Is Xbox just for video games? Or can it also be a serious flight training supplement?
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 training tool.
This article will discuss some of the pros and cons of using MSFS on Xbox for flight training, and how to take remote flying lessons from an instructor when using Xbox.
Pros and Cons of Xbox vs. PC
MSFS on Xbox offers largely the same experience that you would get on a PC. It’s an immersive experience with incredible graphics, making it particularly well-suited for VFR training exercises.
Some of the advantages relative to a traditional PC-based simulator setup include the following.
Cost-Effectiveness: An Xbox is 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.
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.
Despite its advantages, there are some limitations to using MSFS on Xbox from a training standpoint.
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.
No Support for VATSIM, PilotEdge, or IVAO: 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.
Limited Add-Ons/Mods: Similar to the limitation with online ATC, 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.
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.
How to Receive Remote Instruction
At Flight Sim Coach, we help connect you with flight instructors who can provide 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, 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, please feel free to book a free consultation with one of our instructors.