MSFS: In-Sim Settings

In this article we look at the graphics and data settings that are available within the Microsoft Flight Simulator itself.

This article is a subsection of
How to Optimise MSFS for VR

Introduction

Here are a few notes for the in-game settings at MSFS > Options > General > Graphics. Be aware that you might want to apply changes to both the VR and the PC settings.

Note: Remember to check your
settings after each MSFS software update.

The UserCfg.opt file stores your settings and can be found here:
Microsoft Store:
C:\Users\<login name>\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.FlightSimulator_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalCache
Steam:
C:\Users\<login name>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft Flight Simulator\

The first line of UserCfg.opt has a version number in it (eg: ‘Version 66’) so you may get issues if you overwrite with a file of a different version number.

PC Graphics Settings

These are the main things to consider on the PC settings when in VR mode.

PC: Display Mode (full screen)

Be aware that Windowed Mode may use more CPU and result in a lower FPS. However, when you are trying out settings you will find it easier to switch away from MSFS when it is in Windowed mode. Unfortunately, that also makes it easier to accidentally launch external programs while you are clicking with the VR mouse pointer from inside MSFS. That’s one of the ways you can lose control of the mouse pointer in VR.

PC: VSYNC (off)

VSYNC will ensure that only fully rendered frames are displayed displayed on your monitor so the refresh rate of the monitor will become the FPS limit.

In addition, if you pop out a toolbar window onto another monitor, it has an independent VSYNC time that will potentially cause an FPS drop of its own. This will be fixed at some point.

Toolbar windows that are moved to
second monitors have an independent VSYNC
(at the time of writing)
VSYNC must be at least 60 FPS
(click to enlarge)

PC: All Settings on Ultra

This is still relevant for my rig and Sim Update 5 did not make any difference. Each time I go into VR I go through this sequence and I do see a quality increase, but that might be because I am using a Rift S which is now among the lowest resolution VR headsets available.

Originally this was referred to as the 200% Render Scale trick, discovered by Ben Maud. Subsequently, YouTuber Pie in the Sky Tours revealed that putting all of the PC settings to maximum extended the improvement still further.

In VR do the following:

  • Open the MSFS general settings
  • Move the graphic settings to PC
  • Switch PC settings to Low
  • Apply
  • Switch settings to Ultra
  • Apply
  • Exit and save
  • Do this each time you start MSFS
The CPU displays showed much less activity after setting the ‘PC Settings’ to Ultra, and this meant less stutters in the sim. On the right are the GPU and CPU temperature readouts showing 4 CPU cores/threads running hotter than the others.

Look for improvements in clarity and smooth replay – the difference is significant for those who are lucky. Forum members are reporting success with many headset brands. Each time you start the sim you will need to change the PC render scale to 200% manually.

A readout from my newer rig housing an Intel CPU and an RTX 3080 GPU

The improvement was also visible in the Task Manager’s CPU core monitors where 4 cores were switching tasks very tidily and the remaining cores were unusually quiet.

A DLSS/TAA vs DX11/DX12 Comparison Video

DLSS/TAA benchmark video by UnitedG PC

VR Graphics Settings

VR: Render Scaling

I prefer to leave render scaling at 100% and manipulate the VR headset image using an external tool such as OTT for example. I have put my settings into a batch file that also starts up MSFS in quick launch mode.

VR: Anti-Aliasing (TAA)

Use the TAA setting unless you have a good reason not to, it is by far the best-looking result. TAA means Temporal Anti Aliasing and is used to reduce the effects of strobing caused by sampling moving objects at a less than optimal level (i.e. the framerate).

VR: Terrain Level of Detail (100%)

This determines the distance at which levels of detail (LODs) are applied to the landscape with regard to objects. The effect can be subtle so you can save FPS by going lower than 100% and still have a perfectly acceptable scene. Trees and bushes have their own controls.

