help in the future. Multiple monitors and Saitek switch panels work well in X-plane 11, but some of the menu options are difficult to read. Austin is seems really interested in bringing built-in VR capability to X-plane, so if that’s your thing, you might want to sign up for Austin’s blog. VR brings several new challenges to flight sims like frame rates, eyeglasses, ergonomics, etc.
What about Flight Simulator X and the new Flight Sim World from Dovetail? Read Part 2 here.