Microsoft Flight Simulator on Xbox (And How It Compares to PC)

Is Xbox just for video games? Or can it also be a serious flight training supplement?
Mike Catalfamo
Mike Catalfamo

FAA CFI, CFII, ATP

Train with Me

Is Xbox just for video games? Or can it also be a tool for serious flight sim users and flight students?

Flight simulation has become a powerful way for student pilots to practice their skills from the comfort of their homes, especially when combined with instructors specialized in remote training.

The Xbox (Series X or S) has become increasingly popular among student pilots getting started in simulation. This is due to its affordable price point and compatibility with Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS).

While it’s typically known as a gaming platform, when paired with MSFS, it can also become a powerful simulation and training tool.

This article will discuss some of the pros and cons of using MSFS on Xbox compared to traditional PC-based setups.

We’ll also explore how this affects pilots using the sim to train for their private pilot certificate or instrument rating, and whether it’s possible to take online flying lessons using Xbox.

Various aircraft flying in MSFS

Overview of Xbox and PC-based Simulators

Whether using PC or Xbox, a home flight simulator setup involves:

  • A computer monitor or TV
  • A joystick/yoke with throttle control
  • Rudder pedals (recommended but optional)
  • A headset or speakers

The main difference is the computing platform running the simulator and how you interact with it.

An Xbox doesn’t include a keyboard and mouse by default. Instead, it’s designed for interaction using a game controller like this:

Xbox game controller

That being said, you can still connect a keyboard/mouse using the three USB ports included. This is our recommended option, especially if you’re not familiar with video game controllers already.

The two Xbox platforms that work with MSFS are the Series X vs. S.

The below table explains the main differences between the two platforms that are relevant to MSFS. Xbox also has a simple online tool to help you choose which is best for you. 

FeatureXbox Series SXbox Series XNotes/Impact on MSFS
Cost (as of November 2023)$299.99$499.99
Gaming Resolution1440pTrue 4KThe Series X’s 4K capability provides a more detailed and immersive visual experience for MSFS​​.
Processor Power4 Teraflops12 TeraflopsThe Series X’s has more processing power, which can enhance the overall performance and graphics quality in MSFS​​.
Graphics SettingsRuns MSFS at roughly medium settings (reference)Runs MSFS at roughly high/ultra settings (reference)The Series X can run MSFS at higher graphical settings compared to the Series S, leading to a more visually detailed and immersive experience in the simulator​​. 

Pros and Cons of Xbox vs. PC

Pros

MSFS on Xbox offers largely the same experience that you would get on a PC. You will enjoy incredible graphics and photorealistic scenery, making it particularly well-suited for VFR flying and training.

Some of the advantages relative to a traditional PC-based simulator setup include the following.

Affordability

An Xbox is much more affordable than a high-end gaming PC, making it a more accessible option for many users — especially if you already own the Xbox for other gaming.

It’s possible to fly using only the provided Xbox controller, so you can start flying straight out of the box without needing to purchase additional joystick/yoke hardware like you would on a PC. That being said, for the most realistic simulation experience, you would want to purchase proper hardware for the Xbox (described in the next section).

Simplicity

Xbox provides a plug-and-play experience, reducing the amount of setup. For example, the Xbox has pre-selected graphics settings optimized in accordance with Xbox specs. This means you can spend less time optimizing settings or dealing with driver issues – so you can jump straight into flying.

Cons

Despite its advantages, there are some limitations to using MSFS on Xbox from a training standpoint.

Limited Add-Ons/Mods

Many third-party add-ons are not available on the Xbox version of MSFS. This means that you won’t be able to enjoy all of the high-quality aircraft, scenery, and utilities that would be available to a PC-based user.

Limited Peripheral Choices

Xbox users have fewer options when it comes to flight control hardware. There are certainly compatible flight peripherals available, but the range is not as extensive as what’s available for PC.

Virtual Reality

Unfortunately, Xbox versions of MSFS do not support VR, which means users miss out on this level of immersion. For those who prioritize a VR experience in their flight training, this could be a deciding factor in choosing a PC setup over an Xbox.

You’re Limited to MSFS

X-Plane is another popular home flight simulator with some advantages over Microsoft Flight Simulator for certain training applications. If you go the PC route, you will have the option to run either MSFS or X-Plane, while this isn’t possible on Xbox.

To read more about X-Plane versus Microsoft Flight Simulator, check out this article.

No Support for Online ATC

Xbox users cannot participate in online Air Traffic Control (ATC) simulations like VATSIM, PilotEdge, or IVAO, which are extremely valuable training tools for learning ATC communications.