VR: Terrain Vector Data

Vector data is responsible for terrain modelling including tree placement. It can remove as well as add data. I have set mine to ultra to capture as much fidelity as is available, but at the moment the satellite imagery leaves mountains looking soft and rounded so I doubt that the data set is larger than medium size anyway, however, I don’t know.

VR: Buildings

This setting will determine the level of detail (LOD) that exists in the structures of the buildings themselves. If you are making videos of the buildings in an area you may want this setting high, but for normal use, I have made useful FPS gains by setting this to medium or low.

VR: Trees

This sets the draw distance for trees. Since I am interested in the scenery I try to put this one high and also use a mod from Flightsim.to that increases the generation of trees with no FPS hit.

VR: Grass and Bushes

As with the trees, it sets the draw distance for the level of detail (LOD). My preference is to go as high as I can.

VR: Objects Level of Detail

I have found that 40%+ is enough to render wheels and spinning propeller blades as circles rather than polygons, giving up a bit more FPS for no discernible loss. 60% seems comfortable. It also defines when particular objects come into view, such as runway signage. I normally run this value at 85%.

VR: Volumetric Clouds

This is a CPU hog, but worth going as high as you can in my opinion.

VR: Texture Resolution (< vram)

The place to find out whether the texture resolution might be causing problems is in the Dedicated GPU Memory Usage chart in the task manager. You will gain stability by ensuring there is spare capacity in your VRAM. In this screenshot, the memory is nearly full even after switching the texture resolution from Ultra to High, but the VR flight was smoother as a result of making this change.

I changed the texture resolution to medium and saw 10% free space in the dedicated GPU memory and no discernible loss of quality to the textures. I think the medium setting matches the state of MSFS at the moment so for me at least there is no gain by putting the setting higher.

VR: Anisotropic Filtering (low)

This setting reduces texture blur caused by perspective views and requires a fair amount of computational power to get a decent result. The higher the value, the shallower the viewing angle that can be achieved. Without anisotropic filtering you may, for example, may see box-like artifacts along the further edges of runways when taking off, etc. Another way to combat runway blur is to increase the texture super-sampling.

VR: Texture Super Sampling (4×4)

Supersampling means that textures are made larger than required and scaled down to fit their required size. This setting consumes RAM while textures are being generated, but I assume this space is reclaimed once the images are reduced to the size it is used at. Therefore, you can gain a lot by increasing his value.

Supersampling provides:

  • Higher resolution image tiles
  • Anti-aliasing for the closest texture tiles
  • Better runway lines at a distance

Depending on how this has been coded, the extra resolution scaling need not mean that a lot of memory is required – the extra space can be discarded after the downscaling is complete.

VR: Texture Synthesis (on)

This will improve low-resolution source data, for example, low-quality terrain image tiles. An additional texture is superimposed on the tile to give it the appearance of having extra detail and I think this is worth doing.

VR: Water Waves

With each increase of this setting, a new set of smaller waves are combined with the existing ones for more realism. High seems to be plenty and you will get three levels of detail.

VR: Shadow Maps

This can use up FPS with no discernible improvement so I leave this setting low.

VR: Terrain Shadows (low)

This setting concerns shadows cast onto the terrain. Low settings are softer than higher ones. It can also use up FPS with no discernible improvement so I leave this setting low.

VR: Contact Shadows (off)

This creates shading that is specific to places where one object intersects with another, for example, trees and buildings with the ground. I’m not seeing any useful image improvement with this option and some shadowing is provided when this option is off anyway.

VR: Windshield Effects (medium)

Medium provides all the realism I need with rain effects. I’m not so worried about reflections.

VR: Ambient Occlusion (low)

This setting calculates the amount of ambient light that is available to illuminating parts of the scene in relation to the objects within it. It should cause the lighting to vary realistically, but I haven’t been able to see a difference as yet. Low is 100% better than none.

VR: Reflections (high)

Unfortunately, the setting for the reflections in the cockpit is also used for the reflections in lakes and rivers. For the water reflections, I keep this value high.

