Speedlight: recent updates and iOS development

via Speedlight

Speedlight, the browser based / Android Second Life client, gained a further series of updates at the end of May and the beginning of June, together with an important announcement about the client’s future direction.

Key within the updates were the following:

  • The Android app now supports sending error feedback to the Speedlight team to help with bug fixing.
  • Web links are now displayed in IMs, local and group chats, together with a warning that following them will take a user away from the Speedlight site.
Links contain in IMs, chat and group chat are now clickable. Those that connect to external web pages will display a warning when clicked.
  • Further performance improvements.
  • Full-function 3D capabilities are now available to basic and well as Gold subscribers. So, Basic account holders can now move their avatar around.

The feedback capability means that the Speedlight developers are currently focused in bug fixing, although the team also note they are working on group management capabilities – viewing groups, sending notices and moderating group chat, and state these capabilities will be release soon™.

iOS Version Coming

While Speedlight is entirely operating system agnostic in its browser version, allowing it to be used on Windows, OS X, Linux, Android and iOS through a suitable browser, the team has already released a dedicated Android version, as I noted in Speedlight: using the Android app, back in February 2020.

On May 27th, 2020, the Speedlight team have started working on a dedicated iOS version of the client as well, with an expectation that it will follow the same development path as the Android app, and – if all goes according to plan – should initially be made available in around 2-3 weeks.

Observations

The two key points of the recent announcements are likely to be the 3D avatar capabilities now being available to all Speedlight users, Basic or Gold, and the iOS app development, and the upcoming iOS app version.

The former could help make Speedlight a more attractive alternative to users who would like a “light” / mobile client (remembering that with Android, the device must be running version 7.0 or higher, whether using the dedicated app or running Speedlight through an Android browser), but who were not keen on paying a fee to be able to do so.

This does, however, also beg the question as to what the Speedlight team plan to do in order to maintain the attraction of Gold subscription. Currently, there is the mass IM capability, but his is liable to have limited appeal for most SL users, some one can only assume other features will be made available on a Gold subscription basis, although obviously, time will tell on this.

Given that Speedlight is already on the road to developing world rendering with interactive capabilities, the news that they are working on an iOS app version of the client may also be welcomed by users, particularly given that many feel such a capability is is “essential” to a mobile client, and Linden Lab has indicated that it will be some time before their in-development iOS / Android client will have such a functionality.

Related Links

Second Life Mobile mini update, May 2020 with audio

As I’ve previously reported several times over the last year, starting with Linden Lab confirm Second Life iOS client in the making, Linden Lab is developing a companion app for Second Life.

Since that first article, I’ve provided a number of updates on the development, including that the client will be for both Android as well as iOS, and speaking at the Web User Group meeting on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020, Keira Linden – who is the Product lead for the client – provided and update on process, the core points of which are bullet-pointed below.

  • iOS Client:
    • The iOS version is now in a closed alpha featuring some residents.
    • In keeping with the Lab’s plans, this version offers the ability to communicate via IM, and has a basic Friends listing.
    • Further updates will follow  – the next being the addition of Abuse Reporting support and improved management for the Friends list.
    • Once the Lab believe the client has an initial set of functions to make it useful as a communications tool, it will will move to a beta phase and made available to a wider cohort of users for further testing.
  • Android Client:
    • Work is progressing, but it will take time for it to reach a point where it is ready for testing.
    • When it is ready, it will likely follow a similar Alpha / Beta test process to the iOS version.

General Capabilities

Note: this is a reiteration of notes from earlier updates on the SL Mobile client.

  • It should initially be regarded as more of a communicator / companion app than a fully-rounded client.
    • The initial intention for the client is to provide users with a means of maintaining basic contact with other users whilst away from their main means of accessing Second Life.
  • As such, it will support logging-in to Second Life services to support IM and group chat support. However:
    • It  will not initially present you with an in-world location, nor will your avatar rez in-world, it will not not support local chat nor any form of world rendering.
  • Capabilities such as having an in-world rezzing location, the ability to chat locally, support for scene rendering will be added over time.
    • However, in terms of any in-world rendering, this will not be part of any initial released (in the meeting it was described as “not even Soon™”), as LL are focused in just trying to get the basic app available to users as soon as reasonably possible.

All information I’m able to provide through this blog, including future updates can be found under the SL Mobile tag, and can be accessed directly from the top menu options:

  • SL → User Group & Viewer → Viewers → Android & iOS and then selecting either:
    • Android Clients → SL Mobile or
    • iOS Clients → SL Mobile.

