External instrument displays

While waiting for the throttle quadrant PCB to be manufactured I had another look how to drive an external Control Display Unit (CDU) of the Flight Management Computer (FMC), the Captain Outboard and Inboard Displays and the Upper and Lower Display Units with X-Plane.
I’m planning a setup with one computer to drive the three outside scenery monitors and another computer in the network to run the simulator. This one only has two monitor outputs, so how am I going to drive four displays that are physically apart and are partly mounted in different angles? In total there are even five displays, but the captain outboard and inboard displays can be displayed on a single widescreen monitor.
And while in FSX the displays can be popped out to separate windows which can be placed anywhere on a monitor this is not possible in X-Plane.
At xplane.org I found two solutions: XTextureExtractor and ZHSI.

Initially I have tested XTextureExtractor, which works well, but as the displays that it extracts from the simulator graphics are smaller than the real ones, especially the texts at the Outboard Display weren’t very well readable because of the upscaling.

ZHSI on the other hand generates high resolution instruments and is Java based so that it can be run on any Windows, Mac or Linux networked computer.
Initially it immediately crashed when started but this was because I had an old Java version installed. With a recent Java version it works excellent, the high resolution instruments look great and the creator meanwhile has added additional instruments like the chronometers and the Integrated Standby Flight Display.

I’m using one monitor for the Inboard and Outboard Displays and the other monitor for the upper engine display.
ZHSI can also display the flaps indicator, which is close to the upper engine display and can be put together with that on the same monitor.
For the lower engine display I originally had planned a small monitor, driven by a third computer in the network.

For FSX I had a nice app that could even run on my old iPad 1 as a Flight Management Computer with touchscreen, but until recently I couldn’t find a similar app for X-Plane. But X-Plane seems to gain momentum because when I recently checked again I found the airFMC payware app. Unfortunately it requires at least IOS 9, so I can’t use the old iPad 1 for it anymore, but on a newer iPad it is a nice FMC solution.

Later I found the ZCDU software from the same author as ZHSI which can be used to generate both CDU screens on an external monitor. Instead of using small monitors for these I tested if it would be possible to combine the lower EICAS and both CDU displays on a single, larger monitor.
This appeared possible if the lower EICAS display is made a bit smaller than normal.
With the small LED switches that I found for the radio panels it should be possible to build a flat FMC that comes on top of this monitor and through a hole in the PCB the monitor below it can be used for the CDU displays.

Then I remembered the NVIDIA Quadro NVS440 graphics card with 4 monitor outputs that I bought second-hand some time ago and that was laying idle. It’s not a very fast card, but probably fast enough to drive the 4 monitors with the various instrument displays.

So the final setup is now 1 computer with 3 monitors running 1 license of X-Plane for the external scenery, 1 computer with a second license of X-Plane running the simulator and 1 computer with 4 monitors running the ZHSI and ZCDU software for all MIP displays.

Now that I had found a working solution to drive external cockpit displays from X-Plane it was time to start thinking about how to mount these monitors with the following requirements:
– a possibility to mount the PCBs in the back of it
– a floor to fix my Saitek Rudder Pedals and a future floor mounted yoke to
– it must be movable for easy access to the backside (it’s in the corner of a room with no space behind it)
– but it must also be stable when used, so preferrably with rectractable wheels

While trying to work out the dimensions I found a nice 3D Sketchup design at the site www.cockpitbuilders.com that could be customized for my specific requirements.

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