Niran’s 1.33 Preview: pathfinding the UI

One of the things that has always attracted me to Niran’s Viewer – and is drawing back to it now that performance has once again improved on my hardware – is the fact that NiranV Dean is constantly looking at the UI as a seasoned user of SL and other immersive software and trying to find ways to reorganise things within the UI – particularly menus and floaters. This has led to Niran’s Viewer being highly innovative in both look and feel.

In recent releases, this has been reflected in the fact that right from the moment you load the Viewer, you know you’re using something very unique: The log-in / splash screen has been markedly different from other Viewer for a while, and recently gained a video element to replace static images. The video – shot in the Insilico region – demonstrates the power of Niran’s Viewer as a Machinimatographer’s tool, and is beautifully overlaid with the log-in options without the latter intruding on the video itself.

I’d still link to see some kind of link to the Grid Status page (indeed, given LL won’t step-up to the plate on this one and provide a Viewer-based means for users to be aware of SL issues prior to logging in (not everyone uses the Dashboard). I’d like to see all TPV take a leaf from Firestorm’s book in this regard), but other than that Niran’s approach to the log-in splash screen is enticing. Once you’ve entered your credentials, the screen reverts to the familiar images, progress bar, mandelbrot-like animation and Niran’s famous (and amusing) tips.

Of Floaters and Preferences

Given this is a Preview of an upcoming release, I don’t intend to cover everything that NiranV is doing with the Viewer – I’ll take a broader look once a former release is made. Instead, I’d like to focus on the massive amount of work he’s been putting into the various UI floater panels – which, with this release – reaches the Preferences floater itself.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that when NiranV first started to work on redesigning the floaters (the Build floater in fact, after revising the World Map), I wasn’t entirely convinced as to the result. Since that time, he’s continued to refine and improve his layouts and I have no hesitation in saying that they are reaching a point where my early concerns have been completely invalidated.

And evolutionary process: the redesigned Build floater as it first appeared in Niran’s viewer (top) and how it looks today

More recently, the work has extended to the People floater, allowing information of friends and groups to be presented in a way that easily scans on the eye and doesn’t require floater resizing or other messing around with each update that comes out.

The People floater showing the Nearby tab with mini-map enabled, and the Groups tab (edited for privacy)

Other examples of Niran’s work can be found in elements such as the Mesh Upload floater, which I looked at recently and which presents the necessary information and options without putting a size 14 footprint all over the in-world view.

Preferences: a Complete Overhaul

Version 1.33 of Niran’s Viewer brings with it something we’ve never really seen in the entire history of the SL Viewer: a radical redesign of the Preferences floater.

That you’re into new territory when accessing Niran’s Preferences is immediately obvious: there are no left-side tabs. Instead, primary options are accessed from a left / right scrollable tab list at the top of the floater, with additional sub-categories for a given option are displayed in sub-tabs access at the bottom of the current Preferences page being viewed.

Options have also been renamed in an attempt to make the tabs more reflective of the options they contain. By default, Preferences will open on the Communications Options tab (above). However, and in a move long overdue in Viewers: the floater will actually re-open to display the last tab actually in use / displayed when OK was pressed / X was clicked on to close the floater.

The tabs as currently displayed in Preferences comprise (from left to right across the top scroll area):

User Options: includes three sub-tabs:

  • General: analogous to the General tab in the official Viewer and containing the familiar language, content access (General, Mature, Adult), name tag display options and busy response, together with options to set name tag colours
  • Advanced: provides access to all popular camera, movement and mouselook options found within the official Viewer and TPVs
  • Privacy: displays the Privacy tab options (clear history, log file options, options for setting who can see you are on-line, etc.

Display and Audio Options: Combines the Graphics and Sound & Media tabs and comprises three sub-tubs:

  • Graphics: displays a re-ordered and improved graphics settings option list as shown below, with advanced options for deferred rendering only displayed when the deferred rendering option is checked. This tab also includes a button for accessing Niran’s own Optimiser floater
Re-ordered and clearer graphics settings
  • Advanced Graphics: displays all major advanced graphics options (glow definition, lighting, performance options (including visual auto-mute), etc., all logically grouped and accessed via dedicated buttons
  • Sound and Media: includes the volume controls, media playback options, Voice settings, etc., as found in Sound & Media in other Viewers

Communications Options: brings together the communications options variously found under Chat, Notifications and Colors, and presents them in three sub-tabs which also include the relevant popular TPV options such as MU* poses, OOC auto-complete, etc.

Viewer Options:  presents those options usually associated with setting-up the Viewer, including the Setup tab, the Advanced tab and also include a dedicated sub-tab for RLV/a options, all in their own dedicated sub-tabs.

User Interface Options: includes all of Niran’s Viewer’s comprehensive UI customisation options, including the ability to set the colour and transparency of all commonly used floaters in the UI. Includes three sub-tabs: UI Colors, Skins & Themes and UI customisation.

Feedback and Thoughts

NiranV Dean continues to push the envelope in terms of re-working the Viewer UI. In terms of the changes to Preferences, I think the approach taken has a lot of merit and actually provides a much faster means for one to locate options (after traversing the initial learning curve). The layout is easy to use and options have been brought together with considerable thought. Obviously, there is a degree of re-training one must go through to use the Preferences with ease, but this isn’t exactly mountainous and shouldn’t be cause for complaint.

Were I to critique it at all, it would be in that the User Options and Viewer Options contain some degree of cross-over in terms of what they do. As such, even after spending a good deal of time using the Viewer it can still be confusing as to where a given set-up function might be – do I go to User or Viewer (or even the Viewer sub-tab under User Options?). I’m not sure how this could be avoided without having something of a mess in terms of one page displayed a multitude of sub-tabs, but I do feel that these are areas where further work may be required – and is probably being considered, given this is only a preview.

Now, if Niran provides a means to left / right align buttons (I’m not so much fussed by top / bottom alignment on the left/ right, if I’m honest, as I don’t place buttons to the side of the screen) and gets the chat bar so it can be “docked” to (or at least aligned with) the bottom of the Viewer window, I’ll be one very happy bunny!

Performance-wise, 1.33 is perhaps the best release of Niran’s Viewer I’ve run on my PC recently, with respectable frame rates at my standard settings in the high 20s / low 30s. Enabling deferred and shadows does still crash this – and rather more so than recently LL Viewer releases, with an average frame rate of just 7-9fps with shadows on running my normal defaults (see the Review System panel on the right of the main page of this blog). However, Niran’s seriously kicks bottoms when it comes to the sheer quality of the world-view generated when running deferred with shadows: the lattice-work of the roof of my house casts beautifully crisp shadows that suffer none of the “greying” or blocky fuzziness I’ve experienced with other Viewers.

Crisp shadows

I’ll have a further look at updates and changes to 1.33 when it reaches a full release status.

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