Lab issues updated Project 360 Capture viewer

via Linden Lab

On Friday, September 3rd Linden Lab issued the latest update to the 360º Snapshot viewer – now called the Project 360 Capture viewer – with the release of version 6.4.23.563579. It represents the most significant update to this viewer we’ve seen, and it comes after a significant pause in its development.

As the name of the viewer suggests, it is designed to take 360º degree panoramic images of the environment around the camera. It does this by simultaneously taking six images around the current camera position – one each at the four cardinal points, plus one directly overhead, and one directly looking down. These are then “stitched” into an equirectangular projection image (e.g. one that can be projected as a sphere), which can then viewed through a suitable medium – such as Flickr (other mediums are available!).

An “unwrapped” Maximum quality 360º image captured using the Project 360 Capture viewer, showing the 6 captured images “stitched” together (click on this image to see it in 360º format in Flickr)

The first iteration of this viewer appeared almost five years ago, in October 2016, and came with a certain amount of complexity involved – including the need to install a local environment for previewing captured images. Later iterations of the viewer improved on this, but the viewer continued to be hit by conflicts with the Interest List.

In simple terms, the Interest List lightens the load – objects, textures and updates to active objects, etc., – the viewer has to process when rendering. It does this by ignoring things that are not in the camera’s direct field of view. This is why, for example, when you turn your camera away from the direction you are looking, it can take time for objects and their textures to render. However, for a 360º-degree image, everything needs to be properly rendered in the viewer – whether in the current field of view or not. Overcoming this problem has proven difficult – and it (admittedly with other factors also coming into play) caused work on the viewer to be halted for an extended period.

This version of the viewer overcomes most of these issues, and makes the creation of 360º snapshots straightforward through the use of a new 360 Snapshot floater that is independent of the “standard” snapshot floater, and the use of some additional back-end code to overcome the Interest List. This new floater can be accessed from within the Project 360 Capture viewer in one of four ways:

  • Via World 360 Snapshot.
  • By pressing CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-S.
  • By enabling the 360° snapshot toolbar button in one of the toolbar areas.
  • By expanding the standard snapshot floater to show the full preview and clicking the Take 360 Snapshot link in the lower right corner of the preview panel.
Accessing the 360 snapshot floater (this can also be done via CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-S or by expanding the standard snapshot floater to show the full preview and clicking the Take 360 snapshot link in the lower right corner of the preview panel

The floater itself comprises several elements:

  • The image Quality radio buttons and selection button (labelled Create 360 Image).
    • The quality buttons appear to utilise the viewer’s screen buffer to render the different image types, so Preview appears to use the 128 vertical buffer, while Medium and High use the 512 and 1024 buffers respectively, and Maximum the 2048 buffer (i.e. the full 4096×2048 resolution).
    • When you have selected your preferred quality, click the Create 360 button to generate a preview.
    • If you alter the image quality at any time, you’ll need to click on the Create 360 button again to update the preview / take a fresh image at the new image quality.
  • A checkbox to disable avatar rendering during the image capture process.
  • The preview panel. This will show a rotating image from the current camera position until refreshed, and this image can be manually rotated / panned up and down by clicking on it and dragging the mouse around.
  • The Save As… button that actually saves the image to your hard drive.

To take an image:

  1. Position your camera.
  2. Select the image quality – for finished images you’ll need to set High or Maximum quality using the radio buttons.
  3. Click the Create 360 Image button to generate a preview in the floater’s preview panel.
  4. Click on the preview image and drag it around to ensure what you’re seeing is what you want / that things like textures have actually rendered correctly.
  5. Check the Hide All Avatars option, if required – this will cause the process to include all avatars present (it will not alter their in-world rendering).
  6. When you are satisfied with the preview, click Save As… to save it to your hard drive, renaming it if / as required.

Remember, if you change the image quality, you must also click Create 360 button to update the preview AND image capture process to the new image quality, before click Save As… again.

Once captured – again as noted – images can be uploaded to a suitable display platform such as Flickr – the images contain the necessary metadata that should automatically trigger the 360-degree viewing process (just click on an image in flicker to manually pan around up / down).

