Singularity Viewer gets mesh rendering

An experimental release of the popular V1-based Singularity Viewer was made today – version 1.6.0 (0). According to the blog post accompanying the release, it has been four months in development, and most of the changes are under-the-hood, with the team acknowledging they still have a lot of work to do in some areas. However – the exciting news for Singularity user (and for those who prefer using V1-style Viewers as a whole) is that the release includes mesh rendering.

Currently the release is only available for Windows users – and requires systems running SSE2. Work is underway on a release for Linux, which is listed as “It’ll be here soon!”. However, Mac users may have a longer wait in store, as the download page states: “There are serious bugs affecting OS X in current codebase and also present in Linden V3 codebase. So far there is no known solution“.

So, how does this Windows release look and handle?

Installation and First Run

Given this is an experimental release, it is recommended that previous versions of Singularity are removed prior to installing 1.6.0. (0), or that you install it in an entirely separate folder hierarchy. I opted for the second option, and following the download and scan of the regularly sized .EXE file (22Mb), installed the new release into a folder I called “Singularity-Mesh”.

Starting the Viewer brought with it a surprise: up popped the “new” V3 login screen from LL with the Destination Guide, etc. This is the first time I’ve seen this login screen appear in a V1-based Viewer and as such, the Singularity team deserve double kudos; both for being the first, and for actively using the screen. It’s a massively useful feature for both old and new SL users  – particularly when you want to get to a noted event fast (as I’ve done myself several times even if it has meant using V3 in preference to Firestorm).

Singularity uses the “new” LL login screen

Once logged-in, you’re presented with the familiar (or in my case nowadays – not so familiar!) V1 UI in Singularity’s stylish charcoal grey / black. Don’t expect any obvious updates or changes here in terms of menu options and Preferences options; again, as the release notes state, most of the changes with this release are under-the-hood.

However, one change that is obvious (for those that use it) is with the Grid Manager (accessed via the login screen or via PREFERNCES -> GRIDS). In most V1 Viewers including older versions of Singularity, opening the Grid Manager would display the full information relating to the grid you are / will be logged-in to (below left).

Grid Manager changes: old (left) and new (right) – but no GET GRID INFO button

With Singularity 1.6.0. (0), a cleaner, summary page is displayed (above right). To access detailed information for a specific grid, one needs to lick on the ADVANCED tab, near the top of the floater.

This is regarded as an experimental Grid Manager, which includes megaregion support for OpenSim. However, it is missing a critical element: there is no GET GRID INFO button in either the ADD or the AdVANCED tabs. Thus, there is currently no way to fetch information relating to a grid (login page URI, etc.) on the basis of the grid name and URL. Instead, all additional information has to be manually typed-in (assuming you have it to hand).

This is something of a major oversight for those of us who do jump between grids – particularly given the button was present on earlier Singularity releases. Hopefully it will be back in an update.

Mesh Rendering

However, it is mesh that will be tweaking most people’s interest, and in this area, the Viewer is flawless in its ability to render mesh objects. A nice touch is that “Prim Equivalence” and “PE” have been abandoned in the Edit menu floater when viewing mesh objects, and replaced with a simple “Cost”. This should cause less confusion for users who still get caught between “Prims” and “Prim Equivalency” and also allow the Viewer code to easily be tweaked to read “Impact” once LL’s “Land Impact” approach becomes widely adopted.

There is no mesh upload tool at present, but apparently work on an uploader for V1 Viewers is underway on several fronts.

Other Noteworthy Bits

As those familiar with Singularity know, it includes much of the functionality found within Phoenix and other V1 TPVs. Radar, client-side AO, media filters, quick preferences, command line support (“/dd” for draw distance, etc), some shield options, and so on, so I’m not going to delve into these. However, a few things are worthy of note in terms of the “haves” and “have nots”:

  • RLVais updated to the latest release. When using the Viewer, remember:
    • RLVa is turned on by default in Singularity, so there’s not need to go hunting for a Preferences or menu option to enable it, and no need to then log out / log back in
    • To disable RLVa, enable the ADVANCED menu, then click on RESTRAINEDLOVE API. A message will be displayed informing you RLVa will be disabled following a restart. Use the same procedure to re-enable
  • There is no support for MOAP, multiple clothing layers and region Windlight settings, but these are being worked on
  •  Other updates include:
    • Renderer updated to move from mixed-pipeline to shader-only pipeline on capable hardware, analogous to V3
    • Editor support for more LSL/OSSL functions
    • Additional Windlight presets
    • A texture fetch and bake bug fix
    • Improvements to the notecard editor
    • V3-style media browser

Performance

Overall, performance good, although obviously slightly down on the non-mesh version. On my usual test machine (Q6600 quad-core Intel at 2.4Ghz, Windows 7 32-bit with all service packs, 3Gb RAM, nVidia GE9800 GT with 1Gb RAM), Singularity 1.6.0 (0) clocked an average of 23-25fps on a sim with 4 others, compared with 36-38 fps on 1.5.10 (2) – graphics set to ULTRA on both as usual, and Draw distance set to 256m.

Enabling shadows did, unsurprisingly, cause a huge fall-off in FPS – down to an average of 4-5fps. I also had issues with some mesh objects which had Shininess enabled rendering as plain white objects with shadows active; something I’ve not encountered with other Viewers.

Overall, the new release performed very well, and easily matched anything other mesh-enabled V1 Viewers could achieve.