Speedlight version 5.143.1224 – May 2020

via Speedlight

Speedlight, the browser based / Android Second Life client, received an update on May 22nd, focusing heavily on the world rendering capabilities, offering updates to the UI displays, and various performance fixes / improvements, together with a step forward in avatar rendering.

The performance improvements are mostly under-the-hood – notably the addition of a further back-end rendering server pool, that I understand specifically handles textures and which corrects issues of textures with alphas failing to render correctly (so, among other things, no more “boxy” trees). There have also been updates in handling network traffic, so 3D world view freezes should be less apparent.

For client-side assistance with rendering, the Scene Progress / 3D Settings information panels have been updated thus:

  • The old connection status has now been revised to show three colour relating to “lag”:
    • Green – you’re “fully” connected to the server.
    • Orange – your connection is suffering from network lag.
    • Red – severe lag (/ awaiting data?).
  • The 3D Settings display in the panel now includes the option to switch between downloading and rendering objects at “high” or “low” quality, with the latter intended to reduce the network traffic load between your browser / device and the Speedlight servers.
The 3D World View, May 2020, showing the “lag indicator” (top) which will switch from green to orange if the connecting is lagging (or red if really problematic), and the new option in the 3D settings to select your preferred object rendering quality. Also visible is the revised avatar mannequin

With regard to these object rendering quality settings, I understand that for users on the “low” quality object setting, objects stay cached in the Speedlight intermediary server, speeding load times when camming / moving around. Objects cached in “high” quality”, however, may be discarded if not in the immediate view, so as to allow the servers to handle other object data.

The improvements to avatar rendering mean that avatars now have a body shape. It’s still primitive, but again somewhat in keeping the Lumiya’s progress with avatar rendering.

The case remains that only Gold members can move their avatars in the world view while free account users can only orbit / zoom their camera / turn their avatar on he spot. However, both Gold and free account users can see others avatars moving in their field of view, and the walking is fairly fluid, and certainly a good start to things. The short video below highlights the avatar movement.

According to the release notes, seated avatars should be rendered in a basic sitting pose (and a seated avatar is shown in the video). However, whether this is limited to just Gold users or a glitch with my experience, I’m not entirely sure (my Gold membership has lapsed at present) – but I found that when my avatar (running on a viewer) was seated on a lounger, my alt (running on Speedlight) rendered her as standing on the back of the lounger, rather than offering a view of her Speedlight avatar in a basic sit pose.

Speedlight should render seated avatars in a basic sit pose in this release. Whether it was because I’m currently only using a free account or not I couldn’t say, but in testing I found this not to be the case. My other avatar appeared to be standing on her seat.

Observations

At the time of the release, there were apparently a number of issues with world view rendering, but these did appear to get fixed fairly rapidly. Certainly, by the time I got to play with the release for around 3 hours, I didn’t encounter any of the problems that had been reported; generally speaking, I found my experience was a lot smoother than previously: no sudden lock-ups  / freezes / log-outs within minutes of starting the world view rendering.

As noted, I did have an issue with rendering seated avatars, which might be down to the fact I’m currently not at Gold status. The lack of the latter also meant that I couldn’t check to see if a fix had been made to my issue of my avatar refusing to stop once walking had been initiated (unless she hit and insurmountable obstacle or I logged out / in).

The “high” quality object rendering appears to have fixed a little niggle I’ve had with earlier versions failing to render two of the more complex mesh boats we have have moored at home; one or other would invariably be left with holes in it / missing mesh faces when the download / rendering process apparently completed – but, no more! With this release, both boats render as I’d expect to see them. It was also good to see the trees around our house render correctly, thanks to the alpha issue being fixed.

Quite probably the best experience I’ve had with Speedlight to date, and I understand more improvements are coming down the pipe in the near future!

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Speedlight: looking at the 3D world view

via Speedlight

At the end of March 2020, Speedlight, the browser / Android Second Life client, extended its world rendering capability to Free account holders whilst also offering Gold members the ability to move their avatars around.

Over the last few days, I’ve had the opportunity to take Speedlight’s world view for a test on both Free and Gold accounts, and this article is intended to act as both an introduction to the capability and to provide insight into where it stands at this stage of its development.

Before getting down to specifics, it should be remembered that it is still very early days in the development of Speedlight’s rendering capabilities – what is seen here is by no means anything close to what might be considered a “finished” product. Avatars, for example, are only presented as rudimentary “manniquins”, as the emphasis thus far has been on rendering in-world objects, and the Speedlight team plan to improve avatar looks in the future.

