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Thursday, December 07, 2023

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Dancing Lemon

At this point in time, it's not good. Most objects at midday lol like they are fullbright, and transparent-to-opaque gradient textures are no longer smooth, but have a 'stepped' appearance.
The result being that most of our products now look awful, and with 100's of products we are looking at YEARS of work to fix them.
The irony is, LL are so scared of rolling out scripting updates in case it breaks some ancient item or other, but with this one change, they have broken pretty much every existing item on the grid.
It wasn't ready to be pushed out.

thaumata strangelove

I'm excited about it but I am also getting 5fps. (I have an M1 Mac that usually gets more like 20fps on high graphics.)

Sasy Scarborough

The mirror project is a separate thing...it is coming it just is not part of this launch.

blip mumfuzz

Anything that adds even one FPS of lag is a problem. I have a fairly high end gaming laptop and, despite making all the recommended tweaks and adjustments, bad lag, TP crashes, and the need to relog, are daily occurrences. I use FS and when it finally arrives I truly and deeply hope there is a check box that enables me to avoid it entirely. In the end I and almost everyone I know in SL simply don't look that closely at objects for it to make any difference in our experience here.

Spiffy Voxel

I've tried out the latest Alchemy Viewer release, which has PBR, and at the moment I'm in the mixed/meh camp. There is a lot of potential there, but right now there are a lot of glitches that need addressing, and we're in a holding pattern because Firestorm is holding back until PBR's glitches are ironed out, and since that's the most widely-used viewer the number of people who can make use of PBR, as users and creators, is going to remain small. Don't get me wrong, I'm enthusiastic about it from what I've seen so far, but my impression is that it's not fully baked yet. (Pun intended.)

Otenth

There's already too much shiny in SL, so that part definitely does not excite me. I'm skeptical that graphic improvements *for me as a resident* will outweigh losses in performance.

Chic Aeon

My testing on the full PBR Winter Wonderland region wasn't impressive. First I went over in the FS viewer (not the one being "recalled") and things were fine. The windows had a glow somewhat like those holiday cards but certainly workable. I didn't think the look was superior, just different. Everything loaded pretty much instantly.

Then I went back right away with the newest Linden viewer and found myself in white cloud status for about a minute. This pretty much never happens to me. My computer is a year and a half old but was top of the line (gasp) when purchased during Covid.

The buildings (mesh) were all visible but all gray. It took a few minutes (maybe three) for the textures (ALL the textures now) to load. I didn't actually look at my FPS but I could move around just fine so it must have been acceptable. It appears that right NOW, a full sim PBR is more than many computers can handle and would certainly limit the ability of a fairly large percentage to enjoy Second Life.

My mesh items look almost exactly the same in both FS and the Linden viewer with PBR. The devs told us that folks using baked textures or substance painter would be fine. The creators that used a lot of materials will (if they choose) need to redo some products. This isn't a surprise for those reading the official progress reports.

I basically ignored PBR in SANSAR and my things looked really good there. Since I am more or less retired I have no plans to add PBR or PBR versions to items. I may play around with it some when the Firestorm viewer has it included, but I am in NO HURRY and will likely wait until I have to update my viewer before doing so. That was a good plan with EEP.

Post on this topic on my blog tomorrow at 9 am SLT (not planned - just serendipity) AND of course the fact that PBR is now on the grid LOL.

I DO like the reflection part of the newness. Those didn't work all that well in Sansar (lots of ghosting and stutter) but that was awhile ago and computer are heftier now.

Gwyneth Llewelyn

Ok, I admit: I'm drooling here ;)

Here I am on my underpowered, end-of-life, almost-a-decade-old Macbook Pro, usually always on the lowest graphics settings to get enough FPS to move around.

Now comes a completely new renderer, and my first thought was not if I managed to see anything with PBR materials; it was actually "will I even be able to use the viewer at all?"

Surprise, surprise...

At the current recommended settings, I get three times as many FPS as Firestorm on similar settings! (I say "similar" because, well, we're comparing two different rendering engines with different performance tweaks, but most residents will rely on the viewer to automatically set the "best" performance on their computer, and so that's what I can compare here.)

And — second surprise: I can actually see some of the effects of the new PBR materials! No, scratch that — I can actually even see the old materials with quite reasonable detail, at what are now the "lowest possible settings".

(PBR Materials also work at these lowest settings, of course. I know. I've tried!)

In other words: what is now the new "lowest possible settings" on SL 7 is about mid-level graphics on FS 6. But with three times the performance! I can obviously tweak this further...

So, even better than the PBR Materials, for me what matters even more is the impact on overall performance while actually enhancing the image quality!

Now, there are no miracles! So how can this be possible?

Actually, there are many small explanations, that, added together, might explain what is happening under the hood. SL's graphics engine was designed for the graphic cards of the early 2000s. This has both advantages (for instance, a wider support of different cards) but lots of disadvantages (new cards have way more ways to improve graphics performance natively, on their GPUs, which the SL engine only barely touched).

A good example: I have a NVidia card which was state-of-the-art on laptops back in 2014. Among its many features, it already had 2 GB of VRAM which could be allocated for textures. But the SL engine just used 512 KB at most; the nice FS team generously raised the limit to 1 GB, but, still, that meant wasting half the VRAM and relying on memory (or, even worse, disk cache) to store textures. Which, in turn, also means that a limited number of textures could be simultaneously loaded on the card's GPU cores to be processed — an important step when dealing with the levels of overlapping alpha layers, for example!