An “unwrapped” Maximum quality 360º image captured using the Project 360 Capture viewer, showing the 6 captured images “stitched” together (click on this image to see it in 360º format in Flickr)

General Observations

  • An easy-to-use iteration of the 360º snapshot viewer that brings good quality and ease-of-use to the process.
  • The ability to avoid rendering avatars not only helps avoid issues of rendering / motion blurring when taking a 360º image, it enables the easy capture of landscape images. It also, obviously, allows for the capture of posed avatars if required.
  • There are still some issues in rendering out-of-view (relative to the visible field of view for the camera) items and textures at High and (particularly) Maximum quality images – note the blurring of the vessel name in the first 360 image above.
  • The lowest quality Preview option is simply too blurred to be of real value – perhaps using 256 rather than 128 might improve this (if only slightly)?

Viewer Links

Lab issues Performance Floater viewer for feedback

via Linden Lab

Among their stated goals, Linden Lab is working to improve the user experience with Second Life with a number of projects. One of these is in making the viewer UI and viewer controls more accessible, and as a part of this work, the Performance Floater viewer (version 6.4.23.562625 at the time of writing) was issued as a project viewer with the intention of gaining feedback from users on the changes / options it incorporates and how they are presented.

As the name implies, the Performance Viewer is focused on bringing together various options and controls than can help improve viewer performance, and presenting them through a single new floater called (in difference to the viewer’s name) the Improve Graphics Speed floater.

This new floater can be accessed in one of two ways: via World menu → Improve Graphics Speed or by enabling the Graphics Speed button within a toolbar area. It comprises four button options, together with the viewer’s current FPS provided in large, friendly numbers at the top of the floater.

The Performance / Graphics Speed floater and accessing it

The four buttons open dedicated panels within the floater, each focused on a specific group of settings:

  • Graphics Settings: pulling together the most commonly-used Graphics options from Preferences → Graphics and the Advanced Graphics Preferences floater:
    • Quality and Speed.
    • Draw Distance.
    • Toggles for enabling / Disabling atmospheric shaders and Advanced Lighting Model, together with a drop-down for setting Shadows.
    • A toggle for disabling / enabling water transparency and a drop-down for setting the quality of water reflections.
    • A “Photography” option that most of us will recognise as being the RenderVolumeLODFactor debug setting.
    • A button to open the Advanced Graphics Preferences floater, should further adjustments be required.
  • Avatars Nearby: a set of options related to rendering the avatars around you or in general:
    • The Maximum Complexity slider (from Advanced Graphics Preferences), with the value rounded down to the nearest whole thousand.
    • The option to Always Render Friends (from Preferences → Graphics).
    • A new checkbox for de-rendering all avatars in a scene (toggles Advanced → Rendering Types → Avatars (CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-4) off / on).
    • The radio buttons for showing / hiding avatar name tags (from Preferences → General).
    • A list of nearby avatars, with indicators giving their rendering complexity, colour-coded to denote fiends.
      • Running the mouse over a name in the list will highlight it, and offer an Information icon to open their profile.
      • Right-clicking on a name will bring up options to render them fully or as a “jellydoll” (neutral grey avatar) or remove them from your Exceptions list (exceptions being those set to never / always render, no matter what your Maximum complexity setting).
    • A button directly under the avatar list to open your Exceptions list, where you can again right-click on names and alter their render behaviour.
  • Your Avatar Complexity: a list of worn attachments on your avatar with a guidance on their relative rendering cost, and an option to right-click and on any of them and remove them.
  • Your Active HUDs: a list of worn HUDs, again with a relative rendering complexity indicator and the option to highlight and remove any of the listed HUDs.
The Graphics Setting and Avatars Nearby panels in the Performance / Graphics Speed floater

Prior to the release of this viewer, concerns were expressed at a number of the Content Creation User Group meetings that doing so before the re-working of the Avatar Complexity values through the ARCTan project would lessen the impact of those changes when they are eventually deployed. I’m not sure such arguments hold that much weight, simply because a) a lot of people have already made up their minds about avatar complexity and Maximum complexity, so are unlikely to be swayed by any change in how the values are calculated; and b) those who already take note of avatar complexity and the options for managing them, no matter how the values are calculated.

