Firestorm 2.5.1.16671 Beta Viewer Released Review

Firestorm, often called Phoenix-Firestorm, is the series 2 viewer that will replace the Phoenix viewer. The Firestorm team is endeavoring to make Firestorm a transition viewer that series 1 viewer users can use without too much trouble. Also, new users coming from Linden Lab’s viewer won’t be totally lost. Plus the viewer can be customized to be more series 1 or 2 like.

FS110815-bx

Firestorm Viewer Beta

Download and Install

(Download) The Firestorm announcement recommends a clean install of Firestorm and suggests the previous settings file won’t work with the new viewer. Unfortunately the Firestorm uninstall while asking if you want to remove all files, doesn’t. The cache files and folder are deleted. (C:\Users\[user_name]\AppData\Local\Firestorm\). The settings and logs files are left behind. To remove them one needs to delete the files in: C:\Users\[user_name]\AppData\Roaming\Firestorm\.

If you are into saving your chat logs, remember to move them to a safe location before deleting the folder.

The install uses a new folder for the actual program. It reuses the previous cache and log-settings locations.

Firesotrm w/Dialog Menu #1, Radar #2, Mini_map #3 and Stats open

In the above image (click for larger image) You can see the new look for Dialog Menus (#1). The Radar (#2) is active but does not pop to front. The Mini-Map (3) also remains on top of the sidebar Radar panel. In the Stats panel I blanked out FPS as it was not representative of actual performance (I went from Word to Snip and the viewer was in background, which reduces FPS by half or more.)

Experience

The install is simple. Agree to the EULA and you’re on your way.

The first thing that popped up was the horribly annoying Media Filter. This feature was added into SL and third party viewers after the RedZone exploit. Some viewers have created a less intrusive filter. Most users with viewers using this style of notification tend to turn the filter off. At least I do. The filter does have white and black lists. So, after a time it becomes less intrusive. Enable or disable in the upper menu: Avatar→Preferences→Sound & Media→Enable media filter.

The next noticeable feature is the floating panel that is the sidebar panel we see in Linden Lab (LL) viewers. It can be opened and closed with the HOME icon in the bottom menu.

Except for minor menu differences there are lots of similarities to the SLV2.

In Preferences General and Chat are what you expect, nothing much new here.

Graphics settings includes Lighting & Shadows, but enabling it pops up a warning advising one not to use the feature. So, it appears they don’t have this quit ready for prime time yet. The panel also includes Ambient Occlusion and Sun/Moon or dynamic shadows. But, one needs Lighting & Shadows enabled before they are active choices.

On the Graphics tab there are four tabs not seen in SLV2 viewers; General (the SL settings), Hardware Settings, Rendering, and Global Illumination.

Hardware Settings – to understand these and decide how to set them see: Graphics Tweaking for Second Life, which is mostly for nVida but the concepts of things like Ambient Occlusion are the same in all systems regardless of video card.

Render – There are some settings on the render tab that we usually find in the snapshot panel. Fortunately they are repeated there. A feature not in SLV2 is a setting for the number of parallel texture downloads. There is more control over textures and how they are displayed.

Global Illumination – This feature is about creating more realistic lighting. In the simplest terms it adds reflected light. This option requires newer video cards and lots of GPU/CPU power.

Sound & Media – is similar to SLV2’s with the addition of features. Media Filter (see above) being the main additional feature.

Network & Cache – replaces SLV2’s Setup tab. Firestorm provides much more control over the caches than the SLV2 does. Firestorm has the 10gb cache now used in SL viewers. An indexing system has been added for caching textures in SLV2 and I assume it is part of Firestorm, but I didn’t see where they say. The idea is the index and larger cache will make the cache faster and more efficient. So, when returning to a region you should see faster rez.

Move & View – this is the panel where the double-click teleport is enabled or disabled. Otherwise it is similar to SLV2.

Dialog Alerts – renamed but the same as SLV2.

Privacy – similar to SLV2. Chat log settings and Firestorm unique features are on this panel. Controls for what info the viewer puts out, like Selection Hints, are on this page.

Advanced – This contains the control that allows one to turn on the grid manager and grid selection at login. Enabling it pops a warning that the viewer may not work on all grids. The only grids in the grid drop down at login are ADITI and AGNI, the two main SL grids, beta and main respectively.

UI Extras – User Interface Extras – This is unique Firestorm feature that collects many of the viewer’s UI behaviors into a single place. The measages popping up in the lower right are called toasts. You can control how they work and disappear here.

Skins – what you expect… alternate viewer skins. Be warned. Using skins other than the default in a Beta release is likely to produce more problems. But, the Firestorm will appreciate any testing bug reports you do.

