When I first saw ORBX's FTX Trees HD, I couldn't believe my eyes. It looked too good to be true. By changing just the trees, the scenery -- all scenery -- looked so much better. I went through the official screenshots and the more I saw, the more I wanted to see how it actually looked flying around with such looks.
I have to say, though, that as with any other product, you will notice a huge difference between FSX and P3D. I'm sure the screenshots presented at the ORBX site are inside Lochkeed's product so they look twice as impressive. I'm not saying ORBX is trying to fool you. They're not. They're simply showing their product the best they can. And, trust me, although not as impressive inside FSX as it is inside P3D, FTX Trees HD is still a great product.
Why am I pointing this out? Mainly because the screenshots you'll see here are my own and were made inside FSX as I don't own P3D. Also, I'm using default scenery only. No tweaks, no other scenery, nothing. Trees HD was installed over a fresh FSX installation. I installed FSX:SE and just laid Trees HD on top of it. No bells, no whistles. This means that it will probably look better in your sim.
OK then so how does it look? Well as you can see in the screenshots bellow, there's a huge difference. One of the things I loved immediately was how big the trees don't look now. They don't cover up most of the scenery. They're smaller and seem to be much more in tune with their surroundings. The trees in FSX always seemed giant to me and it kinda bugged me. So much that, very often, I tried to remove them from most of the scenery. FTX Trees HD solved that for me and replaced the huge sequoia-sized trees with better looking ones.
You will notice that some of the trees are not actually trees but 2D sprites, which can be a turn-down. The thing is that ORBX did not replace all the existing trees but I found out that this is, again, not a bad thing. 2D sprites help keep the frame rate in control. I'll talk about that later.
The foliage is consistent so the trees seem to cover everything in a much smoother way. Forests seem dense and cohesive and you don't see the aliased branches the default trees in FSX have. I found out that it felt a bit more immersive flying around these areas than using the default trees.
There was something I didn't quite understand, though: in ORBX's screenshots, there's a lot of color variation which I didn't find in any of the areas I flew. I did some flights in Europe, the US, Canada, Brazil and Australia, and there was little variation except for a few different shades. In ORBX's website you can clearly see that there's a lot of different shades and colors. I couldn't find them anywhere. I'm not saying it's not there. I just couldn't find it myself.
Do make sure you'll also check the official product page and the screenshots there.
This was a nice surprise. Since the trees are more detailed, I was expecting some big hits on frame rate, which I did not have. I believe that the trade-off between using all 3D and using a mix of 3D and 2D trees, along with maintaining the 3D models simple -- yet beautiful -- really paid off.
You will notice some impact when you fly over large areas with a high density of trees but not enough to ruin your flight experience. In some areas I found that the frame rate was actually better than using the default trees.
Installing FTX Trees HD is not as straightforward as downloading a file and double-clicking. ORBX has its own scenery managing software (for their own products) which you need to have installed.
After you install FTX Central (you haven't already) and FTX Trees HD, you'll need to select them by entering the Settings area.
On the bottom you'll then find the Scenery settings in which you need to select Use FTX Trees HD and, after then, you'll need to select the group on the left and apply it to your flight sim.
It's not a big deal but it's not something that's completely straightforward and it may be confusing, especially if you have a dual set up with FSX and FSX:SE for example, like I did. I ended up by uninstalling both, reinstalling only FSX:SE and went from there.
I'm not saying it's the ORBX installer's fault, but things didn't work out very well with both sims installed.
There's a big advantage while using the FTX Central, though: you can turn your ORBX scenery add-ons on and off -- very handy for, let's say, writing reviews!
FTX Trees HD is a great product. It instantly improves scenery in the whole world with low impact on frame rate, adding up to the simulation experience and bringing it a notch closer to reality.
For the price ORBX is asking for it (currently €16,74 / US$18.18) is one of those low-costing, small add-ons that really go a long way improving your sim.
Where to get FTX Trees HD
You can purchase ORBX FTX Trees HD here.