Singularity 1.6.0 (0) and Other Grids

As mentioned above, the experimental Grid Manager floater has an issue in that it lacks a GET GRID INFO button. However, once you’ve set-up accessing another grid, Singularity 1.6.0 (0) seems to work as smoothly as Imprudence. I skipped around InWorldz quite happily with in and dipped a toe into a couple of OpenSim grids without mishap. Frame rates in InWorldz matched those for Second Life, although the Viewer suffered the same issue I’ve had with others in relation to InWorldz – crashing on attempting to log out (this happens for me with Imprudence on InWorldz as well).

Opinion

A long-awaited and tidy update. Feature changes may appear small – but getting mesh rendering active is no trivial matter, and there are apparently in excess of 68,000 new lines of code within this release to enable it and take care of the other under-the-hood fixes and updates!

The release should go down well with Singularity users, the “experimental” tags not withstanding. Given Singularity also includes much that makes Phoenix popular it could prove to be a viable alternative for Phoenix users who want to get to see mesh now, but who don’t yet wish to make the jump to Firestorm or a V3 TPV.

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Kirstens Viewer: looking to Crowdfunder

Coming on top of yesterday’s tweet, there is good news for those who wish to see Kirsten’s Viewer continue.

Kirstenlee Cinquetti has announced that, following the outpouring of support for the Viewer, the team are going to try and obtain funding by going the Crowdfunder route.

In announcing the approach, Kirstenlee blogs:

“Many of you have asked and wondered what the future would hold for the Viewer, well here is the answer..

“After lots and lots of thought and quite a bit of behind the scenes activity we are going to go Crowdfunder!

“The upshot of the whole deal is this, a target has been set to fund the entire project and it’s continued development for a period of one whole year. What happens remains to be seen, I can however reveal a few details of what does happen if we hit the target, and more critically what can occur if we exceed the funding target. If we seal the deal, almost instantly the binaries will become available for download the project will become active again and an updated and early build of S22 will become live.”

If the funding target is achieved, it means that the binaries will be released once more, and work will immediately continue, with a list of juicy enhancements coming down the line over time:

  • Programmable camera positions
  • Enhanced photo making features
  • “Radical changes” to the user interface
  • Enhancements in the area of post processing and 3D vision

If the required funding level is exceeded, then the team will look into other aspects of Viewer development, such has obtaining a KDU licence, funding other developers, etc.

For those helping to fund the project, a special area of the Viewer’s website will be set up, providing preview access to builds and features, and where funders can vote on proposed new features and enhancements, etc. Rewards for funders will be based on their level of funding.

The project’s Crowdfunder page is now open. Using Crowdfunder is pretty much a win/win situation for all involved: if the target is reached, the project will go ahead; if the funding target isn’t reached, then money promised to the project will be refunded. So there’s no reason not to get involved!

A video from Lee Quick (Kirstenlee Cinquetti) has also been released, which explains more about the Viewer’s past and future, and delves into the Crowfunder project itself.

SL Q3 metrics summary

C & TM Linden Lab

On Friday October 14th, Linden Lab released their Q3 economic figures. The data presented is a mixed bag.

On the plus side:

  • Completed registrations remain strong – LL put it at around an average of 16K per day; the graph suggests the average might be slightly higher
  • Average number of monthly users logged-on rose very slightly (by just under 0.4%)
  • The number of economic participants rose by around 12,000 and the Linden dollar appreciated very fractionally
  • Web Marketplace sales grew by 2.78%

On the minus side:

  • User hours have declined by a touch under 2%
  • LindeX trading suffered a slight drop
  • The overall growth in Web Marketplace sales has slowed significantly
  • A total of around 20sq km of land was lost to the grid.

So, the downward slide in user concurrency has reversed itself very slightly; but the flipside to this is that people are still appearing to spend less time in-world per head than previously. This is something that LL have been trying to get their heads around for several months, and which Rod Humble mentioned it as a point of interest when speaking at SLCC 2011, when he pointed out the demographic for new sign-ups is somewhat younger than has traditionally been the case of SL.

Alongside this is the thorny issue of user retention. Sign-ups, overall concurrent users and user hours online don’t actually equate to this – and we’re not getting any kind of indication at all as to what is happening. How many new sign-ups are translating over time to retained users? Part of the problem here, of course, is actually defining what we all mean as being “user retention”.

Within the Lab, retention is clearly tied closely to engagement. As such, the Lab have indicated they are working on a number of initiatives aimed towards people engaging more directly with the platform in shorter time periods than might currently be the case. Again, at SLCC 2011 a number of Linden Lab employees spoke to this, including:

  • Colossus Linden, who indicated that currently, it might be several weeks between someone joining SL and actually engaging with the economy in terms of buying L$ – and that LL are looking to reduce this to a matter of days
  • Durian Linden pointed towards LL developing more in the way of “directed experiences” in order to get incoming users to more rapidly engage in aspects of SL such as building and creativity.

Certainly, it’s hard to argue against these approaches. At the end of the day, obviously, the more a user is actively engaged in the platform, the more they are likely to stick around and grow within it.

So there is work to be done, to be sure. However, taken as a whole, the Q3 economic figures as presented do suggest that SL continues to be relatively stable. Obviously, it would be nice to see more some definitive signs of growth, and the fact that these figures fail to demonstrate this might explain why they were slipped quietly out late on Friday afternoon…