VR: Light Shafts (low)

This is a nice-to-have, but you will get them to some extent anyway, so I set this low.

VR: Bloom (on)

Bloom is a great realistic visual effect that mimics the way the eye adjusts to the brightest part of a scene. For example, a darkened room can be visible as long a the bright sunshine outside can’t be seen. Similarly, sunlight flashing in a mirror is accentuated by darkening the rest of the scene. I like the realism so I have this switched on.

VR: Depth of Field (off)

This will be good for 2D mode but not for VR where I’m already struggling for clarity I have left this setting off.

VR: Motion Blur (off)

This effect will increase the load drastically when you move your head in VR, providing no real value in my opinion.

VR: Lens Correction (off)

I don’t have a problem with the image I have so I do not apply the correction.

VR: Lens Flare (on)

For a certain type of realism, I leave this on and haven’t noticed any FPS loss.

VR: Glass Cockpit Refresh Rate (low)

This setting adds a fairly heavy load to the CPU and you will benefit from having it set to the lowest value.

MSFS Data Settings

Photogrammetry

Since the photogrammetry isn’t optimised as well as it could be I have opted to turn this feature off until it provides a better response.

Multiplayer

If you don’t really need this option, you can save a bit more on the workload by leaving this value off.

Bing Data World Graphics (on)

If you have low res / blurred textures it might be to do with your network or options.

Be aware that if your internet connection drops out, MSFS may turn off Bing map enhancement and leave it off from then on. Enable photogrammetry data as well. Check that you still have the settings you want especially if you experience broadband issues. Without extra data, the landscapes will become bland-looking.

MSFS switches off Bing data when your broadband disconnects

If this condition persists, you might find that your connection to the data is blocked. You should check this by typing Xbox Networking into the taskbar search box. It will tell you if your connection to the server is blocked. If you are having trouble, follow this YouTube video by Crispeay who links to a number of other contributors.

Rolling Cache

There are two items for the ‘Options > General > Data > Rolling Cache’ to note:

  1. Limited cache size:
    I have reported a bug where the accumulated memory in for MSFS over several flights results in increasingly choppy performance once the total passes 20Gb. The code that manages the rolling cache may suffer from a similar condition and as a precaution I have reduced my rolling cache to 20 Gb.
  2. Zero cache size:
    YouTube: OverKillSims has found that turning off completely can reduce stutter. It will depend on the speed of your connection to some degree and its something you won’t want to do long-term. It’s possible that the extra load due to filing the incoming terrain data could be transferred to a spare CPU core in when DX12 changes have been implemented. I saw some benefit from this when flying over the newly updated version of London which is now immensely detailed. Although it didn’t solve all my graphical issues it certainly made the flight noticeably smoother.

Manual Cache

I recently stored half of London at high resolution and it took 40+ minutes to download 30Gb of data. Clearly, this isn’t the same sort of data loaded by the sim in the first minute of arriving at a location. From this we can consider a few things:

  • It’s probably worth storing low resolution data in the manual cache, since this data is guaranteed to be required to create the initial terrain model as you approach.
  • The more detailed the data is, the higher the relative time cost there will be for its storage and retrieval. The user interface for the manual cache has probably been designed to steer users away from selecting large areas at high resolution.

UserCfg.opt Settings

Location:

  • C:\Users\<USERNAME>\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.FlightSimulator_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalCache

The UserCfg.opt file is a text file that contains your option settings.

After the update 5 for the Xbox release you may be wanting to improve the resultant image which has suffered in the adaptation to the new platform, but since fixes are in progress it might be better to wait for those instead of altering this file.

These are a few of the things the community have been looking at:

  • Improved colours: set ColorGrading to 0.
  • Improved shading: set Raytracing to 1
  • Improved detail: set FilmGrain to 0
  • Remove aggressive sharpening: set Sharpen to 0
  • Some of the detail and range of distant objects can be brought back by setting LodFactor to 5.0, however these scales normally have a maximum scale value of 2.0 (200) in the sim so going beyond that is outside of the intention for the graphics engine. You could instead set the available VR options sliders higher to compensate.