The Speedlight world view showing our living area at home. The rendering is acceptable, although there are some niggles that will doubtless be addressed in future updates (e.g. in this image, the “glass” doors rendered as soid grey objects, the ceiling rendering as black). Certainly, they are not enough to detract from what has been achieved at this early stage of work

Also at this point in time, the world view doesn’t offer any avatar / object interaction (no right-click options, etc.), and interaction (chatting, IMs) with other avatars is via switching tasks using the left menu. Other points worth keeping in mind with the world view are:

  • As I understand it, Speedlight uses an intermediary server for organising asset data information for download to the client, and this can have an impact of how fast a scene can be rendered. It also means that rendering can occur in “bursts” as object and texture data is collected (visible in the information bars at the top of the world view panel – see below), so it’s perhaps preferable to refrain from changing your camera view / moving your avatar until the scene has loaded.
  •  Key differences between Free and Gold accounts in terms of world rendering are:
    • Free accounts do not (as of the April 1st 4.093.0825 release) have the ability to move their avatar, but can orbit / zoom their camera.
    • Gold account can move their avatar via the Arrows keys when running in a browser, or via the on-screen “joystick” when using the dedicated Android app.
    • I understand from Speedlight support that the number of textures / objects a scene loads is “capped” for Free accounts at present, in order to prevent the intermediary server from being flooded with requests to handle asset information.
  • The world view requires a minimum of Android 7.0 to work on an Android device (either using the dedicated app or when running Speedlight through an Android flavour of a web browser). As I only have Android 6.0.1 at my disposal, this precluded me from trying Speedlight’s rendering on a mobile device.
  • In order to limit any excessive load, rendering is limited to a radius of apprximately 50-60m around your avatar / camera, with objects fading into haze – an effect that helps disguise what might otherwise be glaring “holes” in a scene.

Accessing the World View

  • Log-in to Second Life via your Speedlight account and Open your avatar account.
  • The Summary screen will be displayed.
  • Click / tap the 3D World View option in the left side menu.
  • If you have not run the 3D world view during the current session, a blank window is displayed with the message: Avatar Is Not Rendering 3D World.
  • Click / tap the button under the message to start the rendering process.
  • Rendering will commence, with a warning that it could take 2 mins. Given the variables involved (complexity of scene, information fetching / caching, network connectivity and speed, etc.) this is a not unreasonable estimate.
  • The information bars at the top of the world view (see image below) will report the land area, the number of textures and objects that are being processed / loaded.
The world view explained: 1: the X, Y, Z region coordinates of your avatar; 2: object and texture load count – will change as you cam / move / teleport. 3: horizon hazing at the limits of the pre-set draw distance; 4: avatar mannequin – displays a small green arrow (not always visible) to show direction being faced / avatar will move in (Gold only); 5: information bar – Gold membership shown; Free accounts have a yellow panel located on the left of the world view, carrying different information

Observations

Given this is still very much a first cut at scene rendering, what is presented is impressive, if with some niggles to be addressed, as noted above, and with things like dealing with blended alpha masks and with some transparent surfaces, etc.). However, these will hopefully be addressed over time.

Movement also seems to have a degree of latency surrounding it – possibly because of the use of an intermediary server on top of general network / connectivity aspects. This can be particularly noticeable when ceasing avatar movement, which can result in a degree of “rubber banding” as the avatar’s position as estimated by the client is updated with its position as recorded by the simulator. As such, I found it preferable to use light, repeated taps on the movement keys rather than holding them down for extended periods.

I also encountered a peculiar issue with my avatar simply refusing to stop walking, even after a teleport; something that I could only remedy by relogging. It’s something that may well be unique to me, although I’ve reported it to the Speedlight team just in case. Should anyone trying Gold membership with Speedlight encounter a similar problem also advise the Speedlight team?

Overall, and in terms of appearance, it is not unfair to say that Speedlight’s world view is pretty much on a par at this point in its development with that Lumiya’s world view during its earliest days of development – and look how far that went over time. Whether Speedlight will go on to mature to a similar level of capability with its rendering obviously remains to be seen. However, given that development is only a couple of months old (and niggles aside) what has been produced thus far is not to be sneezed at, and I look forward to continuing to cover the client’s development in the future.

Related Links

Second Life companion app: mini update, March 2020

As I’ve previously reported (see: Linden Lab confirm Second Life iOS client in the making), Linden Lab is developing a companion app for Second Life.

