ForeFlights synthetic vision release coincided with one of our evaluation aircraft coming off the hangar floor with Aspens free 10-hour ESV synthetic vision trial, and noticeably slower processing power due to the demand of the added software. That got us thinking about the advantages of tablet-driven syn vis and how it could stifle sales of certified versions. Price and graphics quality rule.
Once you fly off the 10-hour EVS trial on a new Evolution display, Aspen gives the option of purchasing the ESV feature for $2995. Compare that to ForeFlights $25 buy-in, not including the base subscription. Aspen ESV is AML STC and PMA-certified, while ForeFlights SV is at your own risk. But for a growing number of buyers, we suspect the difference in price is going to be worth the risk.
How that risk compares to certified version is unknown, but Foreflights pilots guide has a legal caveat that says attitude data and synthetic vision is not for use as primary instrumentation in any phase of flight. If you cant keep to the honor system, simply dont crash while using the app.
From a design standpoint, we think uncertified synthetic vision has distinct advantages over panel-mounted versions, including an open architecture for adding new features and tweaks without having to endure time-consuming software and hardware certification. Consider that by the time a graphics chip makes it into a certified display, it could be antiquated, while the processing power and the graphics display of iPad and Android tablets are dominantly maintaining a cutting edge.
Tablets afford a new approach to presenting a virtual landscape, too. ForeFlight says its synthetic vision was never designed to just show terrain and obstacle situational awareness, but designed to be an immersive experience and an extensible 3D canvas. One of the best examples of this is the systems ability to keep the viewer above terrain and runways even if the vertical GPS quality is downgraded. Some other implementations of SV dont do this, allowing the virtual camera to drop below the terrain or runway, leading to odd visual artifacts. Well look at these tidbits in a detailed operational comparison of certified and tablet syn vis in a future issue.