Black Dragon 2.4.4.4: Jelly babies and graphics presets

Blackdragon logoOn Sunday, November 29th, NiranV Dean released Black Dragon 2.4.4.4 (or 4.0.0.36527, depending on your personal preference). This release incorporates three significant features from the Lab, as well as Niran’s own nips, tucks, tweaks and changes.

First among the changes inherited from the Lab is the latest update to the Chromium Embedded Framework (CEF)  implementation which is intended to provide modern media support (HTML 5.0, WebGL).

Of possible greater interest to the vast majority of users is the addition of the Avatar Complexity rendering and the graphics presets, as found in the Lab’s Quick Graphics RC viewer. I’ve previously provided two overviews of these, in August and June of 2015, so what follows is a brief summary and examination of Niran’s implementation, starting with the graphics presets capability.

Graphics presets, a capability contributed by Jonathan Yap (see STORM-2082), allows users to create, save and use sets of viewer graphics options designed to meet a specific requirement, with the intent to help with viewer performance, and which can be used by any account logging-in to SL using the viewer on which the presets have been created.

This means, for example, you can create a sets specifically for indoor use, limiting your draw distance, reducing levels of detail for things like terrain and sky and water reflections and so, boost your system’s performance when visiting stores, etc., while having another preset with all the bells and whistles enabled for photography. Then with a couple of mouse clicks, you can swap between these and any others you create to meet your needs as you travel Second Life, all without the need to fiddle with settings or relog.

An issue with the official viewer’s implementation of graphics presets is that it requires the use of two rather clunky floaters which eat screen real estate. Niran avoids this by neatly integrating the core preset options (Save, Load and Delete presets) into the foot of the Display tab in Preferences. In doing so, he also makes creating a simple top-down flow through the Display tab options.

The new Graphic Presets Save and Load options can be found at the bottom of the Display tab in the Preferences floater. Simply add a name for the options you've set in the text box (arrowed) and click Save. To load a preset group when the floater is open on the Display tab, enter the name for the preset in the text box and click Load
The new Graphic Presets Save and Load options can be found at the bottom of the Display tab in the Preferences floater. Simply add a name for the options you’ve set in the text box (arrowed) and click Save. To load a preset group when the floater is open on the Display tab, enter the name for the preset in the text box and click Load

This means that creating a new preset is simply a matter of running through the Display options, making sure those you want active are checked and those that you don’t need are unchecked, and that all relevant sliders are correctly adjusted. Then, when you’ve done so, enter a name for the preset group in the text box at the foot of the tab (arrowed above) and click the Save button – then repeat as required.

You can also load an establish preset group from here by typing the name into the text box and clicking Load. Any unwanted presets can be removed by entering the name and clicking the Delete button.

The Presets icon allow you to easily access your graphics presets
The Presets icon allow you to easily access your graphics presets

When it comes to swapping back and forth between preset groups, however, the quickest way to do so is via the Presets icon located in the top right of the viewer window. Hovering the mouse over this displays a list of all presets you’ve created; just click the name of the one you wish to  activate.

This list also include a button which will open the Preferences floater at the display tab, allowing you to quickly set-up a new preset or modify and existing preset (just make your changes and save to an existing preset name to overwrite it).

As avatars can often be the single biggest impact on the viewer in terms of rendering, particularly in crowded places, Avatar Complexity has been introduced by the Lab as a mean by which those on lower specification systems can set a limit within their viewer for rendering particularly complex avatars (i.e. those with a lot of very high-resolution textures on them and their accessories, or using a lot of high-impact mesh and sculpt attachments etc). Any avatar exceeding this limit will then be rendered as a single, solid colour, vastly reducing the processing load on the user’s system. Because they are rendered as a solid colour, such avatars have been nicknamed  ”Jelly Babies” after the sweet (candy) of the same name.

Within the official viewer, the control for Avatar Complexity is a single slider (Maximum Complexity) which controls avatar rendering. Within Black Dragon, Niran control is seemingly split between three sliders, Derender Objects > Kb, Derender Surfaces > m2,  and Derender Avatars > AR. and some juggling between them may be required to achieve optimal results, if you play with all of them.

Avatar Complexity in Black Dragon
Avatar Complexity in Black Dragon

Avatar Complexity in the official viewer is still not perfected; this is reflected by the fact that avatars can often remain Jelly Babied even when Maximum Complexity is set to No Limit –  you have to disable avatar imposters to get avatars stuck like this to render correctly (or relog). Black Dragon didn’t seem to exhibit this problem when I was fiddling with it,

As with the official viewer, you can also manually select which avatars you always want to see fully rendered during your current session, no matter how you’ve set Avatar Complexity, by right clicking on them and selecting Always Render Fully. Note this setting will not persist for individual avatars across log-in sessions.

To see Avatar Complexity information displayed over avatar heads, go to Dragon > My Useful Features > Performance Tools and check Show Avatar Complexity Information.  you can also find out more about Avatar Complexity via the SL wiki.

One element I didn’t see within Black Dragon while playing with Avatar Complexity, is any of the messages sent to those who are being rendered as Jelly Babies by those around them, or displays when they alter their own complexity as they change their appearance. I’m not sure if this is because the messages haven’t been implemented, or if I was simply missing them in paging back and forth between viewer instances.

Sun shadowmap sliders allow Black Dragon users to control the quality of shadows derived from windlight sunlight and and from projected light sources independently to one another
Sun shadow map sliders allow Black Dragon users to control the quality of shadows derived from windlight sunlight and from projected light sources independently to one another

Details of other updates within Black Dragon 2.4.4.4 can be found in the release notes, but in brief they include an overhaul of tone mapping in the viewer, further refinements with the Preferences floater and tabs (including the ability to remember opened tabs), and – again perhaps most interestingly – the separation controls over sun shadow resolution and projector shadow resolution (see the image above), allowing them to be individually defined, which could be useful when working on things like indoor photography utilising projected lights (spotlights, etc.), although you may need to take care in striking a balance between how both are set when juggling them, depending on your system’s capabilities.

All told, this is an interesting update, bringing more of the latest features from the official viewer into Dragon Black and offering one or two refinements along the way, although it does mean there will likely be further refinements as the Lab continue to jiggle with things like CEF and Avatar Complexity as they move those viewers towards a release status, and Niran implements the Lab’s latest HTTP updates.

Niran’s own nips and tucks are to be expected, and keep this viewer unique in terms of UI presentation, and I have to say that I personally like his approach to the Display (Graphics) tab. While it may initially seem to be a bewildering array of click-to-expand options (introduced in a previous release), it actually offers a tidy top-down approach to setting options as one gains familiarity with it. Certainly, it makes creating and saving graphics presets more of a logical flow without any fiddle-farting between floaters which overpower your screen real estate.

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