Thursday, August 25, 2011

VoxATC - Replacement for FSX default ATC with voice control

When talking about aviation, one of the key persons besides the pilot, that helps ensure a safe flight, is the air traffic controller. Therefore having a realistic ATC is important for an overall realistic simulated experience. Unfortunately many flight simmers are not really happy about the ATC that comes built in Flight Simulator X, especially when flying state of the art  planes with FMC that supports SID/STAR. Also especially on mountain airports like LOWI default ATC keeps vectoring the pilot straight into mountains.

One option  for a better air traffic control experience is joining one of the online communities like IVAO or VATSIM. Even there there are not always ATC connected and if you are living in some areas of the world with less coverage you might end up doing the flight alone.

Luckily there are a few ad-dons that successfully manage to replace the built in ATC of flight simulator and improve the overall experience.

One that I recently have the pleasure to test was VoxATC. VoxATC is a revolutionary software with integrated voice recognition that allows you to actually talk to the ATC instead of just giving commands using numbers. The software is not using the default FS ATC environment, but actually creates it's own experience with real world ATC phraseology, AI traffic generated along the route from your installed traffic packages, traffic instruction from initial contact all the way to shutdown and even a first offices  to handle all the radio communication in the busy moments of the flight.

Even if the software doesn't come cheap compared with the other add-ons on the market the developers are offering a fully functional 7 days demo of the program that can be evaluated to see if you like it before you buy. The demo version can be  downloaded from the official site. After the demo period expires you  need to purchase a key from the online store and activate/register the product to be able to use it further.

Now a couple of words about the program itself, currently at version 6.05 (as you can see there have been continuous development on  the program along the years). The installer is a small 6MB download that installs a series of utilities necessary for the program to work, and two gauges for flight sim that can be installed to any panel using the built in utility. The two  gauges are actually the main interface of the software.

After the installation a indexer runs that builts a database from all the scenery, planes and AI routes you have installed. This is necessary for the program to function correctly, know the airports, runways, ... and show AI traffic. I have to mention that VoxATC will use any add-on traffic packages, but will generate traffic by itself depending on your flight plan. The traffics sliders in FSX should be set to 0 to avoid conflicts.

Also one new element  in version 6 of the program is that it can now use SID and STARS, giving you realistic departures and arrivals. For this you need the payware navdata for Level D (an AIRAC cicle) to be installed, and the  path correctly configured in the program settings. Otherwise expect vectors during approaches, but this is in my opinion still better and allows you more flexibility than the default ATC.

After installation it is recommended to read the manual and make also the necessary configurations using the installed utilities before starting your first flight. Also make sure you install (using the  utility provided with the program) the VoxATC gauges (windows) in the aircrafts you are flying with, otherwise it will not work.

VoxATC uses the voice recognition features that come preinstalled with Windows Vista and 7 but if using  an older version you  also need to install the speech recognition software (SAPI). This can be easily obtained online. Also the program will give commands using the voices installed in the operating system. They sound robotic, but are ok for start. If you wish to invest more later on, there are several voice packages available at different costs with better quality.

After all configs are made it's time to fire up Flight Simulator X. For the program to work you need to create a fligh plan before starting the flight or VoxATC (VFR or IFR). You can create one  using the flight planner in FSX or any other 3rd party  flight planner, but make sure it is loaded  in FSX before starting VoxATC.

After your flight is loaded just open the VoxATC window (from FSX menu if it's not visible) and click Start VoxATC. The program will initialize, generate it's own traffic and do some test of the installed voices. After this  you can start using it. The window will display any action that you need to do and also what you need to speak, so the program is  very easy to use even without knowing the phraseology. Of course for more realism you can hide the window and give the commands by heart if you know them. Usually first thing you need to do is to tune&listen to ATIS, then tune to ground, request clearance, etc.  Don't forget to key the mic before speaking (you need to setup a key in the config  for that before using the program first time).

I found the program to understand quite well what you say, but if you have problems then most likely you need to train the speech recognition software to your voice. This is done from Windows control panel, speech recognition section.

Occasionally the program might get stuck or refuse giving you some clearances, but if that's happening you can always disable and re-enable it without interrupting your flight from the gauge. If on  ground you might have to speak again trough the initial clearance, taxi clearance and so on.In most flight the program behaves well and it's really improving the simulation experience.

Overall I would give a very good rating to this program, seeing how much work was put  into it, along  the time, from the early versions. Not perfect due to the overwhelming complexity of the procedures and the vast number of airports, configurations, etc., but in most of the flying situation it behaves really well being a true help in navigation and flying (as real world ATC is supposed to be).

One thing I did not mention, but of which I  was pleasant surprised was the first officer option that can be enabled during any phase of flight. When the FO is enabled it takes care of the ATC communication for you, as a real world FO will do, allowing you to concentrate on flying the actual aircraft. Extremely helpful during approach and landing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have heard that ProFlight Simulator does a pretty good job with their ATCs. Maybe you should try it out?