Active Sky 16 and Active Sky Cloud Art: The FSElite Review

DEVELOPER HiFi Simulation PRICE €55.99+VAT (AS16 – P3D)
€45.99+VAT (AS16 – FSX)
€18.99+VAT (ASCA)
PUBLISHER HiFi Simulation BUY FROM Various

For years and years, weather within the Flight Simulation world had always been one of the most unrealistic aspects of exploring the virtual world. Numerous developers have tried to impress us with the ‘advance’ weather engines, all trying to offer something different. FS Global Weather, Opus, REX and of course Active Sky have all been seen to be the main players when it comes to weather engines, all offering something slightly different. Of course, if Simmers don’t want to fork money out, then there are plenty of free options, as well as the chance to use “real world weather” from within the Sim itself. Regardless of your choice, there’s always been something ‘missing’ from making it as realistic as possible. This may have been a lack of overcast coverage, maybe storms weren’t accurately depicted or maybe, the visibility options meant your Sim would look like something placed a piece of A4 paper over your eyes.

HiFi Simulations have been developing weather engines for years now, and with each release, we see a new level of realism added, a new interface and of course, many new features aimed to be a new standard in our world. When Hifi introduced Active Sky Evolution, they introduced textures, to try to give users the best available textures for that weather condition. With Active Sky Next, they focused on the basics and developed a revolutionary new weather engine, enabling developers like PMDG to make a fully functional weather radar for the first time. Fast forward to 2016, and just weeks before the launch, HiFi gave us a trailer, peeking into the future they had prepared for us. As you can imagine, this went down like a storm [pun most definitely intended].

Of course, it wasn’t just Active Sky 2016 that was announced; but also Active Sky Cloud Art. As HiFi makes clear, both products were designed to work with one another, and as a result, I’ll be reviewing them as a pair.

So I think the first question is: how much of a leap is AS16 compared to Active Sky Next? Well, from a user’s point of view, this is more of an evolution of ASN, compared to the revolution the 2014 product gave us. Building upon the excellent engine that HiFi have been perfecting over the years, you can see they’ve brought over the best bits of ASN and added a range of new features, which really enhance the weather engine within the sim.

For years, we’ve been spoilt with how great massive storms look in our sims, but something that was missing was the formation and the smooth transition. Luckily, HiFi have worked tirelessly to provide the best experience possible within flight simulation. For once, not just clouds transition smoothly, but now everything from wind, temperature and visibility change seamlessly. I finally feel like a weather engine provides a realistic approach to change. Not only does it apply to change, but you can now see formation of clouds in the distance where it’s supposed to be. No more ‘pop-up’ clouds, no more drastic wind shifts and no more visibility popping. I really am impressed with just how they’ve managed to achieve this level of immersion.

Speaking of immersion, the way clouds are rendered has drastically improved for Active Sky 16. Not only is performance drastically improved over ASN, but now you have a sense of motion as you fly through the clouds. I’m not talking about 2D spinning clouds, but now you can see the white cotton candy bounce off your flight deck windows, as you pierce your way through. Your speed and angle of attack will determine the effects of the clouds, but this level of detail gives you reason to spend your time cloud surfing. Be careful though, as turbulence has been improved upon, meaning you need to ensure you fly your aircraft safely and carefully through storms now, otherwise you could face catastrophic events. Never before have I felt like weather within the sim could be dangerous, but now it’s more important than ever to pay close attention to the weather radar – whether that’s the in-built one, or using it directly from your aircraft (note, the PMDG WX radar works flawlessly, just as with ASN).

As I have mentioned, Active Sky 16 was designed to work in conjunction with Active Sky Cloud Art – a weather texture package, in the same vein as REX. Standalone, I see no value in owning ASCA; compared to REX4 and other texture packages, it’s just another product, which many tools already do. The real value, however, is when you include it with AS16. For the first time in Flight Simulation, we finally have fully dynamic texture loading, all happening in real-time.

It sounds like technical jargon to impress, but let me explain why this is the best feature and reason to buy the 2 products. Before, you would load up a pre-set group of textures, which would cover everything from sky colours to the texture of the clouds. Because of this, regardless of the weather conditions, you would always have the same texture set, meaning if it was grey and rainy for departure, and sunny and hot when you arrived, then your texture sets will not match up with the atmospheric conditions outside. This often provided unrealistic looking sims, because your dull grey sky, didn’t match the vibrancy of the sunny, clear skies of the Caribbean.  However, what HiFi have done is create a system where the textures will always match the weather conditions of where you are. Whether this is your destination airport, or en-route, your textures will dynamically load from the ASCA bank into the sim, without so much of a hesitation.

So if you leave Dubai with its dust ridden sky-line and fly to the coldest part of Norway, you’ll notice that the textures match the weather and atmosphere. No longer will you have to find the ‘perfect’ in-between set of textures, but instead Active Sky 16 and Cloud Art will do the hard work for you. This is revolutionary, and something everyone should be using if they’re serious about simming.

Because of the dynamic textures, you’ll finally have night skies with dark clouds, lush blue skies when approaching the Greek islands, and finally, you’ll have 3D clouds when flying at high latitude. HiFi have fixed everything we’ve been asking for in a weather engine with Active Sky 16 / Cloud Art. Although the textures are not as varied or detailed as REX’s product, what we are given is crisp and clear and it provides the realism needed.

Despite how fantastic this all sounds, it does come at a cost – a literal cost: your hard earned cash.

We’re blessed in the fact that HiFi have allowed people to continuously upgrade from engine to engine over the years, which has helped to reduce the costs to us as a user. However, new users won’t benefit from this great deal, and will have to pay 80eur (not including VAT) for the P3D version of both Active Sky 16 and Active Sky Cloud Art. It’s a high price to pay for a lot of people. Not only that, but owning P3D automatically means you now have to pay more than your FSX counterpart, which is a first for HiFi.

I find it even more frustrating because Active Sky Cloud Art was clearly designed to work best with Active Sky 16, yet they’re being sold as 2 products. For those interested in just the textures or just the weather engine, that’s fine, but to get the most out of each product, you really must own both, with no ‘discount’ or ‘dual’ package available to help cut the costs for people who want to experience the best weather engine on the market.

It’s not all doom and gloom, because you really are getting a product that we all know will be supported for the next couple of years. If it’s anything like HiFi’s previous cycle, we’ll continue to see updates and improvements all the way until 2018, which is a long time for a Flight Simulator add-on.

You’re not only paying for fantastic support, but also for a fantastic product, that will truly enhance your experience within the Sim. Right now, there is nothing better, to provide you with the most immersive weather experience possible. There are so many different options to play with to ensure you have both a realistic looking weather system, as well as desirable performance. With a graphic user-interface that I like from HiFi, it’s easy to navigate and find the options you need.

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Tags : Active Sky 16Active Sky Cloud Art
Calum Martin

The author Calum Martin

I have been an avid fan of Flight Sim since the release of ‘2000 and have developed my love for aviation ever since. I have the knowledge and experience to really deliver an excellent aviation community. Although no real life flying experience, I have a good understanding and always learning more and more.
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