As the last mini-update I gave for the product was in July 2019 and there is some further news to be had, I thought it time to provide a further update on where the client stands.

First and foremost, while the client was initially defined as an iOS client, speaking during the 19th episode of Lab Gab on March 27th, 2020, Ebbe Altberg confirmed the Lab has now started on an Android version as well, which they have to have up to parity with the iOS version at some point.

In addition, he indicated that the iOS version is currently close to being at an “alpha” testing status, which may only be for internal testing.

So, lot’s of activity there. We have a person who’s worked on a mobile – what do we call it? Companion client, because I want to make it clear that people understand that the mobile client will be primarily a communication client, where you can chat with people, and stay connected, but it’s not a 3D viewer. So you will not be running around with your avatar in the mobile client for quite some time. But you can at least, when you’re on the road, stay connected with your friends and customers, etc.

The iOS client is very close to what we call an “alpha”; I don’t know exactly how the alpha will then progress to a beta to like a full release that people can try…

I’m not sure if alpha is even just for internal people; we probably want to get the whole company using it first, but we might, umm, some pre-production grid, get some external users involved in the alpha as well, I don’t know the exact details. But it’s being worked on; hopefully most of us will be able to use the iOS client to stay connected with Second Life in, I don’t know, a month or two, I’m guessing.

And we also have added more resources, so we now have people working on an Android version as well. So hopefully that will catch-up and will get neck-and-neck or almost parallel with iOS here by the time we get to full release. So, actively being worked on.

– Ebbe Altberg, Lab Gab, March 27th, 2020
(video extract)

Summary of What is Known

The following notes are an amalgam of my July 2019 mini-update, and more recent comments from Third Party Viewer Developer Meetings, Simulator User Group meetings and the aforementioned Lab Gab session.

General Capabilities

  • As noted, the app should initially be regarded as more of a communicator / companion app than a fully-rounded client. The intention is to provide users with a means of maintaining basic contact with other users whilst away from their main means of accessing SL.
  • It will support logging-in to the Second Life service and initially provide IM and group chat support.
  • Initially it will not:
    • Present you with an in-world location, nor will your avatar rez in-world.
    • Support local chat (as your avatar does not have a defined in-world location)

A mobile user won’t actually be in an area … they can use p2p or group chat, but not local, because we’re not rendering the world (yet) in the mobile app [and] we didn’t want things to be unbalanced: you can see me but I can’t see you, I can “go” somewhere but can’t see anything [etc.]. [But] direct IM is supported (that’s what I meant by p2p).

– Oz Linden, VP of Engineering, Simulator User Group Meeting,
March 17th, 2020

  • In theory, the app should work with both mobile ‘phones and tablets / iPads, although there may be some configuration differences.
  • Over time it will be enhanced – but additional capabilities and their order of development is still TBD.

Availability

  • As noted above, the iOS client will likely be available to users ahead of the Android client.
  • The time frame for the iOS client appearing is not confirmed, but might be in a next 2-3 months.
    • The Lab had started the work on getting the initial test versions through Apple’s acceptance process some time ago.
    • It had been previously stated that iOS users will need to have TestFlight installed on their iPhone (or iPad), as the app will be made available though Apple’s beta testing environment for apps. I assume this is still the case.

 

There may be further news on the mobile client in the April 3rd Lab Gab session, in which case, I will update this article.

Speedlight client: recent updates and 3D world view

via Speedlight

The Speedlight client for web browsers and Android, continues to be developed apace, with a number of recent updates delivering further functionality, including:

  • The ability to teleport, including via landmarks.
  • The ability to buy and / or sell land.
  • The initial 3D world rendering capability (currently only available to Gold subscribers).

Teleporting

Speedlight now offers two means of teleporting around SL:

  • Via the summary screen.
  • Using inventory landmarks.

Via the Summary Tab

If you know the name of the location to which you wish to teleport, you can do so directly from the Summary tab when logging-in to Sppedlight and Second Life (see Speedlight: access SL via a browser (incl. mobile devices for details on creating Speedlight accounts and linking them to your Second Life account(s) if required).

  • When you are logged in to Second Life with Speedlight, click on your avatar’s name on the left-side menu to display the Summary tab (if it is not already displayed).
  • Click the Teleport To… option under the name of your current location. The location display changes to a field where you can enter a SLurl Or Region Name.
    • As you start to type-in a SLurl / name, the field will further change to display spaces for (optionally) entering the X, Y, Z coordinates for the location.
  • Click the Teleport button.
  • The location map should update to show you have moved to the desired location.
Teleport via the Summary tab: 1. Click the Teleport To… option; 2. The Enter SLurl or Region Name input field is displayed. 3. Start entering a SLurl or region name and the input field will add (optional) X, Y, Z coordinate fields; 4. Click the Teleport button to teleport your avatar.

