SL project updates week 42/2: Monty’s HTTP update and the HTTP pipelining viewer

On Wednesday October 15th, Monty Linden blogged about his HTTP work and the CDN, using the rather unusual title, The Sky Over Berlin (and Elsewhere). It’s a great piece of reading, although I can’t help thinking that Monty’s sign-off at this end of it would have perhaps suited the subject matter far better: nous sommes embarqués – “adventure is ours for the taking”!

The first part of the post recaps on Monty’s initial work in improving Second Life via the HTTP project. This started as far back as mid-2012, with the first pass focused on improving the   mechanism by which textures could be obtained for rendering via HTTP, which entered widespread use around  November 2012, with the release of the 3.4.3267135 viewer.

This work was followed by Monty labouring to improve mesh fetching as well, and to improve the overall reliability of HTTP, which I blogged about in March 2013.

At the start of 2014, Monty blogged on his work up to that point, and looked ahead to future activities. As a part of the post, he included a graph showing how the work carried out up to that point improved texture and mesh request handling.

The HTTP project has improved "under the hood" performance in SL in a number of areas, starting with texture fetching, anf through greater robustness of connections through the use of "keepalives"
In January 2014, Monty blogged about his HTTP work, and indicated how the work had raised the request rate ceiling within the viewer for texture and mesh data from A up to the blue line of C

In his latest post, Monty picks-up where his January post left off, demonstrating how more recent improvements are starting to improve things further – notably through the use of HTTP pipelining (the release candidate viewer for which has now been issued – see below), and the ongoing deployment of the Content Delivery Network service for texture and mesh data delivery.

In his latest blog post, Monty indicates how both HTTP pipelining and the use of the Highwinds CDN service should further help improve data transmissions and  performance
In his latest blog post, Monty indicates how both HTTP pipelining (the “post 3.7.16” markers, denoting the introduction of the pipelining viewer) and the use of the Highwinds CDN service (denoted by the DRTSIM-258 markers) should further help improve data transmissions and performance

All told, Monty’s work has been a remarkable undertaking which benefits Second Life enormously, and helps to set the path towards possible further improvements in the future. As such, he really is one of the heroes of Second Life and the Lab.

HTTP Pipelining RC Viewer

The HTTP Pipelining viewer was issued as a release candidate viewer shortly after Monty’s post went to press.

Version 3.7.18.295372 enables the viewer to issue multiple asset fetches on a connection without waiting for responses to earlier requests. This should help inprove things like initial scene loading quite aside from any additional benefits gained through the CDN deployment work. In addition, the viewer includes improvements to inventory fetching, as Monty noted in his blog post:

The HTTP Project has focused on textures and meshes. But the inventory system, which maintains item ownership, is often described as… sluggish. So as an exercise in expanding the use of the new HTTP library, the pipelining viewer was modified to use it for inventory fetches. As with textures and meshes before, inventory is now fetching in the ‘C’ region of its specific performance graph. The difference can be surprising.

Having had the opportunity to test the pipelining viewer somewhat prior to its appearance as an RC, I can attest to this. While I keep my “active” inventory to a modest size (around 10,000 items unpacked, the rest boxed until needed), I found that an inventory download with a cleared inventory cache (nothing saved on my computer) averaged 9-10 seconds using the pipelining viewer, compared with an average of 2 minutes 50 seconds to 3 minutes with the current release viewer (3.7.17.294959). Whirly Fizzle, using a 105K inventory had even more impressive results: with a cleared cache, her inventory loaded in under 3 minutes on the pipelining viewer, compared to 16-18 minutes on the release viewer.

The release notes for the viewer contain additional information about the updates, again written by Monty, and these make worthwhile reading alongside of his blog post.

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The Haunted Halloween Tour

The Haunted Halloween Tour, launched with the October Premium Membership offer
The Haunted Halloween Tour, launched with the October Premium Membership offer (click images for full size)

Launched alongside the October 2014 Premium Membership offer, but available to all SL users, is the Haunted Halloween Tour, the latest offering from the Lab to feature Experience Keys, and one that appears to be specifically geared towards the Oculus Rift.