Modern graphics cards, with GigaBytes and GigaBytes of VRAM, would be completely underpowered — while, at the same time, still performing badly overall, thanks to the many constraints placed on the system that simply shouldn't be there any longer — not on modern hardware, anyway.

It's naturally generous of LL to think about those with underpowered systems (think schools, which do use SL on old machines!). However, they correctly figured out that what is "old" in 2023 is not what was "old" in 2013! Indeed, 2013 graphic cards are orders of magnitude more capable than 2003 graphic cards — and SL really doesn't need to support those any longer.

So... what I'm actually seeing is the best environment that was possible to show on a computer circa 2013 or thereabouts. But for me that's a huge step! More than I can describe, really; it needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Having more shinier things around — or waaaaay more detailed deep texturing — is rather just the cherry on the top of the cake. I've been stuck with just a few stale cookies so far; LL has presented me with a slice of Death by Chocolate!

Oh, I'm sure there are lots of small flaws here and there, and I imagine that it will take LL months, if not years, to fix them all (if ever!). Some things clearly continue to plague us, such as the before-mentioned alpha issues — some are not fixed yet, even with 4 times as much texture memory (in my case!), and remain basically the same as with the old renderer.

But in the mean time... wow. That's all I can say: wow. I'm absolutely baffled at all the performance & quality improvements that I'm experiencing now. Granted — they're nothing special, they're what's to be expected from a graphics card from 2013/4. It's just that I have never been able to get that experience on SL before (or at least never with more than half a FPS :) ).

Uh, as for mirrors... I can understand that they're a much-requested feature, although I cannot understand why. Mirrors have been an obsession of SL residents since the dawn of the grid — although I still don't understand exactly why. Also, we have had pretty decent mirrors now and then, as LL tweaked with their rendering pipeline, as this video from 2007 shows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmGzH3GZ5Jo

(Note that the technology that enabled these mirrors — which, as you can see, did reflect objects in real-time — has long been removed/deprecated from the current SL renderer.)

As it stands, the majority of SL users is pretty unaware of the existence of PBR Materials — because they refuse to install anything beyond Firestorm, which will enable them, in the best-case scenario, around March 2024, and that's only if LL implements several of the changes that the Firestorm team has flagged as "gamestoppers" (since Firestorm has chosen only to implement new technology that is as close to crash-proof as possible).

As such, I would say that there will be a long delay until there is "critical mass" of content using PBR Materials. Content creators — all of which rely on Firestorm, and who also know that their audience of consumers don't use anything besides Firestorm — held their collective breath before starting to release new items with PBR Materials. There are a few extra steps on their rendering pipelines that need to be done for that — namely, a different setup in the generation of the texture maps — and while this ultimately may save them a lot of time, it also means setting up a different way of working. It's arguable that, ultimately, everything will be actually much simpler (disclaimer: I'm not familiar with things like Blender & friends, I can only report from what I observe others doing!) in terms of setting up a work pipeline, but, right now, it means starting from scratch and tweaking with settings until a production-grade pipeline is developed.

Worse than that — as the LL entry in the SL Wiki page recommends, in order to cater for those who don't have a PBR-Materials-enabled viewer, content creators are advised to generate maps for the old system and for the SL 7 renderer, and either distribute content separately for each, or cleverly bake both in the same object. LL even goes so far as to admitting that there is the need "of some additional work".

Which leads us to the economics of designing such content. By releasing items for the SL 7 renderer, content creators are dramatically shrinking their consumer base, limiting it to a minority of users that are willing to use LL's official client. Adult content — still very likely the driving force in sales — fares especially badly, since adult users almost invariably need RLVa support, and, of course, that's just possible on non-LL viewers. As such, anyone into adult content (which is also the largest consumer base!) is highly unlikely to use the SL 7 viewer, and uninterested in acquiring content that, for all practical purposes, they will never see — not before March.

And, of course, none of the existing content is PBR-Materials-enabled.

As such, it's expectable that the majority of content will, at least for the next months, have absolutely zero visual impact in the users' experience. Ultimately, what this means is that only the few willing to use the SL 7 viewer for whatever reason (in my case, it's just because it dramatically increases overall performance on my old machine!) will be entranced with the new capabilities and exploit them fully — but they will be just a niche market.

There is, however, a possibility. SL photography will benefit dramatically from PBR Materials, setting up Reflection Probes correctly, and HDRi skies. Once these pictures start being featured on the popular Flickr streams, especially on those related to Vogue, every SL photographer will want them. And as these pictures start to be widespread, this will put some pressure on consumers demanding that their favourite content creators start releasing their content for the SL 7 viewer. It will also put pressure on the Firestorm developers to hurry up with whatever patching they can do to get the buggy LL code to behave properly; or even to get them to step on LL's toes to fix their bugs faster, so that the PBR-enabled Firestorm release date can be anticipated.

This can happen. It's just a question of getting all in place :) Suppose that LL partners again with Flickr to do a photography contest for "best picture using PBR materials". This would go a long way to show off the capabilities of the SL 7 renderer and make it desirable :)

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