Serving the city of Hong Kong and more generally, the Pearl River Delta area, Hong Kong International Airport is the world biggest cargo hub and handles 71 million passengers each year. In 1998, it was opened to replace Kai Tak Airport, which is well-known for its treacherous approach over the city. After lacking a proper scenery officially compatible with the 64 bits simulators for a few years, the Prepar3D scenery market found itself with two sceneries of the same airport released within just a few months. The opportunity was too good and this article hopes to answer this simple question : between Taxi2Gate and WF Scenery Studio, which one should you use in your simulator?
Release date: 4th April 2020
Price: €25 (€12 for owners of the 2014 version)
WF Scenery Studio
Release date: 7th August 2020
The review was made using Prepar3D v5, but both sceneries are compatible with v4 and v5. For the clarity of the review, the image on the left will always be the Taxi2Gate (T2G) version, while the picture on the right will always be the WF Scenery Studio (WFSS) version.
Both sceneries are available through Simmarket. They are installed through an installer provided by Simmarket, using the store serial number system. WFSS’ Hong Kong comes with a simple configurator that is the well known 29Palms configurator. It lets the user choose between several options that can ease the framerate on the lower end PC’s. T2G has no configurator nor options to choose from. Both sceneries are removed using the Uninstaller, which can be found in the “Apps & features” menu of Windows 10.
On paper, both sceneries have similar features. They both make partial use of PBR materials, dynamic lighting, SODE objects and cover roughly the same area. They are both supposed to cover the airport in its current status of 2020. Both sceneries really concentrate on Hong Kong Airport itself. The city, which is about 20 kms away to the east, is not covered by any of the two. Lantau island is not modeled in detail in either sceneries. The previous T2G version had the island covered with a dedicated mesh, but this did not stand out in the 2020 version. The Tung Chung district, right across the channel separating Hong Kong and Lantau island is modeled in the WFSS scenery, whereas T2G just put a few buildings there. The imagery used by WFSS renders the area as it is right now, with another polder in construction.
We will begin comparing both airports with the main terminal. Both buildings are modeled correctly when looking from further away. The texture and color rendering is close to reality, and pilots flying the approach will not notice any difference. However, when getting closer just like you would when parking your aircraft at the terminal, the modeling difference is light and day. WFSS’ structure of the building is much more complex, has more details, and renders better under the clear lighting of midday used to take the screenshots. I suspect this is due to a different modeling technique and the more subtle use of PBR on the terminal glass.
Both developers have modeled the inside of the terminal. However due to different techniques used, WFSS’ scenery is much brighter of colour. Only the areas visible from the gates have been modelled to detail, which is a good thing in terms of optimization. T2G has similar features, but the textures are much darker and of bad resolution.
At the passenger main exit and entry of the terminal, WFSS has modeled the typical taxis and buses you would find there, whereas T2G has a much simpler and generic rendition.
Visiting gate W42, there are markings for every vehicle that should be around the aircraft when it is parked. Both sceneries bear some markings but WFSS’ markings are simply much more accurate. Something that bothered me is the ground clutter that seems randomly placed on the ramp in the T2G scenery. You would never ever see randomly parked vehicles on the ramp of the airport at Hong Kong. This can easily be seen on Google Earth, where everything is in line. The recreation of WFSS, as the screenshots render, is once again correct, as vehicles are positioned correctly in their respective markings.
SkyBridge and North Satellite concourse
The North Satellite concourse was opened in 2009. Before the SkyBridge was installed in 2020, passengers had to take a bus to go there. Similar to the one at Gatwick or Denver airports, it lets aircraft pass below it. It is tall enough to accommodate any kind of aircraft currently in service, including the A380. Both developers have modeled it correctly with transparent windows and lightly modeled interiors.
When T2G first released their scenery in 2014, the Midfield Concourse, which is located between the maintenance facility area and the ATC towers, was not finished (it was finished in 2015). Thus, by updating the scenery, T2G had to include the fully opened building. The modeling stands out in comparison to the main terminal, and we can see some progress was made in quality. But unfortunately, this only points out the poor standard of modeling of the main terminal, which is a direct port of the 2014 version. The contrast here is striking within the same scenery. In comparison to the WFSS scenery, the modeling is very good, on par with the rest of the scenery.
Hong Kong has two ATC towers, located between V and W taxiways. Both are correctly modeled. However, once again the WFSS modeling is much better, with transparent windows, finer details and more correct construction works locations.
Hong Kong Airport has several maintenance facilities located on the western central part of the airport. There are two companies, HAECO and CASL. T2G, again, lacks precision in several aspects. For example, the HAECO hangar misses the small protrusion on the hangar on the right. The compass calibration device is not placed correctly on the T2G scenery, and it lacks proper ground marking, just like in many other areas of the scenery unfortunately.
The cargo area suffers the same kind of lack of detail . The buildings used by T2G are outdated in terms of modeling and texturing. The Hactl building is a good example of that, where the Glass is reflective using PBR in the WFSS scenery.
Business Aviation Center
The Business Aviation Center is probably one of the only areas in this airport where T2G has an advantage over the WFSS rendering. The main business terminal is more precisely modeled in the T2G scenery, and the specific pavement is rendered correctly by T2G. However, the ground markings are incorrect.
