Roughly one year ago, xEnviro came onto the scene, challenging the then top dog, SkyMaxx Pro, which was until that day without any real competition. All the time since back then I sticked with SkyMaxx Pro and their Real Weather Connector, admiring how much it improved immersion through cloud visualisation compared to X-Plane's default clouds. Of course I glanced at the arising competition, but decided to wait, go another year with SkyMaxx Pro and decide later. Well, today was that later, and I took a decision - against SkyMaxx Pro, in favour of xEnviro. You may well wonder how that decision came to pass, and I shall try and explain in this article. I can reveal though it was not an easy choice...
First let me clarify one thing: I was happy with SkyMaxx Pro. I know some people weren't, admonishing the colour and shape of clouds, questioning the stability of the add-on. I never had stability problems, although I have to admit I could never use SkyMaxx Pro at maxed out settings (but the same is true for X-Plane itself, maxing the visual settings would be beyond any system money can buy). At least since introduction of dense particle clouds, I was also happy with the shape and colour of clouds, so no complaints from my side on that. All in all, it was not a decision out of protest or simply against SkyMaxx Pro, instead it was a decision in favour of xEnviro.
But what makes xEnviro interersting enough to venture another $70 investment? In fact, lacking first hand experience, it's nothing one easily decides based on a third party opinion. In fact, I reviewed more than a dozen comparison videos on YouTube (you bet, they're mostly biased, but they deliver a visual impression of what you can expect). Finally, I ended up with a feature list (or a list of things one of the two does better than the other), which was the baseline for my decision to invest into xEnviro.
Advantage Number one: Performance
Indeed, one of the main reasons I opted for xEnviro at the end was performance. As said before, I didn't experience really bad performance issues with SkyMaxx Pro, but xEnviro can simply do more. This is particularly true when it comes to visualising large weather systems. An overcast like the one shown on the screenshot would have been absolute limit load for my computer with SkyMaxx Pro, and lead to spluttering when the weather visualisation has to be re-generated. xEnviro handles these large weather systems much better in terms of performance (but probably at the cost of visual quality of the single clouds). This aspect becomes important when flying above the clouds - as long as one stays below or inside, the visual range for cloud generation can remain quite limited. As it happens, I do fly above clouds quite frequently, so for me this aspect matters a lot.
ADvantage Number Two: Cloud Diversity
SkyMaxx Pro only knows one type of cloud: cumulus. True, they take different shapes and colours, but basically any visible volumetric clouds in SkyMaxx Pro are compositions of cumulus elements. xEnviro has a broader range of cloud visualisations ready at hand: Fog billowing in a valley looks clearly different from a cumulus overcast, and cirrus clouds are not only drawn as 2D layer on the sky. Again, I never complained about that particular aspect of SkyMaxx Pro before, but I have to admit that this cloud diversity greatly enhances immersion for me - though admittingly the single cloud shapes still need some polishing before being on par with SkyMaxx Pro. Nevertheless the overall picture looks more convincing with xEnviro.
Advantage Number Three: Completeness
Yes, SkyMaxx Pro has gained in features over the past two years. Precipitation was added, as well as the ability to synchronize with real world weather. And still, SkyMaxx Pro is primarily and only a weather visualisation plugin, meaning it takes care of visualising clouds and precipitation, but will not manage the weather itself. xEnviro again simply does more: it manages the atmospheric conditions, synchronizes the full weather (including winds, temperature, barometric pressure etc.), and not just the visible part of it. Beyond this, it also brings along sounds caused by the weather (wind rushing, rain pattering, ...) and even adds animated precipitation to the wind screens of aircrafts (if enabled by the aircraft designer).
Last, but not least it was also the business model behind xEnviro that tipped the scales: xEnviro promises free updates, whereas SkyMaxx Pro will ask for a license renewal once a year (of course you can stay with your old version, but that excludes you from any new development, improvement, etc.). On top, xEnviro is one complete product, where I need to buy four products to get the same functionality with SkyMaxx Pro (SkyMaxx Pro itself, Real Weather Connector, SoundMaxx Pro and a good weather injection plugin). I certainly do not want to impute complacency to the team behind SkyMaxx Pro, but I have to admit that despite a new competitor being in town, it doesn't feel their development really gained momentum throughout the past year.