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

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.

Lab issues Project UI viewer aimed at new users

via Linden Lab

As has been indicated in various discussions and statements from the Lab – such as the Above the Book sessions with Grumpity, Brett and Patch linden at this year’s VWBPE event, one element of Second Life that the Lab is focused on is the new user experience.

This work involves various projects, including the on-boarding process and changes to the viewer to help new users get to grip with things, and on Monday, May 3rd, Alexa Linden announced the release of the Project UI viewer which includes a range up updates specifically aimed at new users.

According the Alexa’s forum post, the new viewer includes three core areas of update:

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

However, there’s actually more to this viewer than the forum post reveals, so here’s a run-down of some of the documented changes and some of those that are missed out from the forum post – but which could actually be of greater interest to established users.

The Avatar Menu and Right-Click Avatar Context Menus

This is perhaps the most significant update to in the viewer. To quote from Alexa’s post:

Making SL easier for newcomers to learn can improve the chances that they will become long-term Residents. Growing the Resident community benefits everyone — more people to meet, more participation in events, and more commerce. The changes described below are the first batch of what we hope will be an ongoing series of usability improvements.
Avatar menus
With this release we introduce the Avatar top-level menu which brings together all avatar tools in one place. One of SL’s most important features is now more visible to newcomers. You’ll notice the avatar right-click menu has been streamlined as well.
Have you ever struggled to select an avatar attachment?  It’s inside your avatar, it’s transparent, or it’s a mesh attachment that you just can’t grab. You can now touch, edit or remove an attachment using right-click from all Avatar windows and Inventory.

The Avatar menu and the revised right-click context menus are show below:

The new Avatar menu sits between the Me and Communicate menus brings together all of the frequently used avatar tools (l). Centre: the revised avatar right-click context menus seen when touching your avatar (top) or an attachment (bottom), and how they compare to the current versions of the menus (r)

Inventory and Places Updates

I’ve not a lot to say on the Inventory floater updates, so will leave that to Alexa’s forum post. The changes to Places and how landmarks are handled, again as specified in the blog post, are also straightforward, although there are a few additional points to note:

  • The new panel also sees the gear button moved to the top of the panel, and provides a new set of fairly self-explanatory options:
    • Teleport.
    • View.
    • Show on Map.
    • Copy SLurl.
  • The original Expand and Collapse options from the gear button have been moved to a separate drop-down menu button, with the delete option moved to a its own Trash button.
The Project UI viewer’s updated Places panel (l) and the release version

Other Menu Updates

The new Avatar Menus means there have been revisions to the Me and communicate menus as well, with avatar-related options (such as the Choose and Avatar option moving from Me to Avatar (and renamed Complete Avatars).

The revised Me and Communicate menus (with the blue bands) compared to the current release viewer – click for full size, if required

As well as these, there are other small tweaks  – World Menu now has a My Linden Home … option. Clicking this will open up the in-viewer browser and take the user to the Linden Homes page:

  • Premium members with a Linden Home will see the page relating to their home.
  • Premium members who do not have a Linden Home and Basic Members will see the Linden Home selection page (and Basic members will go forward to the Premium sign-up page).

Note also, that using this menu option (as with others in the viewer that use the built-in browser to access Second Life web pages) may trigger single sign-on, and require you log-in to the SL web properties.

EEP Updates

One of the biggest complaints with the Environment Enhancement Project (EEP) has been use use of trackball options to position the Sun and Moon, with many voicing their preference for “a slider like Windlight”. To address this, the UI Project viewer implements two sliders for positioning the Sun and two for the Moon across all of the EEP settings floaters. These 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.

These sliders are tied to the Sun / Moon movement using the trackball systems, allowing both to be used as preferred.

The Sun & Moon tabs on Fixed Sky and the Day Cycle floaters now include Azimuth and and Elevation sliders for positioning the Sun / Moon, and similar sliders can be found on Personal Lighting

Rapid-Fire Feedback

Overall, this is a reasonable set of changes; they do enough to streamline things in places without being a potential source of confusion for established users; the changes are for the most part logical – although I do have a couple of reservations.

On the plus side, bringing together the majority of avatar tools into a single menu makes a lot of sense. But I do wonder if having menus called “Me” and “Avatar” side-by-side might not be a little confusing for new users (e.g. “Huh? Wassa difference? Why two menus for my avatar?”). The use of the “avatar” menu name is liable to cause a small amount of consternation with Firestorm, as that viewer already use it in place of “me”, but c’est la vie.

I was also surprised to see that the Linden homes page has yet to be updated for Basic members – it still features photos and a video of the old 512 sq m Linden Homes. Given the newer Homes are more attractive (and have now been with us for a while), and the aim of this viewer is to help make engagement with SL more attractive to new users, linking to information that is pretty much out-of-date and doesn’t actually reflect the more common Premium offering seems a little disjointed.

Elsewhere, I like the ability to touch / select attachments – particularly worn mesh – made more accessible. Catznip introduced such a capability a few years ago, and I can’t help but wonder if seeing it now in the official viewer might be the result of a code contribution from that viewer.

It’s also good to see the Lab respond to requests with EEP, and hopefully the new sliders will help those who find the trackballs a little confusing – although I don’t doubt the labelling might cause a little confusion (“why not east and north?”).

I understand the updates to the learning / social islands will be coming along in summer – although I’ve no idea if these will see further tweaks to the viewer as well. as well. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see how this Project UI viewer develops over the coming months.

Related Links

* Note this link will become inlaid as the viewer is updated.