Located between the HKBAC and the HKGFS, it is modeled with added fire trucks. The fire training aircraft also looks better on the WFSS side.
Hong Kong Government Flying Service
This is where the Hong Kong Government has their helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft. They are not to be confused with the People Liberation Army aircraft, which are located on Sek Kong Airfield. The building of the HKGFS is better rendered in the WFSS scenery.
I prefer the rendering of the concrete made by T2G over the one of WFSS. This particularly stands out around the Passenger Terminal area. The T2G rendering is more faithful to reality with the various tones of concrete. I have the same feeling regarding the runways, where I better like the T2G version. However, as outlined in the previous shots, the markings are inferior in the T2G scenery, and WFSS wins again in this area on the aprons and the runways. The same goes with the taxi signs, more detailed in the WFSS scenery.
Both sceneries come with dedicated night lighting. WFSS is a clear winner to me. First of all, in the WFSS scenery the lighting is brighter and makes the airport really stand out. Secondly, the T2G lighting is much darker and the color is way too orange. The runway and taxiway lightings in the WFSS version are beautiful, and you can choose between two renderings using the configurator. By personal experience though, neither match the reality which is something in between, but in my opinion WFSS gives an ambiance much closer to reality. With the increasing widespread use of LED lighting, the light is less orange than it was ten years ago in Hong Kong, and this is exactly where once again I have a feeling that T2G did a cheap update rather than a full overall remake.
Construction works at the airport
Since its opening in 1998, the airport has not changed a lot for the first years. In 2009, the airport started extensive expansion and construction work. This construction work includes a new terminal, business district, bridges, new stands, and a new runway. The T2G rendition shows some of the work in progress, but not where it should be. For example, an underground road tunnel next to HAECO is still a work-in-progress in T2G, while it is finished under the WFSS scenery, just like in reality. The most striking difference is the third runway under construction to the north of the airport. This is simply totally missing in the T2G scenery, apart from the addition of a few crane boats on the water. The WFSS scenery includes the construction work of the third runway. The satellite imagery used for this is very recent, probably only a few weeks old. This greatly adds to the immersion, but raises the question of the potential future updates for this scenery. While the runway is due in 2024, will WFSS update the scenery as the work progresses?
I have visited several of the areas outside the airport, such as the Cathay Pacific Headquarters, the Convention Centre, the Hong Kong Boundary Crossing facilities and the Hong Kong Zhuhai Bridge. Once again, T2G lacks details and is severely outdated in most places. I wish both developers had taken the time to include the Cathay DC-3 that is next to the Cathay headquarters. For the rest, the pictures speak for themselves. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge is included in the T2G rendition, however the modeling is extremely basic and does not reflect where the link becomes an underwater tunnel. The island is default.
One of the biggest advances in the latest versions of P3D is the PBR rendering. The combination with dynamic lighting and smart implementation can create fantastic ambiances. Both the sceneries use PBR for ground textures and some of the terminal textures. In both cases, the use of PBR is light, and when comparing these two sunset shots, the only clear thing that stands out is the lack of details in the modeling of the terminal in the T2G scenery.
One last regret I have is that despite the use of PBR materials, none of these scenery show rain puddles during wet weather. Since Hong Kong is a rainy city, I would have liked that kind of feature.
The pricing of both sceneries are in the same range. The Taxi2Gate owners of the initial 2014 version are entitled to a €12 upgrade price. When taking both sceneries at their full retail price, the WFSS Hong Kong is €1.10 cheaper than the T2G scenery. Overall, for the reasons already outlined above, the WFSS is one generation ahead of the T2G version, which remains a port of an old FSX version to P3D v4 and v5. I personally think that the T2G upgrade price is not even worth it compared to the full WFSS retail price, which is only €11,90 more expensive.
Both sceneries performed extremely well on my system. In the test scenario (without clouds, midday and clear weather) I remained locked at 60 fps. I have not tested the scenery with heavy AI traffic as I fly exclusively online. The GPU memory usage remained at 5.3 Gb in the overall view. On the T2G series, the GPU usage was slightly higher at 5.4Gb in the same test conditions. I would have expected the same, but I suspect the difference is due to the optimization of the scenery as objects and textures with high details are drawn closer with the WFSS scenery, whereas the T2G scenery draws everything from a further distance.
The WFSS scenery was announced right after the T2G scenery was released. While this took the community by surprise since a Hong Kong update was dearly needed, the scenery was under construction for some time already. For those who waited for WFSS’ scenery, the wait may have been well worth it, with their scenery being a clear winner between the two. As seen in this comparison, it is unsure if we can really give the name of an “update” to the T2G rendition. Yes, it has the new Skybridge, the Midfield Concourse, and PBR materials in places, but really, that’s about it. The rest is outdated, and the price asked for this very partial update is way too high, even with the discount for previous owners. Pilots who have hesitated and who like flying to Hong Kong should purchase the WFSS scenery if a more up-to-date and accurate airfield is something they care about. It absolutely delivers on what you’d expect from a scenery in this price class.