Review: Active Sky Next

One of the things that has the biggest effect on our flying is the weather. Be it in the real or the simulated world, we need to be careful about the conditions we put our real or simulated aircraft in. Active Sky Next forces you to be extra careful.

Introduction

Active Sky Next - over the ocean

FS9 presented a revolutionary way of displaying weather and presented us with the ability to have real-world weather, where the METAR would be downloaded into the world. You would then have those same conditions in the entire world for the entire flight. FSX brought this concept a step further with 15 minute updates based on where your aircraft was located.

The folks at HiFi Simulations weren’t very pleased with the result, though, and decided to take the matter onto their hands. After some iterations over the last years, Active Sky Next became a beast in the world of flight simulation in both the FSX and P3D communities.

You see, Active Sky Next (or ASN) is not just a little program that downloads real weather data and injects it into your sim (FSX or P3D). ASN offers you so much more that, to be honest, the sheer sight of the interface was overwhelming – in a good way. ASN does so much more.

Features

Active Sky Next - Settings

According to the official description, ASN offers “[…] realistic radar simulation, cloud position awareness and synchronized ambient effects, brand new air effects, brand new thunderstorm depictions, microbursts, thick overcast, smooth cloud transitions, variable cloud areas, voice weather briefings and forecast data integration […]”.

That’s a lot! And, honestly, I have spent hours trying it so that I could write an educated review and I haven’t even experienced half of it!

You can download weather settings, create your own, save them, load them, configure pretty much everything in the software such as cloud layers, visibility, audio, warnings and a plethora of other things.

One of the handiest features could be the ability to tune in to an “ASN ATIS”. Even if there’s no ATIS service nearby, you can enter some specific frequencies to listen to ASN’s own ATIS. Those can be found in the manual and the one for the station closer to you is 122.00. If you have a flight plan filed, you can also listen to the destination station, for example.

Visuals

Active Sky Next

Active Sky Next will almost seems to upgrade your visuals, with better clouds and effects (such as thunders), despite not actually changing the gextures. Thunderstorms look much more realistic now – and scarier too. One thing I have noticed, though is that haze is now present, providing a much more realistic atmosphere and adding some "thickness" to the air around us.

ASN brings the whole atmosphere to live and kinda glues everything together. Both the vertical and horizontal transitions are more seamless and the sky looks much more compact. It's like ASN is providing some sense to something that I always found to be a bit chaotic and meaningless.

Installation

Installation is a breeze. Run the installer and off you go, just like most of the add-ons and other pieces of software out there these days.

The first flight

Active Sky Next - first flight

My first test was pretty simple: I started ASN, open my default flight and off I went. ASN did the rest: it downloaded the weather for the area I was at and injected it into FSX. I immediately noticed it since it added some clouds and I flew around a bit. One thing I realized is that the weather changed a lot and a lot faster than usual.

Wind changed more often. It was coming from a direction and speed and then, a few seconds later, it changed to a different direction and/or speed. I had to be on top of it. Especially during landings.

Active Sky Next got me to fear and respect the weather in a flight simulation environment in a whole different way. It’s one thing for you know there’s a strong wind or maybe some wind shear but the fact that the direction may change in a subtle way can be, especially in a helicopter, particularly dangerous.

After trying the real-time weather feature, I loaded some historical data for several times of the year (spring, summer and autumn). This feature allows you to fly under conditions you knew existed at a given date in a given time. Do you want to try flying through the Katrina hurricane? ASN will surely allow you to.

I then started some customization, which is nothing too hard to do but, honestly, I don’t have the patience to tweak. But all the possibilities are there and so you can build your own weather scenario and even share it with your friends by saving it to a file and sending it to them. Pretty cool!

Performance

Even with everything else going on around our aircraft (with a lot of weather modelling, several layers and a huge amount of math going around) I couldn’t notice any performance impact while using ASN, that I don’t feel when using FSX’s weather system.

I found that the slight decrease in frame rate has to do with the clouds being rendered and not by ASN doing its job. And it shouldn’t. ASN is working in a different CPU thread (or threads) than FSX, so it should not conflict.

No drama here.

Final thoughts

I have never used anything else besides the systems offered by the sims I fly in. I never actually bothered to take a good look at what was in the market. Yes, I have known ASN for quite some time but never actually considered it as something I could need.

I was wrong. Active Sky Next is an amazing piece of software that not only allows me to fly with realistic conditions but it also makes my sky look a better and more realistic, allows me to customize my weather and even download some presets to challenge myself.

Our rating

Positives

  • Very easy to use
  • Filled with amazing features
  • Improves visual quality of weather
  • Seamless weather transitions

Negatives

  • Will take you a while to explore everything

Bottomline

    There’s a lot to explore in ASN and I know that I merely scratched the surface but I experienced the essential. I can say that, if you never paid enough attention to weather systems, you should. And, if you’re using FSX or P3D, Active Sky Next is the software you should be looking at.

Installation 10
Visual impact and quality 9
Frame rate impact 10
Total score
9.6
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Sérgio Costa

About Sérgio Costa

Sérgio has been a flight simulation enthusiast for nearly 25 years. His passion with helicopters developed during MSFS 2000 when he discovered the complexity of these aircraft and the challenge it was to control them. Since then he has been primarily a helicopter flight simmer, trying his best not to crash and kill all his virtual passengers. Sérgio is HeliSimmer's editor and writer and one of the Three Grumpy Simmers, a YouTube series and Podcast produced together with YouTubers Bel Geode and NovaWing24, obviously dedicated to flight simulation.

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