2020 Simulator User Group week #41 summary (w/uplift)

Broken, August 2020 – blog post

The following notes were taken from the October 6th Simulator User Group meeting.

Simulator Deployments

Please refer to the server deployment thread for news and updates.

  • There are currently no planned deployments for week #41. An RC update that had been planned had to be pulled after QA found an issue when attempting to uploading items that had been previously uploaded and edited.
  • This means that Some RC regions should be started during the Wednesday, October 7th deployment window, but they will not receive any updates.

SL Viewer

There have been no updates to the current list of official viewers, leaving the pipelines as follows:

  • Current release viewer :Love Me Render #4 (EEP fixes), version 6.4.9.549455, released September 24th, promoted September 28th – No Change.
  • Release channel cohorts (please see my notes on manually installing RC viewer versions if you wish to install any release candidate(s) yourself):
    • Cachaça Maintenance RC viewer, version 6.4.10.549752, issued October 1st.
    • Mesh uploader RC viewer, version 6.4.10.549686, October 1st.
  • Project viewers:
    • Project Jelly project viewer (Jellydoll updates), version 6.4.10.549690, October 1st.
    • Custom Key Mappings project viewer, version 6.4.5.544079, June 30th.
    • Copy / Paste viewer, version 6.3.5.533365, December 9th, 2019.
    • Project Muscadine (Animesh follow-on) project viewer, version 6.4.0.532999, November 22nd, 2019.
    • Legacy Profiles viewer, version 6.3.2.530836, September 17th, 2019. Covers the re-integration of Viewer Profiles.
    • 360 Snapshot project viewer, version 6.2.4.529111, July 16th, 2019.

Cloud Uplift

More regions on the main (Agni) grid are being noted as being on AWS (see my previous TPV Developer meeting and CCUG meeting notes). As a result some are (prematurely) proclaiming this to be a sign that “the end of the uplift work is in sight”; however, Oz Linden sobered such statements, commenting:

I’m not sure that we’re at the beginning of the end … but we’re past the end of the beginning.

To which Mazidox Linden added:

We’re currently running some tests with production data on AWS regions, yep. … There are definitely some outstanding issues we’re aware of, and more we’re probably not (yet) that we’re trying to shake out.

One aspect of the current situation is that while there may be some regions with associated experiences running via AWS, the core data handling for experiences still lies within the Lab’s co-lo facility; this may affect the experience performance in those regions, but should be rectified as the uplift work continues.

In terms of when specific aspects of the uplift will be “completed” (remembering that LL is looking to have a majority of the work done by year-end), Oz Linden further commented:

We’re lifting as quickly as we can, consistent with checking for problems. So far it’s going better than expected, but making any prediction would jinx it.
For the curious – spotting a region hosted in the cloud via Help About. Top: a region hosted at the Lab’s co-location facility (note the agni.lindenlab.com in the address). Bottom: and a region running on a simulator in the cloud, using an AWS address.

As per K.T. Kingsley’s comment below, scripters confused about obtaining host names via scripted means should refer to this forum thread.

In Brief

  • The Jejina region (old-style Linden Homes) has been reported as having “weird” EEP settings that are out of sync with the surrounding regions, and also has a odd Map tile. The exact cause is unknown. Anyone seeing similar oddities in Mainland EEP settings / Map tiles should contact support.
  • A large swath of Satori suffered significant issues with regions staying up during a 24-hour period over the weekend. Exact cause is unknown, but the issue now appears resolved.

2020 Simulator User Group week #40 summary

Swan, July 2020 – blog post

The following notes were taken from the September 29th Simulator User Group meeting – although there is not a lot in practical terms to report, the meeting largely given over to another music event.

Simulator Deployments

Please refer to the server deployment thread for news and updates. However, there are currently no planned deployments for week #40.

SL Viewer

The Love Me Render #4 RC  viewer, version 6.4.9.549455, containing only fixes for EEP issues was issues on September 24th, and promoted to release status on Monday, September 28th.

In addition, the previous iteration of the Lover Me Render viewer, version 6.4.8.547427, was withdrawn. This leaves the remaining official viewer pipelines as:

  • Release channel cohorts:
    • Mesh uploader RC viewer, version 6.4.8.548061, September 8.
  • Project viewers:
    • Project Jelly project viewer (Jellydoll updates), version 6.4.8.547487, issued August 26.
    • Custom Key Mappings project viewer, version 6.4.5.544079, June 30.
    • Copy / Paste viewer, version 6.3.5.533365, December 9, 2019.
    • Project Muscadine (Animesh follow-on) project viewer, version 6.4.0.532999, November 22, 2019.
    • Legacy Profiles viewer, version 6.3.2.530836, September 17, 2019. Covers the re-integration of Viewer Profiles.
    • 360 Snapshot project viewer, version 6.2.4.529111, July 16, 2019.

Region Performance

There have been a number of reports of region performance issues that appear to be coupled to simulator version 548903. These reportedly manifest as rubber banding when users walk around, viewer-based profiles being very slow to load, estate bans taking about 30 to 45 seconds to take effect, and experiences  not functioning correctly – such as repeatedly asking people who have already joined it to do so. Some have also reported HTTP communications issues. Restarting region apparently resolves these issues initially, but simulator performance starts to degrade once more.

It’s not clear if Jiras have been filed with specifics of the issue, but those Lindens at the meeting were interested in learning more. For my part, I had noticed an increase in the time taken to load viewer-based profiles of late, but as this has generally happened in “busy” regions, I’ve assumed it is the general load on resources, rather than indicative of a potential broader issue.