Virtual World viewers: Part 3 – Phoenix

In this review I’m looking at the well-known third-party viewer Phoenix. Originally I’d intended to review an older version but decided to try the more recent 1.6.0.1600 release. This is the team’s development to offer mesh-viewing capabilities.

I started using an older Phoenix version in 2011 when I became interested in some of the features that the Imprudence viewer did not have. Using this mesh-enabled viewer is a new experience for me. So, let’s take a closer look.

Download and Installation

Phoenix 1.6.00.1600 Log-in screen

Download time was around twenty seconds for a file size of 46.4 MB. There were no problems with the installation and the viewer takes 160.7 MB of space when installed. The above image shows the default log-in screen, which is automatically set for the main Second Life grid (Agni).

The drop-down menu under the Grid heading gives you three options: secondlife, local and secondlife_beta. The Grids button brings up the Preferences window with the tab for Grid management highlighted. This gives you an option of inputting your own choice of OpenSim grid or other. I have not tested this, so I’m unable to describe its functionality.

Downloads and documentation are found at: Phoenix Viewer

The website home page includes the developers’ blog, quick download links, links to the team’s wiki, support and bug reporting system (jira). There are also downloads and similar information for Firestorm, which is a V3 code-base viewer. I will be looking at Firestorm in a future review.

The Phoenix documentation has its own wiki pages which are laid out into subject areas, from FAQs to pages containing detail on specific features. In-world (Second Life) support group links are also listed. They offer more language options for German, Russian, French, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian and Portuguese speakers.

Navigation

Phoenix User Interface on log-in

As the above image shows; on a first look there seem few immediate differences to the user interface between Phoenix and Imprudence. The main options are on the bottom bar of the screen, with the other drop-down menus in the top left-hand side. There are a great many differences when it comes to viewer options and abilities.

The UI skin is Silver, which was picked up as my default preference. The camera and avatar movement boxes are on. I’ve already positioned them on-screen to where I usually keep them. I’ve turned the Mini-map on as by default it is off.

One point that I want to mention early on. Navigating the options can give the impression of an almost overwhelming amount of features to choose from. As a relatively experienced user of other viewers; I found many options that I’d never heard of before and was unsure how to use. I strongly recommend that anyone new to this viewer read the documentation thoroughly before starting to experiment with changes in the Preferences window.

Phoenix LSL Bridge message

If you have used an older version of the Phoenix viewer then you will receive a message referring to the LSL Bridge feature. I selected the delete option for the older Bridge object rather than keeping it.

Graphics

Phoenix UI settings

As mentioned in the Imprudence review; I usually bring up the Preferences window early on. In Phoenix there is a control on the bottom bar I like to pay attention to first. In the bottom right-hand corner of the screen is a handy expanding menu. It combines some of the settings you will find under the Graphics tab in Preferences, a Level of Detail slider, WindLight presets for sky and water (which has a vast amount of settings) and a slider bar to change the night/day settings.

The accessibility of the LoD setting I find really useful. On logging in the default is at 3.00, the slider will go to 4.00. It is worth noting that 4.00 is the maximum setting for this slider. If you wish to use higher settings you will need to go to the Advanced Menu for Debug Settings.

When you do log-in the first time you will find that the tick-box options for Use Region Settings and Automatic are on. Keeping them ticked ensures that your viewer’s WindLight will change to the default settings of each region or parcel you visit, where available. I prefer to keep my WL setting of choice and un-ticked the boxes.

Now we move onto the Preferences window.

Phoenix Default Graphics *Note the greyed-0ut Hardware Skinning option*

This looks familiar territory for a V1 series window but there are some important points to take note of.

My Graphics slider is at the High setting. Under Hardware Options I had turned on anti-alias at a previous log-in. For testing I changed it from 4x to 8x.  The SL anti-alias problem was present again and the viewer screen went black, so required a re-log. After re-logging anti-alias was on and I had no further problems with it.

Mesh capabilities

Here are some key things if you’re using this viewer for its mesh function. I was able to see rezzed mesh objects without changing anything in the Preferences window. I was pretty delighted at being able to view mesh with anti-alias turned on (with thanks to Thom for his mesh object uploads).