Firestorm – The RLVa enable control is here (Restrained Love Viewer). The control for vertical or horizontal chat tabs is here. A nice feature here is the ability to select which Search is used, the older SLV2 Search or the new SLV2 Beta Search. Use the Beta. The Search button in the bottom menu is off by default. Right-click and empty part of the bottom menu bar to open a button selection menu. Also buttons can be dragged to rearrange them.

The new search is slow opening, taking 10 to 15 second to appear. Search results live in a closed search panel for a few minutes, but eventually time out and searches have to be run again. To find people and not have to mess with figuring out whether to use Display or login name, click the People Filter to the right of the search query window. It seems to find people whether you use Display or login names.

There are 4 tabs on the Firestorm panel; General (described above as Firestorm), View, Chat, CmdLine, and Windlight.

View – Has some settings like Camera Restraints.

Chat – this panel has a load of settings related to chat. The OOC close and other handy features. When you first see the chat window in operation I think you’ll be impressed. This is probably the best Nearby Chat window of all the SL style viewers. I don’t care for the avocado green used… but that is my problem. When looking to change the color I found the control in Avatar→Preferences→Colors→Chat Headers. It would be nice to have all the chat settings in one place… but they do seem to have all the color choices in one place. So, it is kinda a how you think about it thing. (The color change doesn’t seem to stick… sometimes it does… confusing.)

CmdLine – These are the setting that allow one to type commands in chat and have the viewer execute them. Like dd 64 to set the Draw Distance to 64 meters.

Windlight – This is the feature that allows you to tell the viewer how to handle Region Windlight settings. These settings are not the LL Windlight Region Settings. These are the Phoenix style region settings. A region owner can set region Windlight to suit their build. Your viewer will use those setting automatically, if you allow it.

LL has a project viewer out that allows estate managers to set Windlight values for their region. That viewer allows one to see THOSE SL Windlight settings. For now we have two versions of region Windlight. I expect in the next Firestorm release the LL style will be adopted. But it may be some time before LL rolls the out, like a month or two.

Profiles are the early SLV2 style… sort of. It seems to be a hybrid profile from the old series 1 mixed with series 2 look. One can open more than one profile. I suspect updating the profile in Firestorm is unlikely to update one’s web profile. So, this profile feature will likely have to change to the newer Web Profiles LL is using at some point. The service that supplies info to the older profiles will likely be turned off at some point.

No Mesh Render

Mesh

A trip to the ADITI Grid’s Mesh Regions shows mesh is not handled well. Also, there is no Mesh Upload Feature.

Performance

In my cottage with High Graphics settings I get 35 to 44 FPS. In Celtic Myst (Stygia South) once things rez I get around 33 FPS. Sleet was empty (no avatars) and I got about 25 FPS. So, the viewer is pretty fast.

I jumped over to Dance Island, in the shopping area. Here you can see the area rez speed is fast as there must be a billion textures to download. Even with textures downloading I was getting 22 to 33 FPS.

KDU

The Firestorm Team purchased the right to use KDU. KDU is the same proprietary package that LL uses to decompress images in LL viewers. This should make the viewer faster . Whether it is KDU adding the speed, I do find Firestorm a fast viewer. That will make it a hit with combat gamers.

However, KDU is a proprietary program and the team cannot release the code their DLL is compiled from. So, like the Emerald Viewer we have a chunk of code no one but team members can review. This is not a problem unique to Firestorm. Many TPV’s have DLL’s that we can’t see into.

Firestorm Radar - Actions Menu Open

Radar

For many residents Radar is a necessary feature. In combat regions it can be a point of contention. Whatever the case, Firestorm now has radar. It has moved to the side panel. The image I show also includes the Mini-Map, which is not part of Radar. Radar has map that is mostly hidden in the image.

Pie Menu

When right-clicking on an avatar for the menu, one gets a pie menu. The handy items are in it; Goto (at the top), mute, Profile, IM, More…, Pay…, Add friend (which should probably be labeled: Add Possibly Lame PITA), and Report.

AO Control Menu

Animation Override

Firestorm has an AO built into the viewer. The instructions for setting it up are in the Phoenix Wiki. See Client AO. Since I change from viewer to viewer, I keep my AO in a HUD.

At some point it would seem all viewers would have a built in AO and eliminate the need for HUD AO’s. The challenge comes for the need to be able to easily set up and change AO sets. With the coming of mesh avatar replacements the need for quick and easy changes will likely increase.

Build Panel

Only the basic SLV2 build options are in this viewer. The Build Math, copy Position, Size, and Rotation haven’t made it in yet.

The texture and prim alignment tools from SLV2 are included.

I didn’t see the Projector Settings in Build. May be I missed them. But, lights, shadows, and projectors are incomplete in this release.

 

Statistics

The stats panel (Ctrl-Shift-1 toggle) does not seem to remember how I configure it. So each new secession, I have to deal with an expanded set of stats.

