Update, April 30th: Niran has released a fix for the pink texture issue affecting those using ATi graphics systems. Details are on his website, with a download link.
Earlier this month I took a quick look at the Preview Release of Niran’s Viewer 1.33, focusing on the UI work NiranV Dean has been carrying out within the release – part of an ongoing project to provide a more efficient Viewer front-end. Today sees the launch for the final version of 1.33, and in NiranV’s own words, this is a “major, major release” for a wide range of reasons. As promised in my last report on the Viewer, I’ve taken time to have a nice, long play with the Windows version.
First and foremost, after a long and incredible development curve, Niran’s Viewer has been accepted for listing in the Third-party Viewer Directory and should appear there in the next week or so – congratulations to Niran on all the work that has gone into the Viewer, and to Tarnix for the development of the Linux version.
The 1.33 release comes in two flavours: without and with the Mesh Parametric Deformer. The reason for this is simple, the code doesn’t set well with the Viewer – which might be, as NiranV acknowledges, due to issues with the Deformer working on his development hardware, but which could also be related to conflicts between the code and the Viewer’s rendering pipe. However, as NiranV notes in his blog: “You should be able to experience the Deformer mostly normal if you activate Deferred, Shadows and Ambient Occlusion, meaning that the separate release is only for those who can run [in this mode] and [who] want to test it to give Qarl Feedback.”
The Windows installer package weighs-in at 40Mb, and now creates a desktop shortcut icon (yay! no more hunting through Explorer and shunting bits around). Installation itself is, as always, fast and smooth, with the change log displayed in the opening window for those who are curious but who haven’t actually delved into Niran’s blog to read the information there.
On start-up, and for the first time with Niran’s Viewer, I did encounter a virus threat warning from AVG. This is something that is not uncommon among Viewers, with a number of TPVs (and the odd release of the Official Viewer) throwing up warnings on occasion. It certainly be taken to mean the Viewer is up to mischief. LL themselves provide some guidance on avoiding false threats. As the alert was related to the slplugin.exe file (a common cause of false virus alerts), I felt confident in marking the alert as a false flag and continuing.
As mentioned above, the User Interface is very much one of the focal points of NiranV’s work on the Viewer, and I took a look at some of the upcoming features in my overview of the initial Preview release. As such this is the logical place to start with this look.
The first noticeable thing with this release is the on logging-in the UI is extremely clean and minimal. with both bars and buttons only appearing at the top of the window, rather than the top and left, as with earlier versions.
The buttons displayed by default are Speak, Voice, People, Picks, Places, View, Inventory and Appearance, which represent an interesting mix and which, in a nod to Kirsten’s Viewer, are initially displayed in “S19” format. There’s still no option to left/right align buttons either at the top or the bottom of the window (or to the top/bottom of the window if you place buttons on either side of your world view), so I’ll keep pestering NiranV on this :).
If I’m totally honest, the top button bar is something I’m personally not overly keen on: when active, it actually blocks the uppermost section of the screen from use, so you can’t “dock” (or more correctly in the case of the 3.2 FUI align) floaters with the top bars: there will always be a gap. But this is just a personal niggle on my part.
A nice touch with Niran’s Viewer, for those who don’t use the top of the window for anything at all, is the ability to hide the Navigation Bar, etc., at the top of the screen completely when not in use (the mini-Location bar is automatically displayed in its place) by setting Preferences->User Interface Options->UI Customisation->HIDE TOPBAR AUTOMATICALLY. Introduced a couple of releases ago, this is still something I like rather a lot, given I don’t use the top button bar.
In terms of the button options, Niran’s Viewer presents pretty much the standard set of buttons that come with the Official Viewer, so there is not the massive range of buttons that are displayed by other TPVs – which itself isn’t really a problem. One Button that does make its debut with this release is the SCRIPT button, which opens the Script Information floater.
When it comes to colours, Niran’s Viewer presents the most customisable UI of any Viewer, something I’ve again covered in the past. With this release, NiranV adds a new tweak to the use of colour: to denote options in both menus and Preferences tabs which may result in Viewer issues and / or crashes, or which should be used with caution on the part of users unfamiliar with them. Those options where caution is advised are coloured orange with this release, with the more experimental / specialised options coloured red (see right). NiranV indicates that these colours may change with a future release, but the idea is certainly a good one in terms of being a visual indicator (although there is a risk colouring an option will encourage people to “click and see”).