The tour can be accessed via the Lab’s Portal Park – simply go through the gate marked “Halloween” following your arrival. The path will lead you to the access point, with gateways available for those with and those without an Oculus headset (the latter obviously requiring the Oculus Rift project viewer).

Whichever one you take (the actual tours are more-or-less the same), the first time you do so, you’ll be required to grant the experience the right to carry out certain actions on your avatar (perhaps most noticeably in this case, control your camera). Once you have done so, you’ll be transported to the experience area, where you’ll be invited to take a tour of a veritable house of horror.

Shaman Linden was one of those I found hanging around when taking the tour...
Shaman Linden was one of those I found hanging around when taking the tour…

This is achieved by seating yourself in your very own coffin, which will take control of your camera and shift your view to something of a “first person” perspective. After a brief pause, you’ll then ascend a hillside stairway through thunder and rain to the house itself before (literally) plunging inside.

I shan’t reveal much of what lies inside the house, other than given the theme, expect the usual mix of screams, bumps, ghouls, body parts and so on – and if you’re very lucky the odd Linden and / or Mole or two, some of whom might be there to menace, while others might be simply …. hanging around.

This is very much an Experience geared towards the Oculus Rift, with the coffin allowing the awkwardness of trying to navigate oneself through the house while wearing one eliminated (and which also ensures you keep to the designated path). As such, the ride does feature a lot of things rushing at you (heads, knife-welding asylum patients and so on), and well as sudden panning, zooming and tipping to add to the experience.

For those with an Oculus, I expect this does work rather well; I’m just not sure the approach works when taking the “non-Oculus” version of the ride. This isn’t to critique the Lab for providing an Oculus focused experience; they’ve put time and effort into getting the viewer to work with the headset and so a demonstrator is only right and proper. It’s just that it leaves the tour somewhat dry if you don’t have a headset. Or at least it did for me – I confess found myself admiring the use of materials and projectors far more than anything else as I was carried around the place!

Inside the happy house ...
Inside the happy house …

Oh, and a word of warning to those on the non-Oculus ride: it might be an idea not to try to cam around too much in order to take snaps – on two occasions when I did, I found myself chucked out of my coffin and returned to the arrival / start point below the house …

Overall, the ride lasts for around 8 minutes, and at the end of it, on stepping out of your coffin, you’ll be returned to the Portal Park (as you will be if you stand up at any point during the ride).

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The ghost of the Premium Membership offer returns …

preimiumThe Lab has announced the latest round of the Premium Membership promotions – this one with a decidedly Halloween feel.

As usual, the offer is 50% off of membership for those upgrading, but only if they opt for the Quarterly billing plan, and the discount is applied only to the first quarter billing period. The offer begins on Wednesday the 15th of October at 08:00 am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) and expires on Monday the 3rd of November 2014 at 08:00 am Pacific Standard Time (PST).

Alongside of the membership discount, comes the Premium gift offer, which this time has a Halloween theme, which includes “jack o’lanterns, witches’ brooms and more – including a bone-shaking skeleton avatar”. The gift pack can be obtained through the Premium Gift kiosks.

I admit I’ve not picked-up my gift, as it doesn’t really appeal. This being the case, I’ll also avoid my usual grumblings about the way Premium membership is pitched, and instead say that whether or not you feel upgrading to Premium is worthwhile is purely a matter of individual choice. However, I would say that if you’re considering on the basis of “exclusive gifts” or “more privacy”, then you’re probably better off sitting down and thinking again.

Part of the Halloween 2014 Premium Gift (image va Linden Lab)
Part of the Halloween 2014 Premium Gift (image va Linden Lab)

Launched alongside the Premium Membership offer, and included in the same blog post as the Premium offer stuff, is news about the Haunted Halloween Tour, the latest offering from the Lab to feature Experience Keys. This can be accessed via the Lab’s Portal Park, and I’ve covered it in a companion article to this one.