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Even More Hardware

28th October 2022

When I decided to leave the X-Box and move the flight-sim to PC, I was warned it was a wormhole of never-ending expansion – they were not wrong!

After flying on a 32″ monitor on the new PC, I wanted more immersion – I tried virtual reality with the HP Reverb G2 headset. While the 3D experience was pretty much excellent and very realistic, the headset suffered from one important fault – the clarity of the displayed image was not really good enough to read the cockpit instruments easily. This is not a fault as such, it seems it is normal for VR headsets in the low to medium cost bracket.

Not satisfied, I sold the VR headset and started digging for the next leap into the wormhole.

The flight-sim software now has built-in support for multiple monitors, with some careful settings you can supposedly get three screens to give forwards and peripheral/side vision at the same time. Peripheral vision is vital for immersion as we are so used to having it in real life and it radically alters the flight experience.

I found some 50″ HiSense TV’s that were “old models” and on sale at stupidly low prices – I ordered three of them and into the wormhole we went…

Starting the support frame build

The TV’s needed mounting on something and that was fixed by building a framework out of some aluminium structural beams left over from my work days. The small room I use for my office/games/radio room was just about wide enough to fit the three screens in with a display angle of 65 degrees – although the screens show 90 degree left & right images, having them at a wider angle makes it far less cramped and easier to get in and out of the seat.

Panel mount brackets added

These aluminium beams are very fast and easy to use for this sort of construction, far easier than wood for example. The panels are mounted via slim wall-mount brackets.

The three panels mounted

It does not look too big in the pictures, but three 50″ screens is a very large display area. To get the correct field of view, the seating position is 33″ from each panel, this places the head well inside the visible area and the peripheral vision extends behind my head for full effect.

Adding a table

A surface for the control yoke, speakers, throttles is needed – again this is simple with the beams, it’s like Meccano for adults 🙂

Testing the control height/position

The top of the table is an off-cut of 20mm plywood, it will be painted black later on. The height is the same as the desk i used before as it was comfy and worked well.

Early tests

It was easy to get the screens connected as the graphics card in the PC has four sockets on it. Once the setup was completed in Windows 11, the sim was started and adjustments made to enable the multi-screen feature.

It’s a little fiddly to get the images to align correctly and due to the nature of the multi-angle display the image is only correct for one head position and height, this is not really an issue in use as you generally sit pretty still when flying.

The new setup highlighted the need for another step down the wormhole – due to the way the image is split & displayed, you have to zoom the image in to a far higher level than was used on a single display – this means that although the picture is now almost life-sized, you cannot see the cockpit displays and instruments any more!

Simply moving the image up and down to see the displays is not a good idea as the side images ‘swivel’ and do not move in a realistic fashion, something better was needed now.

Adding two touch-panels

A few years back, the answer would have been to build an actual cockpit model with dials and switches etc, this looks great but restricts you to flying one or two models of plane that have similar cockpit designs.

A Garmin display

Now we have “digital cockpits” – these use relatively cheap LCD touch-screen monitors as the cockpit, the dials and switches are shown on the screens using some very clever software. Shown above is an image of a Garmin display – it’s extremely realistic and every button and knob is functional.

The images shown respond to finger presses just as a real switch would, they just lack the tactile feel. The best part is that as it is digital, pretty much any cockpit can be modelled and displayed as required.

Cockpit instruments moved to the touch panels

The design of the displays is pretty much drag-and-drop, all the graphics are pre-made, you just stretch of shrink to suit your desired size.

The first flight was totally different – being able to operate switches and program the flight computer by actually touching them instead of clicking a mouse is a major leap in realism, each button also makes a satisfying ‘click’ sound as well. The instrument displays are also a lot clearer as they are not rendered using the same graphics settings as the scenery outside.