In a slightly tongue-in-cheek move, NiranV has coloured the option to Exit the Viewer red because after all, as he says, it does close down the Viewer and logs you out of Second Life!
A new addition to UI floaters comes in the form a pin icon in the top right corner of most (not all) floaters. Called “Fix it!”, this locks a given panel in the position in which it is currently displayed on-screen. Once active, the floater cannot be accidentally dragged elsewhere on the screen. For those involved in activities such as photography, machinima and combat, I imagine this could prove a useful option. The option is also likely to appeal to those who like to have certain core panels (such as inventory) function in a similar manner to when the Sidebar was available (i.e. always appearing on the right of the screen), as they can “lock-in” the floaters to do so – although in the latter case, it should be noted that the functionality currently isn’t persistent between re-logs, although this should be fixed in a future update.
All Viewers include the option to include a “lag meter” in the top right corner of the menu bar, which shows the Viewer’s performance in terms of a colour-coded graphics bar. NiranV has improved this by allowing you to toggle between the bar and a numeric frame rate display.
Again, this is only a subjective measure of performance, but for those puzzled as to whether the traditional bar is indicative of good or bad performance, the numeric display should help clarify matters.
The bet way to describe using the Niran’s Viewer UI is smooth. That you’re in something very different to other Viewers is evident the first time you move your camera view – everything pans and slides very smoothly, almost as if you’re on a cushion of air, with motion gliding to a gentle halt. Of course, you can achieve the same in other Viewers by altering your camera movement options, but NiranV has done it for you, making the entire experience a lot .. well … smoother.
This approach can be seen elsewhere in the Viewer, particularly the way options and sub-panels in floaters slide gracefully in or out of view. Take a look at one of Niran’s excellent videos for a practical demonstration:
Preferences are the clearest instance of significant changes to the UI. NiranV has done a considerable amount of work in this area to try to rationalise both the way in which Preferences presents options to us, and how we interact with it. A lot of this I covered last time around, but NiranV has continued to refine and improve.
The first noticeable thing on the redesign – at least for those who used the Preview 1 release of 1.33, is that the Preferences panel now auto-sizes itself correctly according to your screen resolution; there are no more scroll options to the left / right of the panel as described in my look at the initial Preview release.
Those coming to Niran’s Viewer for the first time are liable to find the Preferences panel something of a “?!” moment when first opening it; who wouldn’t after the basic layout of the panel having remained pretty much unchanged (other than for custom tabs) almost since the dawn of time? However, I have to say that, with a couple of very minor reservations, NiranV has produced an alternative Preferences panel that makes a heck of a lot of sense and encourages fast, easy use.
At the top are five major category tabs, most of which are pretty self-explanatory. Each of these has up to three sub-tabs (displayed at the bottom of the floater) which help rationalise and order functions and options. Additionally, some tabs may have context-specific options that are only display when certain options are enabled (such as with advanced rendering in the Display and Audio tab, or many have additional toggle buttons on the right to shift between sub-groups of options.
To save you having to flip between this article and my previous review, here’s a summary of the five tabs:
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, together with a new set of keyboard layout options
- 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
- 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.
If all the tabs, sub-tabs and toggle buttons sound confusing – they’re not. Nor do they simply mean change for the sake of change (i.e. running major tabs across the top of the panel, rather than down the left side). As you work through each of the tab, it’s clear that NiranV has put considerable time and effort into trying to bring together functions and options as logically as possible.
I personally find the new layout fairly intuitive – scanning from left-to-right is more logical than scanning top-to-bottom, so browsing the tabs feels a lot more natural; I also like the fact that NiranV minimises additional “clutter” wherever possible, by making various additional options context-dependent. For example, if you’re like me, and find the V3.2 context menus more intuitive than wandering around a pie menu, you can remove the pie menu options from User Interface Options->UI Customisation simply by unchecking USE RIGHT-CLICK PIE MENU INSTEAD OF DROPDOWN. Similarly, options for shadows, ambient occlusion and DOF are only displayed in Display & Audio Options->Graphics if DEFERRED RENDERING is checked.