Unrigged mesh object in Phoenix

However, here the facility only works with unrigged mesh objects. Rigged mesh objects – hair, clothing, custom character avatars, etc., are only properly visible when the Hardware Skinning tick-box is enabled. As shown in the Phoenix Default Graphics image the tick-box for Hardware Skinning is greyed-out in the Preferences window.

I did some further reading of documentation and user comments on this feature. The simple answer is that my 2007 iMac’s graphics capability is not suitable for rigged mesh in this viewer, at this time. I’d like to be able to give a fuller explanation. Unfortunately, the technical details of graphic cards, software and coding variables are not subjects where I have relevant experience or knowledge.

I’m fortunate enough to have a newer, 2011, iMac (2.7 GHz, i5 series, 8GB memory, AMD Radeon HD 6770M) which I bought as my main work machine. I installed Phoenix 1.6.0.1600 and tried a brief test.

Viewer warning message

After a little bit of confusion on reading the viewer’s warning message; I enabled Hardware Skinning and it was possible to see rigged and unrigged mesh, as well as run anti-alias at the same time.

Avatar Appearance Editing

Multiple attachment points

Here are a couple of the features that encouraged me to try the Phoenix viewer. I was interested in trying out the multiple attachment points, this is where you can use an Add command to layer objects. A basic example is in the above image as it shows that two designated Chest attachments are worn at the same time. Phoenix also includes the ability to wear alpha layers and be able to tint them, if they have a modify permission.

There’s the worn item tab available in the Inventory window for quick reference. The viewer also includes the in-built Animation Overrider option so that you don’t have to wear an object to use your avatar animations.

Transactions

With help from Thom again, we ran through transaction tests for payment of L$ and transferring objects by dropping them into an IM window. I’ve also made purchases when in this viewer. No problems were encountered with any transactions.

Friends, Chat, Groups and Maps

Contacts list options

In the Phoenix viewer there are three additional options available when you open your Communicate window. The Contact Sets means it is possible to organise your list of friends/business contacts/social group contacts into named sets. I believe this is a particularly valuable tool if you do have an extensive contact list which includes people from many different spheres of SL. Import and Export are not options I have used at this time.

(I have blurred out most of my contact list for friends’ privacy)

As with Imprudence I found that the Local Chat window would show I had declined notices when I had highlighted them to read (without opening) in Groups Archive History.

The World Map window is as usual for V1 series, although I have found that when selecting the Land for Sale tick-box the yellow boxes which mark the parcels/regions are marginally slower to rez than in Imprudence.

Snapshots

When logging-in my snapshot dimension settings were remembered as being on Custom, as they were set-up as larger than the viewer screen. For testing I changed this to the viewer screen size. I have not taken a large number of snapshots but the ones I have were without problems. The 1.6.0.1600 release does list controls for rendering shadows and depth of field. I have not tested these features as they’re beyond the graphics capability of my 2007 iMac.

Summary

This is a longer review than my previous one, but, it still barely touches on the majority of features that the Phoenix viewer contains. On the developers’ website a description uses the words “feature rich”. They are not joking.

What percentage of the options are specifically useful or an improvement for my in-world experience is difficult to be certain of at this time. It does present a great opportunity for customisation depending on what your interests and preferences are.

I am delighted to find a viewer that allows me to see mesh without the horrible jaggedness that happens when anti-alias fails to work. Even if I can’t see rigged meshes on my recreational iMac. Both Thom and I have a keenness to try mesh projects, so this represents an important step forward.

However, this is not necessarily everyone’s primary interest. I haven’t been using Phoenix long enough, as yet, to learn how stable the features are. Judging on what I have experienced: I’d venture a guess that this viewer might not be the most suitable for people who have machines the same age as, or older than, my 2007 iMac. For people with more recent machines there is an opportunity to see mesh and other features running. During my tests I experienced two forced log-outs. I’m unable to say whether this happened because of any viewer problem as other factors seem just as probable.

Overall I’m comfortable with using Phoenix 1.6.0.1600 and I will continue using it as my current main viewer for Second Life.

This concludes my reviews for the V1 series. In my next reviews I will be looking at those that are based on V2/3 series.

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