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.
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:
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.
|Feature||Xbox Series S||Xbox Series X||Notes/Impact on MSFS|
|Cost (as of November 2023)||$299.99||$499.99|
|Gaming Resolution||1440p||True 4K||The Series X’s 4K capability provides a more detailed and immersive visual experience for MSFS.|
|Processor Power||4 Teraflops||12 Teraflops||The Series X’s has more processing power, which can enhance the overall performance and graphics quality in MSFS.|
|Graphics Settings||Runs 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
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.
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).
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.
Despite its advantages, there are some limitations to using MSFS on Xbox from a training standpoint.
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.
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.
Limited Screen-Sharing Capabilities
Xbox does not support screen-sharing apps like Zoom or Discord, making it more challenging to receive remote instruction. This will be explored in more depth later.
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
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 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.
- ALPHA FLIGHT CONTROLS XPC
- BRAVO THROTTLE QUADRANT (note that the Alpha Flight Controls XPC & Honeycomb Xbox Hub are required for Xbox Compatibility)
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 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:
- VelocityOne™ Flight Universal Control System
- VelocityOne™ Flight + VelocityOne™ Rudder Pedals Bundle
- VelocityOne™ Flight + Elite Pro 2 White Headset + VelocityOne™ Speaker
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.
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.
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).
- 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. Unfortunately, this is not currently possible on Xbox—but there are some alternatives.
Webcam or Smartphone
The simplest solution for screen sharing is to point a webcam or smartphone/tablet camera at your display, and then share the webcam with the instructor via a Zoom or Facetime video call.
While this method is not ideal due to potential quality issues and the inability of the instructor to directly annotate on your Xbox display, it can be sufficient for basic coaching.
The most important things are that your web camera resolution is good and you have a stable way to mount the device.
A more sophisticated solution is to use a capture card, such as the one found here. A capture card allows you to send the Xbox display output to a PC. Then on your PC, the Xbox display can be shared with the instructor through Zoom.
This method provides a much better quality result for your instructor. However, it does require an additional investment, as capture cards can cost around $100 or more.
When considering a capture card, here are some factors to consider.
Resolution and Frame Rate: The capture card should be able to handle the resolution and frame rate that your game and console can output. For example, the capture card linked above is a “4K30” graphics card. The “4k” indicates the resolution, while the “30” indicates the frame rate (30 frames per second). Both of these would be sufficient for MSFS sharing purposes.
Latency: Low latency is crucial, otherwise your instructor may see your control inputs several seconds after you have made them, which makes it difficult or impossible to provide effective instruction.
Compatibility: Ensure the capture card is compatible with your Xbox and your computer (PC or Mac). Make sure the capture card has the necessary input/output options for your setup. For example, if you’re capturing gameplay from an Xbox, the capture card will need an HDMI input.
While there’s no doubt that MSFS on Xbox offers an immersive flight simulation experience, it presents some unique challenges when it comes to screen sharing and remote flight instruction.
The inability to run screen-sharing apps directly on Xbox and the lack of online ATC is a significant downside.
We discussed how the use of a webcam or capture card will allow your instructor to see your display. However, it requires additional complexity/investment, so it may not be ideal for all students.
Also, the capture card method doesn’t allow the instructor to annotate directly on the screen during the session. This can significantly enhance the learning experience because it lets your instructor easily point out instruments, controls, and visual references on your screen.
Given these challenges, it’s worth considering alternatives to using Xbox for flight simulation.
If you already have a PC or MacBook, 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).
Moreover, these alternatives could potentially be more cost-effective than investing in a capture card and dealing with the associated complexities.
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.