Saturday, September 11, 2010

Riding a Phoenix & Viewer Development

After updating my Seawolf dragons (Web) I found that one of the sculpted prims wasn't rendering correctly and after consulting other dragons at the sales site I decided to try another viewer. Lo and behold, logging in with the Imprudence viewer (Web) showed that the problem was likely with the official 2.x viewer (Web), but to confirm it, I needed to try another viewer not based on the v2.x system and that meant skipping over Kirsten's viewer (Web). With limited choices I decided to try the Phoenix viewer (Web) despite misgivings about security and safety from being unwittingly duped into illegal activities. And I found it's actually rather nice in many ways.

There are features of v2.x that I miss, like the sidebar, the address bar, and the Favorites bar, but the UI skin makes it nearly as clear to use (and thus easy on my eyes) as my preferred viewer. With all the advanced features, however, I was greatly surprised to not find the ability to use preset window sizes, a very valuable feature that helps reduce viewer-side lag (the larger the window, the harder your graphics processor has to work) and one that helps create consistent snaps in-world.

This picture was originally taken full-screen (2560x1305) with Phoenix while I was experimenting with the Windlight controls near the Chat bar. They are nearly as useful and as easy to use as those in Imprudence giving all but the most advanced tools in one, neat little pop-up window. The image is a HDR-like* composite of three different snaps taken with different Windlight presets.

But back to the Phoenix viewer. I found it faster in all respects than my sessions with the now defunct Emerald viewer. Much faster, actually. I wonder if that can be credited to less bloatware than the latter or improved texture handling. Looking through the menus and preferences there are still an unbelievable number of functions I either don't want, need, or understand. Like I get two notification windows when someone logs on or off, one being the traditional "blue note" and the other is generated by Phoenix elsewhere on the screen. Why do I need both and can one be turned off? At least it is better than the near lack of notification given by the v2.x viewers and it is nice to see a record of same in local Chat History.

Differences like this are why The Lab needs to encourage third party viewer development, regulated for user safety, and then learn from the features that prove popular. This might improve Resident retention, provide a better experience for new Residents, and generally foster time spent in-world. It's pretty clear that while quite a few things were done well, the v2.x viewer was developed in Shrödinger's box with seemingly little regard for the community. I hope that going forward the process of viewer development is more interactive with all parties cooperating one what is best for all.

*Read more about High Dynamic Range imagery here. Click the image above for a larger version.

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