Update, April 30th: Niran has released a fix for the pink texture issue affecting those using ATi graphics systems. Details are on his website, with a download link.
Earlier this month I took a quick look at the Preview Release of Niran’s Viewer 1.33, focusing on the UI work NiranV Dean has been carrying out within the release – part of an ongoing project to provide a more efficient Viewer front-end. Today sees the launch for the final version of 1.33, and in NiranV’s own words, this is a “major, major release” for a wide range of reasons. As promised in my last report on the Viewer, I’ve taken time to have a nice, long play with the Windows version.
First and foremost, after a long and incredible development curve, Niran’s Viewer has been accepted for listing in the Third-party Viewer Directory and should appear there in the next week or so – congratulations to Niran on all the work that has gone into the Viewer, and to Tarnix for the development of the Linux version.
The 1.33 release comes in two flavours: without and with the Mesh Parametric Deformer. The reason for this is simple, the code doesn’t set well with the Viewer – which might be, as NiranV acknowledges, due to issues with the Deformer working on his development hardware, but which could also be related to conflicts between the code and the Viewer’s rendering pipe. However, as NiranV notes in his blog: “You should be able to experience the Deformer mostly normal if you activate Deferred, Shadows and Ambient Occlusion, meaning that the separate release is only for those who can run [in this mode] and [who] want to test it to give Qarl Feedback.”
The Windows installer package weighs-in at 40Mb, and now creates a desktop shortcut icon (yay! no more hunting through Explorer and shunting bits around). Installation itself is, as always, fast and smooth, with the change log displayed in the opening window for those who are curious but who haven’t actually delved into Niran’s blog to read the information there.
On start-up, and for the first time with Niran’s Viewer, I did encounter a virus threat warning from AVG. This is something that is not uncommon among Viewers, with a number of TPVs (and the odd release of the Official Viewer) throwing up warnings on occasion. It certainly be taken to mean the Viewer is up to mischief. LL themselves provide some guidance on avoiding false threats. As the alert was related to the slplugin.exe file (a common cause of false virus alerts), I felt confident in marking the alert as a false flag and continuing.
As mentioned above, the User Interface is very much one of the focal points of NiranV’s work on the Viewer, and I took a look at some of the upcoming features in my overview of the initial Preview release. As such this is the logical place to start with this look.
The first noticeable thing with this release is the on logging-in the UI is extremely clean and minimal. with both bars and buttons only appearing at the top of the window, rather than the top and left, as with earlier versions.
The buttons displayed by default are Speak, Voice, People, Picks, Places, View, Inventory and Appearance, which represent an interesting mix and which, in a nod to Kirsten’s Viewer, are initially displayed in “S19″ format. There’s still no option to left/right align buttons either at the top or the bottom of the window (or to the top/bottom of the window if you place buttons on either side of your world view), so I’ll keep pestering NiranV on this .
If I’m totally honest, the top button bar is something I’m personally not overly keen on: when active, it actually blocks the uppermost section of the screen from use, so you can’t “dock” (or more correctly in the case of the 3.2 FUI align) floaters with the top bars: there will always be a gap. But this is just a personal niggle on my part.
A nice touch with Niran’s Viewer, for those who don’t use the top of the window for anything at all, is the ability to hide the Navigation Bar, etc., at the top of the screen completely when not in use (the mini-Location bar is automatically displayed in its place) by setting Preferences->User Interface Options->UI Customisation->HIDE TOPBAR AUTOMATICALLY. Introduced a couple of releases ago, this is still something I like rather a lot, given I don’t use the top button bar.
In terms of the button options, Niran’s Viewer presents pretty much the standard set of buttons that come with the Official Viewer, so there is not the massive range of buttons that are displayed by other TPVs – which itself isn’t really a problem. One Button that does make its debut with this release is the SCRIPT button, which opens the Script Information floater.
When it comes to colours, Niran’s Viewer presents the most customisable UI of any Viewer, something I’ve again covered in the past. With this release, NiranV adds a new tweak to the use of colour: to denote options in both menus and Preferences tabs which may result in Viewer issues and / or crashes, or which should be used with caution on the part of users unfamiliar with them. Those options where caution is advised are coloured orange with this release, with the more experimental / specialised options coloured red (see right). NiranV indicates that these colours may change with a future release, but the idea is certainly a good one in terms of being a visual indicator (although there is a risk colouring an option will encourage people to “click and see”).
In a slightly tongue-in-cheek move, NiranV has coloured the option to Exit the Viewer red because after all, as he says, it does close down the Viewer and logs you out of Second Life!
A new addition to UI floaters comes in the form a pin icon in the top right corner of most (not all) floaters. Called “Fix it!”, this locks a given panel in the position in which it is currently displayed on-screen. Once active, the floater cannot be accidentally dragged elsewhere on the screen. For those involved in activities such as photography, machinima and combat, I imagine this could prove a useful option. The option is also likely to appeal to those who like to have certain core panels (such as inventory) function in a similar manner to when the Sidebar was available (i.e. always appearing on the right of the screen), as they can “lock-in” the floaters to do so – although in the latter case, it should be noted that the functionality currently isn’t persistent between re-logs, although this should be fixed in a future update.
All Viewers include the option to include a “lag meter” in the top right corner of the menu bar, which shows the Viewer’s performance in terms of a colour-coded graphics bar. NiranV has improved this by allowing you to toggle between the bar and a numeric frame rate display.
Again, this is only a subjective measure of performance, but for those puzzled as to whether the traditional bar is indicative of good or bad performance, the numeric display should help clarify matters.
The bet way to describe using the Niran’s Viewer UI is smooth. That you’re in something very different to other Viewers is evident the first time you move your camera view – everything pans and slides very smoothly, almost as if you’re on a cushion of air, with motion gliding to a gentle halt. Of course, you can achieve the same in other Viewers by altering your camera movement options, but NiranV has done it for you, making the entire experience a lot .. well … smoother.
This approach can be seen elsewhere in the Viewer, particularly the way options and sub-panels in floaters slide gracefully in or out of view. Take a look at one of Niran’s excellent videos for a practical demonstration:
Preferences are the clearest instance of significant changes to the UI. NiranV has done a considerable amount of work in this area to try to rationalise both the way in which Preferences presents options to us, and how we interact with it. A lot of this I covered last time around, but NiranV has continued to refine and improve.
The first noticeable thing on the redesign – at least for those who used the Preview 1 release of 1.33, is that the Preferences panel now auto-sizes itself correctly according to your screen resolution; there are no more scroll options to the left / right of the panel as described in my look at the initial Preview release.
Those coming to Niran’s Viewer for the first time are liable to find the Preferences panel something of a “?!” moment when first opening it; who wouldn’t after the basic layout of the panel having remained pretty much unchanged (other than for custom tabs) almost since the dawn of time? However, I have to say that, with a couple of very minor reservations, NiranV has produced an alternative Preferences panel that makes a heck of a lot of sense and encourages fast, easy use.
At the top are five major category tabs, most of which are pretty self-explanatory. Each of these has up to three sub-tabs (displayed at the bottom of the floater) which help rationalise and order functions and options. Additionally, some tabs may have context-specific options that are only display when certain options are enabled (such as with advanced rendering in the Display and Audio tab, or many have additional toggle buttons on the right to shift between sub-groups of options.