That said, playing with the viewer did raise a number of niggles / ideas with me:

  • Consistency of terminology: we’re all used to terms like “Quality and Speed” and “Draw Distance” in relation to graphics settings – so seeing these arbitrarily renamed to (the contextually meaningless) “Shortcuts” and “Visibility Distance” is a little disconcerting. I hope that labelling overall – whichever terms are used going forward are made consistent across the viewer.
  • That said, the use of numbers to denote quality settings rather than the “mid” to “ultra” labels, is an improvement, and I certainly hope that it is fed back into Preferences → Graphics.
  • The use of the word “hide” in reference to the Maximum Complexity slider is misleading – avatars are not “hidden” when using this slider, but are still rendered, if only as simplified grey humanoid shapes.
  • It would be useful to have Max No. of Non-Imposter avatars added to the Avatars Nearby panel, as for some this is a preferred method of reducing avatar impact on their system over seeing “jellydolled” (or “greyed” as it should perhaps now be) avatars.
  • The Avatars Nearby panel could perhaps also benefit from some additional explanatory text, such as a more rounded note on Maximum Complexity to help encourage people to use it.

As noted, this is the first iteration of the viewer and floater in order for it to gain some exposure and generate feedback from those interested in trying it. Those who do want to offer feedback on it should do so via the Jira as either bug reports or feature requests, depending on the nature of the feedback.

Links

Firestorm 6.4.21: catching up with the Lab

On Wednesday, July 28th, 2021, the Firestorm team released version 6.4.21 of their viewer.

The majority of the updates contained within this release are from recent releases of the official viewer, with a minimal number of Firestorm-derived updates, as Firestorm continues to move closer to a quarterly cadence of releases.

That said, as well as fixes and updates, this release includes a number of additional and new capabilities added by the Firestorm team, and these form the focus of this overview.

As is usual for me, this is not a review of every individual change to be found within this latest release of Firestorm. Rather, it is an overview of those changes that will be most noticeable to the majority of users. Given this, please refer to the official release notes for a complete list of fixes and changes.

Table of Contents

Installation

  • There is no need to perform a clean install with this release if you do not wish to.
  • Do, however, make sure you back-up all your settings safely so you can restore them after installing 6.4.21.
  • Again, please refer to the Firestorm 6.4.21 release notes for additional details of all changes and updates in this release.

Linden Lab Viewer Parity

Firestorm 6.4.21 incorporates updates from a number of recent Linden Lab viewer releases, as follows:

Jelly Updates, February 2021

Viewer release: 6.4.13.555567.

Most notably, this alters the behaviour of “jellydolled” avatars for better performance. Those avatars explicitly set not to render or have an Avatar Rendering Complexity (ARC) that exceeds the threshold set within the viewer (e.g. via Quick Prefs → Max Complexity slider):

  • Are now rendered a single grey, rather than appearing in a range of solid colours and as a basic humanoid shape.
  • No longer have any attachments or other customisations rendered and do not play animations.

Simplified Cache Viewer, March 2021

Viewer release: 6.4.14.556088.

This viewer introduced a less complex file caching system to save local copies of frequently used assets such as meshes, sounds and animations, but without the issues that impacted the original deployment of that viewer.

Custom Key Mappings Viewer, April 2021

Viewer release:  6.4.17.557391.

This release allows users to define their own key mappings for a number of viewer functions, via Preferences → Control .

The Custom Key Mappings panel in Preferences

Maintenance Eau de Vie, April 2021

Viewer release: 6.4.18.558266.

A further round of viewer bug fixes from Linden Lab. Perhaps most notable among them changes to the detection of Intel HD 2500 and 4000 and 400 GPUs (if running the latest drivers), that result in users of those graphics cards now being offered the 64bit version of the viewer.

Love Me Render 5, June 2021

Viewer release: 6.4.19.560171.

A maintenance viewer focused on rendering and graphics fixes, including a number of EEP improvements.

UI and Voice Updates Viewer, June 2021

New Guidebook

Viewer release: 6.4.20.560520.

This viewer introduced the first in a series of viewer UI updates, these specifically aimed at new users, notably a new Guidebook to getting started in Second Life following sign-up, and which is intended to be used within the new Welcome Islands.