One thing that has been removed from the Viewer is the dedicated graphics Optimiser panel. NiranV notes that this was out-of-date and that as an experimental option, it had served its purpose.
Camera and Updates
Niran has long been working to improve the in-world view of Second Life. In the past, he’s brought us new viewing options and camera positions (as well as new movement options, now featured in the Preferences, as noted above).
With this release, further improvements to default camera position options are provided, with left & right over-the-shoulder views now available directly from the Camera floater. As many long-term readers of this blog know, I’m actually a fan of Penny Patton’s camera offsets; as such I think that Niran’s options very much enhance the default range of camera views available to users – although I do still prefer Penny’s overall approach is setting the camera back a little further from my avatar. Also, and introduced in release 1.23.5, Niran’s remains the only viewer which allows you to directly tweak your camera offsets through Preferences. Would that more Viewers did the same!
Niran also has a nice video demonstrating the camera options:
This release sees a number of tweaks to the rendering system, but no major changes (well, NiranV has been focused on the UI!). The most noticeable difference is shadows will once again be correctly rendered on alphas (with the exception of projected lights), and Niran hopes that FXAA is “a little smoother now”. There have been some additional tweaks to the high-end rendering code, but further work is required.
The following are noted as key issues with this release:
- Projected lights will not render correctly on alphas
- ATI graphics users my still experience the “pink avatar” issue
- The media volume control drop-down does not always function as expected.
Feedback and Opinion
I make no secret of the fact that I really like Niran’s Viewer. While he and I don’t always agree on things, I like his overall approach and find the Viewer offers significant improvements over the more staple approach to UI design from other Viewers. For me, this release brings Niran’s Viewer back to the forefront of my preferred Viewers, and the one I’ll likely be using henceforth for photography once more.
All of the UI tweaks and changes strike me as logical, and while I admit that at times I am still going, “Err, hang on, where’s that option gone?” when using the new Preferences panel – I have to say the I like it. Certainly, just because it is new and requires a degree of re-learning is no reason to dismiss Niran’s Viewer.
Performance-wise – as you can see from the lag meter / FPS image above, I’ve getting some great performance for my system. To put the screen cap in perspective, it was grabbed while on my build platform at some 2850 metres, with draw distance set to my usual 360 metres and with 4 others on-sim, deferred rendering disabled. When I come down to my more usual test altitude – my skyhome at 390 metres, the frame rate does fall (unsurprisingly) with the average rate knocking around at the 30-35fps point, again with 4 others on-sim.
Enabling deferred and turning lighting and shadows on does bang this down significantly, with the viewer barely getting out of single figures (although it can sometimes reach and maintain 11-12fps. This is significantly lower than I tend to get on the likes of Firestorm, Catznip and the official SL Viewer, and I assume it is tied to the fact that Niran’s uses an enhanced rendering system. Even so, while the viewer remains in single FPS figures (averaging 8-9fps), the shadows that are rendered are (to my eyes) significantly crisper than those of my regular Viewer.
There are a couple of reasons I’m not totally converted to Niran’s Viewer at present, and these are entirely personal. The first is that I’m completely converted to using a client-side AO (multiple folders and all notwithstanding); for me the convenience of being able to run my preferred AOs directly from the Viewer UI and switch quickly and easily between them without a portion of my in-world view being lost to YABH (yet another bloody HUD) outweighs other considerations.
My other reason is that – as mentioned – Niran’s Viewer doesn’t (yet?) allow buttons to be left / right (and Top / bottom) aligned in the Window, and the chat bar to be placed directly against the bottom of the window. Both of these are huge win factors where I’m concerned because a) the maximum the use of available space in the Viewer window; b) I have my home-built “multi-HUD” that allows me to have several different HUD options / systems embedded in a single tool which is ideally suited to being placed in the lower left corner of my Viewer window (I have the chat bar set to appear / hide when I start typing or tap ENTER). This again both saves having HUDs scattered around my screen and minimises the amount of space they take-up. Currently, there is only one Viewer that gives the flexibility I enjoy in using buttons, chat bar and HUD, and as such, it does remain my preferred choice for daily use.
Nevertheless, I still think that this release of Niran’s Viewer represents another step forward in the development of a strongly user-oriented Viewer which includes a lot of unique and effective options and capabilities.
In a word, it is really smooth.