Update 30th December: Work on Frontier has been abandoned in favour of Milkshake, which I’ve reviewed here. Because of this, download links for Frontier have been removed from this piece.
Frontier is another Viewer 1.x TPV that incorporates mesh object rendering. Based on the popular Singularity Viewer code base (itself a branch of the (now defunct?) Ascent Viewer), and is managed by Cinder Roxley. The Viewer isn’t currently self-certified against Linden Lab’s Third-party Viewer Policy, although I understand the paperwork is in-hand.
So what is it like?
Installation and First Looks
Installation is standalone – no requirement for Snowglobe to be installed first – as with most Viewer 1.x TPVs. The installer I used had a slight problem in that a .dll file from Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable Set-up was missing, which caused the Viewer to fail on start-up.This has been reported to Cinder, who will be updating the installer. In the meantime, those wishing to use the Viewer right away can download the Redistributable Package direct from Microsoft. Once installed, it’ll resolve the issue.
On start-up, Frontier displays the familiar black / dark slate look of Singularity, complete with the pop-up that the Advanced menu is active by default – no need for CTRL-ALT-D.
Preferences-wise, Frontier offer the same options and presets as Singularity – including RLVa being on by default. Other features familiar to, and popular with TPV users include:
- The official multi-attach for prim, etc., attachments
- Alpha and tattoo layer support
- A built-in AO option, following the Phoenix approach
- A Quick Preference pop-up for draw distance, bandwidth, max avatars, environment settings, etc., again a-la Phoenix
- Vertical tabs display for IMs a the chat window in the COMMUNICATE floater – the vertical tabs are on by default, unlike most other 1.x TPVs
- Phoenix Command Line shortcuts (e.d. “dd” to set the required draw distance, etc.)
- Object area search
- Display Name support
- Asset blacklist
- Media Filter (Preferences -> AUDIO & VIDEO -> ASK FOR PERMISSION to enable, View Menu to access Media Filter lists)
- Spell checker – with a full range of languages – found under the ADV. CHAT tab of Preferences, and (a little confusingly) called TEXT OPTIONS
- Security options (turn off SHOW LOOKAT, etc.)
A rather interesting element in both Singularity and Frontier is the support of both the worn layer of Avatar Physics and the legacy “Phoenix” Avatar Physics. This may be due to the fact that using the “official” Avatar Physics results in a large yellow system message being displayed warning about possible compatibility issues.
The UI presentation for Singularity / Frontier is very neat, and has something of the Viewer 2.x look to it with the black / slate approach. A lot of the buttons and drop-down list have a nice 3D effect, which is aesthetically engaging. As an alternative, the legacy SL blue skin can be selected via Preferences -> SKINS, and requires the usual Viewer re-start.
When it comes to clothing, Singularity and Frontier suffer the same problem as all V1.x TPVs: only one item of each layer of clothing can be worn at any one time (one shirt layer, one pants layer, one tattoo layer, etc). I have to admit, after using V2.x TPVs, I find this one of the biggest drawbacks of 1.x TPVs, particularly when it comes to wearing multiple alpha layers.
Shadow rendering is the “experimental” option familiar to most V1.x TPVs, and I did encounter a couple of issues with it enabled on Frontier.
While Singularity provided crisp, clear shadows with the options enabled – shadows actually rendered a lot better than I’ve experienced with Phoenix on the same PC – Frontier had problems. Shadows failed to render as well as with Singularity, and no matter what time of day was set, the viewer would render with a mist-like greying effect (see images above and blow for comparisons).
I checked this against Astra 1.5.10 as well, also forked from Singularity, and didn’t encounter the same issue.
Frontier appears to use the same code as Astra experimental 1.5.10 (2) release for mesh rendering, using the same prim / count measure found in the Astra experimental. Frontier had no problem rendering mesh objects individually or in multiples, and handled me bouncing across a mesh sandbox on the Beta grid without any issues or problems. Indeed, when visiting locations on the Main grid where mesh has been mixed with sculpts and prims (such as is the case with Mesh Mellows), I found the mesh elements rendering a good deal faster than their sculpt / prim cousins, a trend I found with Astra 1.5.10 (2) experimental, but not so much with Firestorm or the official Viewer.
I particularly like the approach to the prim / PE count taken with the Astra experimental / Frontier Viewer. It is concise and goes a small way to avoiding issues around prim count and prim equivalency (while they remain so), although having two numbers relating to objects will most likely still cause confusion for some unaware of mesh objects and their impact.
There is no upload option for mesh objects, unsurprisingly, given the usual reasons. However, as with other TPVs, this isn’t a major drawback at the moment – most people are more interested in seeing mesh objects than they potentially are in uploading them.
Frontier performed well on my usual PC (Intel quad-core Q6600 2.4Ghz, 3Gb memory, nVidia GE9800 GT with 1Gb memory). On a sim on my own it averaged around 28-30fps, and would drop to around 15-18fps with up to five avatars on-sim.
Enabling shadow rendering tended to (unsurprisingly) cause a performance drop to around 8-9fps – but this was still somewhat better than some V2.x TPVs (albeit they use the “official” code for shadows), and when on my own on a sim, the lag was more than manageable.
A rather interesting element with Frontier is that with Viewer reporting enabled on avatar tags, it displayed both to itself and other Viewers as “Milkshake”, rather than “Frontier” (or even “Singularity”). An earlier working title for the Viewer, perhaps?
Frontier and Other Grids
Frontier works well with other grids, having the familiar V1.x Grid Manager. I used it to pay a visit to InWorldz, and encountered no major issues in terms of moving around, teleporting, etc. Frame rates were significantly down over the likes of Imprudence and the InWorldz Viewer, however. I averaged 12-16fps for Frontier (and Singularity), as opposed to around 26-28fps for both the Imprudence 1.4 experimental and the InWorldz Viewers. I also encountered a crash issue repeatedly on logging-out – something I’ve experienced when trying Phoenix elsewhere as well.
Frontier incorporates minimal changes to the look and feel of Singularity, and as such, is a good, solid performer offering all that Singularity has to offer together with the added benefit of mesh object rendering. It’s hard to say whether the release incorporates and additional bug fixes from the last major release of Singularity itself (July 2011), as there are currently no detailed accompanying notes.