The new user Guidebook, as developed by Linden Lab as a part of a new user experience
The Guidebook is access via a dedicated Toolbar Button, which if not automatically displayed in your viewer (clean installation) can be accessed by opening the Toolbar Buttons panel (right-click any button area and select Toolbar Buttons …) and then dragging the Guidebook button to your preferred button area.

Not that both the Guidebook and the new Welcome islands are subject to on-going testing and so may see further revisions.

Menu Updates

In addition, this release of the view included a number of menu changes to the official viewer. These have been implemented somewhat differently in Firestorm, and so are dealt with below.

EEP: Azimuth and Elevation Sliders

A further UI change with this viewer is the addition of new EEP sliders for those who have issues using the Trackballs in the Sun / Moon tabs of the Fixed Sky and Day Cycle floaters, and in the Personal Lighting floater. These sliders are:

  • Azimuth – which might be thought of as the east / west position of the Sun or Moon (technically, azimuth is more than this, but it’ll do for these notes).
  • Elevation – the position of the Sun or Moon over or under) the horizon, relative to azimuth.

They are tied to the Sun / Moon movement, so when used, the trackball locations for the Sun and Moon will also move.

The EEP Azimuth and Elevation sliders (Personal Lighting floater shown)
Voice Updates

Finally, this viewer brings a series of improvements to the viewer’s Voice settings a range of improvements to Voice handling, including changing to default Voice settings in the viewer intended to help prevent issues of drop-out when talking, and which have reportedly all but eliminated drop-outs for those using the new settings. Additionally, the VIVOX VAD options have been exposed via Debug Settings, and detailed notes on these can be found in the official viewer release notes, linked to above.

Continue reading “Firestorm 6.4.21: catching up with the Lab”

Kokua: release 6.4.21 and Radegast 2.34

Kokua released version 6.4.21 of their viewer on Saturday, July 24th, bring it up to parity with the official viewer version 6.4.21 (formerly the Fernet RC viewer, version  6.4.21.561414), and which also sees a further porting of options from Firestorm, together with a series of updates and fixes implemented by the Kokua team.

As always, all of the information relating to updates and fixes can be found in the official release notes; the following notes highlight the more directly user-facing changes.

Lab-Derived Updates

Kokua 6.4.21 includes all Linden Lab viewer updates through to the Fernet release. Most notably these include a range of improvements to Voice handling, including changing to default Voice settings in the viewer intended to help prevent issues of drop-out when talking, and which have reportedly all but eliminated drop-outs for those using the new settings. Additionally, the VIVOX VAD options have been exposed via Debug Settings, and detailed notes on these can be found in the official viewer release notes.

Preferences → Graphics Redesign

Kokua 6.4.21 sees an overhaul of Preferences → Graphics that to eliminate the Advanced panel and instead incorporate its content on three new tabs within the Graphics panel: General/Avatar, Hardware, Level of Detail / Shaders.

In addition, one of the never tab ports the dynamic sizing of texture memory developed by Ansariel Hiller for Firestorm.. More on this below.

The updated Preferences → Graphics panel with the new tab-style layout

The additional tabs provide a logical and clear-cut breakdown of options:

  • The General/Avatar tab presents the options perhaps used most frequently by the majority of users: Draw Distance, avatar complexity / number of imposter avatars, post-process, detail and physics quality settings.
  • The Level of Detail/Shaders tab provides access to the controls for the viewer shaders, and general rendering quality sliders (terrain, trees, objects, etc.).

The remaining tab, Hardware, is the tab that incorporates the dynamic texture memory sizing option. The idea with this is that it allows the viewer to use more of the available graphics memory whilst still reserving space for other uses (subject to the overall dedicated graphics memory / system memory that is available – you obviously cannot use more memory than your system actually has!).

The Preferences Graphics tab, showing the new (to Kokua) dynamic texture memory options (from Firestorm)

KKA-878 Add Option to Always Pop-up Chat/IM toasts

This is a fix for a noticeable issue with how Kokua handles chat notifications.

Until now, the default pop-up / Toast behaviour is as toasts show unless the local chat panel is visible and not overlaid by another floater. This is counter-intuitive in that the purpose of pop-ups / Toasts are designed to inform because floaters / panels may be obscured.