Teleport via a Landmark

  • When you are logged in to Second Life with Speedlight, click on the Inventory option in the left-side menu.
  • Open your Landmarks folder and click on the Landmark you wish to use.
  • The landmark’s details are displayed in the Inventory Details tab.
  • Click the Teleport button to teleport.
Teleporting via Landmark

Buying and Selling Land

As of March 2020, it is possible to buy / sell land using Speedlight.

Buying Land

As with a viewer, you need to be on land that is for sale in order to purchase it.

  • In the Summary Tab, click on the About Land link displayed to the top and right of the map.
  • The About Land tab is opened, detailing information relating to the land – location, name, description, whether it is for sale or not, etc.
Buying Land in Speedlight: the Buy Land button
  • At the bottom of the tab will be a combination of up to three buttons: Sell Land, Buy Land and Abandoned Land.
  • Click Buy Land.
  • A summary of the land you are about to purchase is displayed, giving information on size, purchase price etc.
  • If you want to purchase the land:
    • Click the check box to accept the covenant (required whether or not a covenant is displayed). This enables the Purchase Land button.
    • Click Purchase Land.
    • To cancel a purchase, return to the Summary tab display without clicking the Purchase Land button.
Buying Land in Speedlight: completing the purchase
  • Providing you have sufficient funds on account, the purchase will be made, and the summary screen will update to display your purchase has been made and display you as the owner.
    • Note that you may be required to complete additional steps to make full use of the land – such as contacting the estate owner and request group access for rezzing rights, etc. These are land-dependent and outside the scope of this article.
  • With the land purchased, you should be able to rename it and change the description, and use the Parcel Options link to set the parcel’s capabilities (Fly, Build, Object Entry, Run Scripts).

Selling Land

To sell land you have permission to sell:

  • In the Summary Tab, click on the About Land link displayed to the top and right of the map.
  • The About Land tab is opened, detailing information relating to the land – location, name, description, whether it is for sale or not, etc..
  • At the bottom of the tab will be a combination of up to three buttons: Sell Land, Buy Land and Abandoned Land.
  • Click Sell Land.
  • The Land Management summary is displayed.
  • You must now:
    • Set the price for the land.
    • (Optionally) set an avatar name against the sale (so the land can only be sold to that avatar, if required).
    • Set whether or not any objects on the land are to be sold with the land.
  • When you have done so, click the Set Land On Sale button.
  • The summary tab will update, and will display an orange Cancel Land Sale button, should you wish to cancel the sale at any time prior to a purchase being made.

3D World View

The Speedlight 3D world view, March 2020, showing an avatar “mannequin”

Speedlight’s 3D world view is in the early stages of development, but is currently available for Gold subscribers to test. The capability comprises two elements:

  • The client-side world renderer.
  • A “world storage” server-side database. Details on this are not clear, but I assume it is a server operated by Smartbots that received asset data from the Lab (via CDN) and then feeds that data to the client.

The renderer has a number of limitations / issue at this point in time, all of which are being worked on:

  • Limitations:
    • Avatars can only be rendered in “mannequin” form.
    • The renderer will not draw avatars seated on objects.
    • There is no avatar / world interaction (so you cannot touch objects, etc).
    • Avatar mannequins  cannot walk or move (teleporting is possible).
  • Issues:
    • Semi-transparent textures will render in black.
    • Other texture issues may be encountered.
    • Numerous additional problems and issues to be resolved.

Obviously, the “mannequin” avatar form is only rendered by Speedlight, Those using a viewer will see your avatar fully rendered when you are logged-in to SL via Speedlight.

For those wishing to try the 3D renderer / help with its development, Gold subscriptions are available at L$1990 (US $8.00) a month, and can be purchased in L$ through the client for those wishing to obtain an early look at the capability.

Feedback

A good set of updates, along with a series of issues fixes made in the end-of-February 3.059 release that demonstrate Speedlight is continuing along a steady development path.

It’s still – as noted – early days for the 3D renderer, and before anyone complains at the avatar appearance, lack of functionality, etc., at this point in time, it’s worth pointing out that 3D world rendering in Lumiya started from a very similar point, and went on to become flexible and usable, so time should be allowed for Speedlight’s capabilities to develop.

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