Open UserCfg.opt with a text editor such as notepad and set your properties as follows:

In the ‘{Video’ section:

Raytracing  1

In the ‘{Graphics’ section:

ColorGrading    0

Filmgrain       0

Sharpen         0

{Terrain
    LoDFactor   1.000000
}
{ObjectsLoD
    LoDFactor   1.000000
}

In the ‘{GraphicsVR’ section:

ColorGrading    0

Filmgrain       0

Sharpen         0

Some of these values will be reset by the sim if you go into the options settings but you can protect yours by making the UserCfg.opt file read-only until the hotfixes have arrived.

Managing MSFS Updates

On a Regular Schedule

From time to time, whatever else you may be doing…

  • Check and update your graphics drivers.
  • Remove unused entries from your community folder.
  • You might want to take a copy of your config file

When an MSFS Update is Released

  • Check and update your graphics drivers
  • Clear you community folder while consolidating the update.
  • Clear your manual and rolling cache to prevent conflicts.
  • Update anything that is out of date in the MSFS Marketplace to prevent conflicts.
  • Be aware that new scenery will be getting an unusually large amount of attention and network load.

Feedback Tools

Use the Built In FPS Analyser

You can access the FPS display from the Dev Mode menu bar after making it visible using General Options > Developers > Developer Mode = ON

MSFS has a built in FPS analyser

With proper tweaking of all the available settings, you will get to the position whereby the FPS is limited by the main thread rather than the GPU. It will then be a question of getting hardware upgrades and waiting for Asobo to apply optimisations and unpack the work of the main thread into multiple cores. They are doing a stellar job and I ha e no doubt these things will happen.

CapFrameX

The tool may have been devised to monitor the effect of limiting the frame rate to a practical value like 32 FPS. The tool will capture the output of MSFS or any other target in order to analyse its FPS. To use it, capture a sample and then check it over in the analysis tab.

Essentially it will show you what percentage of the total a particular FPS range represents. You can compare your recordings graphically to get feedback on changes you make to your settings which can be useful to spot the less obvious changes. I used it to raise the lowest FPS values and to minimise their frequency. I had already managed to do this without using this tool, but sometimes using a numerical readout is easier.

You can find CapeFrameX here.

Windows Task Manager

I find it useful to see how much of the CPU, GPU and GPU RAM are being utilised by MSFS over time. The GPU load used to be over 90% but improved significantly after I had expanded my Page File. The maximum GPU readout may be under the ‘3D’ or ‘Graphics_1’ heading and hasn’t been consistent.

It is also useful to see how many cores are active, and how much of the CPU is being used by other processes. There are 16 cores in my system which is why the overall value appears to be low.

Benchmarking Software

Flightsimulator.exe Properties

Note: This modification is thought not to make a difference since update 5 in July 2021.

It used to be is said that you can prevent loss of FPS by disabling full-screen optimisations and DPI scaling. The full-screen optimisations control is accessed from the properties dialogue of the FlightSimulator.exe runtime executable. I haven’t noticed any change for the better or worse, however, YouTube’s Overkill used to be adamant that this is of benefit. When ticked, Windows will not add another layer of processing to the full-screen image provided by MSFS.

To locate the FlightSimulator.exe program, enable the ‘hidden items’ view in file explorer and go to this address (Windows Store default location):

C:\ Program Files\ WindowsApps\ Microsoft.FlightSimulator_1.12.13.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe

Disable the fullscreen optimisations

If you are barred from looking into the folder you must add yourself to the user group to gain access. You can do this on the security tab of the property pages for the folder. Open the properties page add a tick to ‘Disable Fullscreen Optimizations’, then click on ‘Change high DPI settings’ to add a tick to ‘Override high DPI scaling behaviour. Scaling performed by: Application’.

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