The new option to Always Pop-up the message, which is common to all of the drop-down lists on the Chat → Notifications tab in Preferences

BugSplat Updates

This release also includes a number of fixes for Kokua crashing whilst attempting to send information to the BugSplat reporting tool, before sufficient information can obtained to help pin down what might have been happening leading up to the crash, rather than just reporting where a crash happened. Please refer to the release notes for more on this.

Radegast 2.34

Radegast, the lightweight client for Second Life and OpenSim updated to version 2.34 on July 26th.

The majority of the updates included in the release are “under the hood” changes, specifically designed to:

  • Paving the way for future UI changes.
  • Providing better non-Windows platform and mobile support.

However, there have been improvements  to image processing, with JPEG2000 decoding and encoding times now improved.

Radegast JPEG2000 decoding and encoding times should help with elements of in-world rendering

As noted in the release notes, these improvements also require the installed version of Radegast to be specific to your computer’s architecture (e.g. the x64 version on Windows 64-bit system).

Also note that the 3D world rendering can give variable results (as it always has), depending on aspects of the system on which Radegast is being run, etc. While it has been a while since I last used the client in anger, the 3D rendering appeared to be a lot smoother than I remember, although it still includes issues in rendering mesh clothing correctly rigged to the avatar, and also demonstrated a familiar issue of failing to render textures on all prim faces.

For the full list of updates and fixes, please refer to the official 2.34 release notes.

Given it has now been several years since I’ve reviewed Radegast in-depth (it’s actually been a decade since my first review, and just a month shy of that since me first review of the client’s rendering capabilities), I will endeavour to offer a complete refresh in the future.

Links

Kokua updates to revised viewer UI

Kokua released version 6.4.20 of their viewer on Tuesday, June 29th, which sees all three versions include the Lab’s Project UI viewer updates (see: Lab issues Project UI viewer aimed at new users and The Project UI viewer: a look at the new user Guidebook); however it does so with a couple of twists. The release also includes a number of bug fixes.

As noted in the two blog posts linked to above, and via the Lab’s official blog post via Alexa Linden (see: Viewer UI enhancements), the UI changes are the first in an on-going series of updates designed to improve the viewer and – with these in particular – help new users get to grips with the viewer more easily, including during their initial orientation as a part of the on-boarding New User Experience.

In all, the changes comprise:

  • A new menu option called Avatar, and streamlined / revised right-click avatar context menus intended to make it easier for new users to get to grips with basic avatar-related functions.
  • Improvements to the Inventory panel.
  • An updated Places floater design to make getting around SL easier.
  • A new Guidebook, intended to help new users gain a familiarity with basic functionality in the viewer – walking, talking, finding places and people, etc.

Kodua 6.4.20 includes all of these changes, most of which I’m not going to go into great detail here, as they have been covered in the blog posts linked to above. However, it should be noted:

  • If you are using Kokua with the classic menu layout enabled (Advanced check → Classic Kokua Menu + viewer restart), then the Avatar menu will not be displayed.
  • The right-click context menus retain some of the original options found within these menus (both from the official viewer and from previous versions of Kokua).
The revised right-click context menus (l) the official Avatar menu and the Kokua implementation (purple menu option highlight); (r) the official attachment menu & the Kokua implementation

Kokua Changes

Several of the Kokua updates are bug fixes for issues with the Bugsplat crash reporting code, and address issues with the Kokua viewer.

Most notable among the latter is a fix for issue KKA-866 “Double-click to TP bug”. In short, prior to the arrival of the custom key mappings ability (SL viewer version  6.4.17.557391 / Kokua version 6.4.17), double-click teleports would be ignored if any one of ALT, CTRL or SHIFT was also pressed. Following the introduction of custom key mappings, an accidental double-click whilst using one of these keys (e.g. when ALT-camming) will trigger a teleport.

To avoid confusion, Kokua has added a new Preferences option: Preferences → Move & View →  Mouse →  Do not treat ALT/SHIFT/CTRL modified mouse clicks as unmodified mouse clicks when no specific ALT/SHIFT/CTRL modified binding exists.

