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What is Prepare 3D
04-20-2017, 03:34 AM
Post: #1
What is Prepare 3D
Last September, Lockheed Martin a bit unexpectedly released version 3 of Prepar3D. Some people heralded it as being the next best thing to sliced bread, others saw it as a money grabbing move with what should have been Prepar3D version 2.6. The reality, as usual, is more likely to be found somewhere in between those extremes. So, let’s take a look!

The first version of Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D (pronounced “prepared”) was released in November 2010. It was, and still is, a simulator based on Microsoft ESP, basically the commercial-use (as in: not for private use) version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X. Over the years, features have been added, legacy problems have been fixed and the platform has slowly diverged more and more from FSX as we know it. Version 1 wasn’t too different from ESP and FSX through its lifecycle. There certainly were differences, like how the entire user interface was modernized, but it basically was a cleaned up ESP/FSX.

Version 2 certainly deserved it’s new name. The biggest difference here was now real support for multi-core processors and an overhauled rendering system with support for DirectX 11. Since ESP/FSX was designed in a time where single core processors with high clock speeds where the norm, it never was very efficient in running on a multi-core system with slightly lower clocks. Combined with the move to DirectX 11 compatibility, this multi-core support enabled better performance (or more detail at the same performance, as you prefer) and new features such as more realistic lighting and shadows. Between November 2013 and February 2015 Prepar3D version 2 received semi-regular service packs, eventually reaching version 2.5.
And now we come to the current version. When many people were expecting version 2.6 to roll out, Lockheed Martin surprised us, by releasing Prepar3D version 3. Much of the controversy in this move lies in the way that LM, as with version 2 previously, doesn’t provide a discount for existing users. So version 2 users have to buy version 3 just like everybody else. What also didn’t help was that the vast majority of the points on the changelog were bugfixes. Since I had bought version 2 only just before 2.5 was released, and never got it to where it would be my primary sim due to other stuff taking priority time-wise, I wasn’t all too happy about putting another wad of cash on the table myself either. But it did provide me with a new “point zero” which has directly led to me being able to write this article.

Since the very first release of Prepar3D and up till the present, there’s big elephant in the room that has to be discussed. Are we, the average armchair-pilots, allowed to buy and use this simulator? And if so, which version or license?
Before I go on, please note that I’m not a lawyer, and a person trained in legal matters might have a radically different view on the following matter. Don’t take what I write here as legal advice.

First of all, are we allowed to use it? The P3D License page shows big red crosses next to the category ‘Personal Consumer Entertainment’. But also states: “The license is available to those that are training, instructing, simulating, or learning.”
This leads to the question: is home flight simulation entertainment, or does it fall under the “Training, instructing, simulating or learning” category? Personally, I’d say it can be both. My personal, and definitely not legal-advice, view on this is that Lockheed Martin has to make this distinction to honour their legal agreement with Microsoft (they bought the rights to ESP, not to FSX) but they’re more than happy to take your money and let you “train, instruct, simulate and learn” in their sim. I’d wish LM made this more clear, but I don’t expect it to happen. Too much lawyers and legal agreements in place for that to happen.
So, again my personal view, but I’d say go for it. Just keep in mind to ‘train’, not ‘entertain’.

And now let’s talk versions and licenses.
Prepar3D v3 comes in 2 versions: Professional, and Professional Plus. The biggest difference is that the Professional Plus version enables the use of weapons and weapon related systems in the sim (if supported by your mission specific add-ons, don’t expect any of the default aircraft to use these features!). Oh, and the price. A single license for this version costs USD 2300.00. So quite clearly, this version is aimed at professional customers who buy the basic sim-environment but develop their own specific add-ons and training scenarios.
If you’re reading this article, you’re more than likely interested in the ‘normal’ version. But even then it’s not clear-cut. There are 3 licenses for this version. The ‘normal’ license comes in at USD 199.99 and comes with no special conditions apart from those mentioned above. The developer license is a subscription based option that comes in at USD 9.95 per month and is aimed at software developers. Many normal users picked this option when Prepar3D v1 was first released, because the normal license cost a whopping USD 500.00 at first. With the current price of the other licenses, there’s little appeal in this license option for normal users I think, although there will be some who’ll see reasons to pick this.
The third option is the academic license at USD 59.95. I daresay it’s the most popular license, and it’s also the one I got. But there’s a problem here. Officially, legally, this license is limited to students and teaching staff of undergraduate level or lower. While many people who buy this license fall in this category (I did when I bought v2), many do not. “Then why go for this version?”, you might ask. There are several reasons. The price is the most obvious. There’s quite a bit of difference between USD 60 and USD 200. A second reason is that there is no difference in the software you get from the normal professional license or the academic license, apart from a non-intrusive watermark in the latter version. And another important reason is that some add-on developer limit their products to use in the academic version, and don’t allow installation in another version or charge you (sometimes significantly) more money for it.
This whole situation is legal quicksand, but the fact that Lockheed Martin doesn’t check or enforce the ‘for academics only’ condition has led many to buy this version even when they don’t confirm.

Also note that this situation of legal limbo has delayed the adoption of P3D by quite a few well-regarded FSX publishers or developers, although most of them have made the jump by now.
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