So you bought a nice beefy computer with a 24″ monitor and some simulator software. You installed the software and tried to fly using a keyboard and mouse. Difficult. So then you bought a joystick and flying immediately became much easier. Not very realistic but lots of fun. But there’s another problem: This is how flight simulation starts, endless upgrading in the pursuit of a better, more realistic flightsim experience. But if we look a graph of usability vs number of peripherals, it’s not a straight line, instead, it’s a graph of diminishing returns. This is true for CPU power, for the number of peripherals and of course for the number of monitors.
After we add a few peripheral devices, adding more has less and less of an effect on usability of the simulator as a whole.
So where do monitors fit in? The same graph – Increasing the number of monitors gives you better options:
* One monitor is really difficult to use to simulate flight because you need to look at two different things almost simultaneously: the outside view and the cockpit instruments. In order to fly you are forced to scroll from the one to the other (or press a key to jump to a different view). The problem is that when you are looking at one, you can’t see the other. Very awkward.
* Two monitors provide a huge improvement. One can be configured to show the outside view and one can show the virtual cockpit. Now you can watch where you are going while keeping an eye on your instruments.
* Three monitors allow you to increase the size of either the outside view or the virtual cockpit. The image is stretched across both monitors.
* Four monitors allow you to either:
1] Create a ‘wrap-around’ panoramic external view using three of those monitors and keeping the fourth monitor for the instruments in the virtual cockpit; or
2] Create a twin monitor external view and a twin monitor virtual cockpit.
* If you are looking at more than 4 monitors then you will have to add another computer and link them over an Ethernet network (Wi-Fi networks are too slow). Then one computer runs the simulation and the least demanding view (from a processing point of view), while the other is dedicated to powering a more demanding view (like a 3-monitor wrap-around).
The problem with a 3-monitor wrap-around view is that the image is stretched across a single virtual monitor of three-times the horizontal pixel resolution of a single monitor. This results in a fair amount of distortion at the edges of the two side monitors. This means that if you have, say, a car depicted in the middle monitor, it will appear to be be narrower than another car depicted on the outside edges of the other monitors. In X-Plane 11, they have developed a feature which will allow each monitor to depict a separate view at a certain angle from the centre monitor using a sigle graphics card. This results in very much lower distortion. Prepar3D Ver-4 has something similar in the pipeline. Earlier versions of X-Plane, Prepar3D or FSX do not offer this ability.
Known as ‘sim-pits’ these are multi-monitor enclosed cockpits and are usually powered by more than one computer. For example, a sim-pit with a 5-monitor wrap-around 180∞ or 200∞ view and a dual monitor virtual cockpit is typically powered by 6 computers, but that’s a subject for another day.
Dave Britzius is a professional sim-pit builder. He has just released an 850-page E-book providing construction details for a life-sized simulator. Find out more by visiting https://davebritzius.com