  • When enabled (as it is by default), this option will not trigger a teleport when double-clicking in combination with pressing ALT, CTRL or SHIFT (e.g. pre-custom key mapping behaviour).
  • When disabled (unchecked), this option will trigger a teleport when double-clicking in combination with pressing ALT, CTRL or SHIFT (e.g. post-custom key mapping behaviour).

For the remaining Kokua updates, please refer to the Kokua 6.4.20 release notes.

Summary

A further incremental update from Kokua that allows it to maintain pace with the official viewer, and also become the first of the popular v6 viewers to incorporate the UI updates from Linden Lab.

The decision to include the additional options in the right-click avatar and attachment  context menus tends to make these menus more involved than their LL equivalents, which might be argued as making them more confusing to new users. BUT, the options that have been retained by Kokua can useful for established users, and so are worth the effort of inclusion.

LINKS

The Project UI viewer: a look at the new user Guidebook

via Linden Lab

In  May, the Lab issued the Project UI RC viewer, part of the work to overhaul the new user experience and provide greater context and support for incoming users when getting to grips with Second Life and – in this case – the viewer.

At  the time it was issued, I  provided an overview of the viewer based on my own walk-through of the viewer as it was at that time, and notes supplied by Alexa Linden (see: Lab issues Project UI viewer aimed at new users).

Since then, the Project UI viewer has progressed through the RC process, and was promoted to de facto release status in week #25. Along the way, it saw some revisions and additions, including a Guidebook to help new users find their way around the viewer. And it is that Guidebook I’m taking a look at here.

Before getting to it, however, a quick recap on the changes within the viewer previously covered:

  • A new menu option called Avatar, and streamlined / revised right-click avatar context menus.
  • Improvements to the Inventory panel.
  • An updated Places floater.

All of these are looked at in the blog post linked to above.

New User Guidebook

The Guidebook appears to be a case of taking an idea first seen in the Basic version of Viewer 2.0 a decade ago, and greatly enhancing it.

In 2011, the was to provide new users with a simple guide to tackle basic actions such as walking and chatting through a pop-up How To guide accessed via a toolbar button. The problem was that the idea was never really followed through: the How To guide was brief to the point of being ignored, and never fully leveraged.

The new Guidebook takes the same initial approach as the old How To, using a button within the toolbar to open a dedicated panel, samples of which are shown below.

The pages of the new Guidebook relayed to avatar / camera movement –  click for full size

However, it is at this point that all similarities with the How To approach ends, as the Guidebook dives a lot deeper into basic needs – walking, communicating, interacting with objects, an overview of avatar customisation and using avatar attachments, finding where to go in SL and where to meet people. It also offers pointers to various viewer menu options and how things like right-click context menus work.

On first being opened, the Guidebook will display the first of the pages dealing with avatar movement, with each page including “next” and/or “back” buttons. Pages display information clearly and concisely, and good use is made of illustrations.

The Guidebook menu

All of the topics covered by the Guidebook can be accessed directly at any time via the three-bar Menu icon in the top-right of panel, then clicking on the desired topic. This index also includes an option to teleport to a Welcome Back Island – a duplicate of the new Welcome Islands incoming users may arrive at, giving those already in SL the opportunity to hop back to an environment where they can gain a refresher. In addition, some sections within the Guidebook also reference locations within the Welcome Islands that also help new users gain familiarity with Second Life and the viewer controls.

Obviously, not everything can be covered in a single guide like this, and people will doubtless have their own views on what “should” be included. However, what is provided should provide incoming users with a reasonable grounding in finding their way around the viewer. It’s also worth remembering that these updates may not be all that’s coming by way of viewer UI updates and/or simplification.

A further aspect of the new user experience is that the Welcome Islands will use an Experience, which in turn uses web page links, it is possible there are yet-to-be revealed elements accessed as new users explore / travel through the new Welcome Islands that may actually give further context to the viewer. As such, any final judgement on what is available in the viewer as released might be premature. Given this, I’ll likely / hopefully be returning to these updates to the viewer as an when the new user experience comes on-stream.

In the meantime, the Project UI is available as the default official viewer download, and the updates it contains will, as usual, be a core part of all future viewer updates and releases from the Lab.