For many student pilots, the ability to practice ATC communications with real humans on these networks is one of the biggest benefits simulation has to offer, and could potentially result in hundreds of dollars saved in aircraft rental costs.

Carefully consider this factor to decide whether the lower initial price of the Xbox is worth the inability to use these networks.


In short, the depth of your simulation experience on Xbox is more limited.

However, for beginner simmers, or for those who don’t want add-ons such as online ATC, Xbox can still provide a solid introduction to flight simulation.

Flight Sim Hardware for Xbox

Xbox consoles are built differently from PCs, so you need to ensure that any flight control hardware will be compatible.

This will limit your choices somewhat, but luckily, there are still some excellent options available from several companies.

Honeycomb

Honeycomb alpha xpc

Honeycomb Aeronautical is a well-regarded brand in the flight simulator hardware industry, known for producing high-quality, realistic flight controls. They have developed a strong reputation among flight simulation enthusiasts for their attention to detail and the authenticity of their products.

Thrustmaster

T.flight hotas one by thrustmaster

Thrustmaster, established in 1992, has a long-standing history in the gaming hardware industry, particularly known for its flight simulation controllers and steering wheels. The company initially gained recognition for its innovative joysticks and game controllers during the early days of home computing and gaming.

They offer an affordable T.Flight Hotas One (Hands-On Throttle and Stick) option for Xbox users.

Turtle Beach

Velocityone controls for xbox

Turtle Beach is a company known for producing gaming audio equipment, particularly headsets, and has recently expanded its product range to include flight simulation hardware, catering to both PC and console gamers.

This move provides Xbox MSFS enthusiasts with more realistic and immersive flight simulation hardware, tailored to the Xbox gaming experience

Here are some of the options to consider:

For those trying to control costs, they even offer a refurbished version of their control system.


Whatever option you choose, be sure to verify that it lists compatibility with Xbox in the product description.

verifying compatibility on honeycomb site
Always be sure to verify compatibility before purchase

Display Options

Here’s what you need to know about compatibility, recommendations, and multi-monitor setups.

TVs and Monitors

Both standard TVs and gaming monitors are compatible with Xbox consoles. The choice between a TV and a monitor can depend on factors like the size of the room, distance from the screen, and personal preference.

The Xbox Series X and S do not natively support multi-monitor setups.

Cable Used

The Xbox Series X and S have an HDMI port to connect your display to the Xbox via an HDMI 2.1 cable. Ensure that your TV or monitor has an HDMI input port (most modern displays come with at least one).

Display Considerations

  • Resolution and Refresh Rate: For the best experience, consider displays that support 4K resolution and have a high refresh rate (at least 60Hz, though higher is better for smoother visuals). The Xbox Series X, for instance, supports up to 120Hz for smoother gameplay.
  • HDR Support: Displays with High Dynamic Range (HDR) support are recommended for a more vibrant and realistic visual experience, as MSFS has stunning visuals that benefit from better color and contrast.
  • Input Lag: Low input lag is crucial for a more responsive gaming experience. This is especially important in a flight simulator where timing and precision matter.
  • Size: Larger screens or ultra-wide monitors can provide a more immersive experience, but ensure the size is appropriate for your viewing distance.

Taking Flying Lessons on Xbox

MSFS includes some basic built-in lessons, which are described further in this article.

For the best educational experience, Flight Sim Coach can connect you with flight instructors who can provide professional, personalized remote coaching as you fly your simulator.

For PC/Mac users, screen sharing is a simple matter of running Zoom on your computer and sharing your screen with the instructor.

As of 2024, it’s now also possible to do something similar with Xbox using a program called Discord. We provide our students with detailed info on how to set this up for your remote flying lessons.

Alternatives

While there’s no doubt that MSFS on Xbox offers an immersive flight simulation experience, it presents some limitations when trying to use the sim as a serious training tool.

For example, the inability to use online ATC is a significant downside for real-world student pilots.

Given these challenges, it’s worth considering alternatives to using Xbox for flight simulation.

If you already have a PC or MacBook but are concerned that it won’t run MSFS smoothly, explore other flight simulators like X-Plane.

These simulators may not offer the same level of graphical fidelity as MSFS on Xbox, but they excel in other areas such as realistic flight dynamics, comprehensive training capabilities, and the ability to practice online Air Traffic Control (ATC).

Conclusion

Before making a decision on whether to use Xbox as your MSFS platform, it’s worth exploring all your options and considering what will provide the best learning experience for your specific needs and goals.

If you would like more information on using your Xbox to receive remote instruction from home, we invite you to book a free consultation with one of our instructors.

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