SL Beta Viewer
There have been some rendering issues with the last release of the beta viewer (220.127.116.118497, December 20, 2012) which had caused the Lab a slight headache in that not all tests are giving the same results. However, a further 3.4.4 release is anticipated for either Monday 7th or Tuesday 8th January, 2013, which includes various fixes. Whether these are related to the rendering issues is unclear. However, they have not as yet been merged into the Sunshine Project (Avatar baking – see below).
CHUI – Communications Hub User Interface
As reported over the holiday period, the CHUI project is moving forward, with a further update of the project viewer and several updates to the development version of the viewer, possibly the result of code refactoring work which had been indicated as being required prior to the holidays. However, as of the TPV Developer Meeting of Friday 4th January, 2013, it was unclear as to whether this refactoring work has been completed.
Currently, the code has yet to be made available to TPVs, and concerns have been raised by some TPV developers that integrating the CHUI code could be as much a headache as the Avatar Baking code. Given the work some have put into the communications elements of their own viewers, it is also possible that some might opt to cherry-pick which elements of the CHUI code they will adopt. Whether CHUI is liable to be deployed before or after the Avatar Baking project remains to be seen, as the Lab has yet to make a decision either way.
Server-side Avatar Baking
Project Sunshine, the work to implement a new server-side baking process, kicked-off (as far as TPVs are concerned) just before Christmas. This represents a substantial code merge for TPVs, and one which is going to take TPVs a while to handle as a result, hence the reason why LL have given TPVs a long lead-time on the project, with around an eight-week window available for them to work on the code, provide feedback and assist with testing.
As mentioned in my detailed look at the new service (see link above), any deployment of the server code will be dependant upon further and significant load tests, which are viewed as essential in ensuring the new compositing service has sufficient hardware for it to support avatar baking across the entire grid. At the time that article was written, Nyx indicated that details on how the load tests would be handed had not been finalised.
Speaking at the TPV Developer Meeting, Oz indicated that these tests are still under consideration, and as such, much in the project is still up in the air in terms of unknowns. Obviously, on way in which load tests can be carried out is to have more test / development viewers available to enable greater testing of the server-side code, so overall implementation of the new service is somewhat symbiotic, and it is unlikely there will be a large-scale deployment of the service prior to TPVs being sufficiently comfortable / up-to-speed with integrating the code into their viewers.
As such, it is unlikely that there will be any major move on the Lab’s part to push the project forward much before the end of February. With regards to this, Oz commented, “Obviously, what we’d like to know is that we’ve got at least one version of all the third-party viewers that are prepared to cope with it, and that certainly getting an affirmative on as many of those as possible before we make a final call on what our target dates are would be really great. So that’s why we’re keeping the pressure on you to do that testing, as we’d rather you were ready before we were.”
The materials processing project continues to move forward, although there are growing concerns over the fact that the viewer will be required to run in deferred mode (i.e. with shadows & lighting active) in order for the new capabilities to be properly rendered. This means that computers which do not have sufficient processing capabilities to run in deferred mode will not be able to render the effects of normal and specular maps, and so will not see the effects of materials processing.
However, this does not mean that those unable to run SL reliably or reasonably with deferred rendering enabled will have their SL experience negatively impacted. The expectation is that users on such system will continue to see SL as we all see it today, regardless as to whether or not in-world objects and avatar attachments (prim, sculpt or mesh) are using the new materials capabilities.
However, this is also conditional on content creators understanding how to correctly make use of materials process as it will apply to Second Life (especially those trying to leverage the new capabilities, but who may not themselves be able to run the viewer in deferred mode), and ensuring they use underpinning diffuse maps (textures) of a suitable quality. To help ensure this, Oz Linden has stated he will give those at the Lab responsible for the Good Building Practices guide on the wiki a nudge so that it is expanded to cover materials processing.
That materials processing does require running the viewer in deferred mode has given rise to concerns as to how widely the capability will be adopted. However, the Lab has no plans to try to implement materials processing in a way which does not require deferred rendering (assuming this could be done). This is not to exclude anyone from experiencing it, but rather because the capability simply requires deferred rendering to be enabled. Whether or not the capability will introduce an additional overheads to running in deferred has yet to be fully determined.
In the meantime, the repro for the viewer-side code required for materials processing will be officially made available (it was accidentally exposed just before Christmas), some time in the next two weeks or so, and a project viewer should appear shortly thereafter. The server-side code is thought to be in, “Pretty good shape.”