Complexity

Viewers are probably the most complex application most people use. Applications like 3DS Max, Photoshop, Blender, and Excel are deep applications that few, if any, people know everything there is to know  about them. Linden Lab is striving to create a simpler viewer, thus the introduction of  Viewer Modes and the Basic and Advanced modes.

It appears Firestorm will be a power users’ viewer. To support the complexity of Firestorm the team is providing classes and one of the best viewer manuals available. See the Firestorm-Phoenix Wiki for schedules and support. Additionally they have a very active in-world group with ‘official’ support personnel.

Over time we will see how these two approaches work.

Summary

I’ve been using SLV2 style viewers far more than the series 1 viewers. Firestorm is probably a good transition viewer, but I’m not a good one to say. I’ve heard some saying it will work for them. But I think it feels and looks pretty much like a series 2 viewer on default start. In the default state several people trying it out feel it is too much like SLV2. Some want a viewer that is exactly like the Phoenix or SLV 1.23, user-interface-wise. Unfortunately that is not going to happen. There are too many new features coming and old features based on services LL is going to be turning off. But, one can customize the look… arrangement of things mostly.

As time passes the viewers based on series 2 code will enjoy LL making the user interface and render engine more modular. As that happens TPV Dev’s will be able to do more with the user interface.

I used it for a couple of hours. No problems, hangs, or crashes. I like it. The team is doing an amazing job. If you like the viewer drop by their group and say thanks.

Firestorm is incomplete. It is way more complete than the previous preview viewer. Everything most of us need is available in Firestorm. It is certainly complete enough to be your daily use viewer.

There are lots of questions popping in the Firestorm Help group. So, getting help is easy. The new chat upgrades in LL’s utility servers has really helped group chat. I could carry on a conversation in the Phoenix-Firestorm Preview  group from Dance Island with only a few seconds lag. That I could even participate is a change.

17 thoughts on “Firestorm 2.5.1.16671 Beta Viewer Released Review

  1. The trick to making Firestorm more V1 feeling is to tear off all of the sidebar tabs and minimize them. Then enable the appropriate buttons on the bottom bar.
    I think the Firestorm AO will become the standard for 3rd party viewers at least. It is very good and versatile.
    There are Video Tutorials for most things and a good Wiki with detailed instructions.
    For most people this is not an “install and go” viewer. Whether coming from V1 or V2 there is a learning / setup curve.

    • Shrug, have you changed your FS to a more V1 UI? I am asking because I would like to see a screen shot of someone’s FS that has.

      I agree the FS AO is likely the model for all viewer AO’s. However, those of us that switch from viewer to viewer will want them to be compatible across viewers.

      Install and Go… yeah, this is getting to be more the case will all viewers. SLV2 with modes is an attempt to deal with an easier way to handle the high learning curve for the viewer. The direction is to have more ability to have predefined modes. I expect the modes idea to move to TPV’s. I expect the LL modes to go from Basic mode to more modes than just one, Advanced. Something has to be done to flatten the learning curve and current SL stats are suggesting the mode idea is working.

      • The FS AO is inventory based, the viewer looks in the Firestorm folder in inventory for it’s settings. All of the animations need only be in your inventory somewhere, there are only links in the settings.
        Another viewer using the same or similar AO could have different settings. Everything would work so long as the linked animations are in your inventory.
        Setup is extremely easy, doing it for each viewer would hardly even be an inconvenience and in any case would only need to be done once.

    • I suspect that by the time mesh reaches the main grid they will have added mesh support. KirstenLee has a working mesh upload. They may adopt it. The upload is apparently the most complex part as it relies on Havok to determine the physics aspect of the mesh.

  2. Thanks once again for a great blog, Nal! Love reading your stuff, and the tips and hints on here got me started with Firestorm. You rock!! <3

  3. Great review as always, Nalates!

    I started using Firestorm this past week. Prior to that, I had gone directly from Viewer 1 to Phoenix and have never used Viewer 2. It took a couple of days to figure out what was where (with the help of the wiki) but I really like how Firestorm is shaping up and am excited to see how it progresses.

    I have set up the AO in Firestorm and really, really like how it works. When you open up the tab, you see a ? which takes you directly to the wiki that tells you how to set it up. Unlike Phoenix where I had to put all the animations in the #Phoenix folder with the notecard, you can use whatever AO folders you have in your inventory (notecard and animations do have to be in the folder) and drag the ZHAO II notecard into the box and it loads itself based on the notecard. This enables you to use multiple AOs – for example, I have a Japanese one I use when wearing a kimono in addition to a new one I recently got and the older one I have been using. All you have to do is click, get a drop down menu of your AOs, click on the set you want to use and you are done.

    Additionally you can go to each type of animation and set it for cycling, random, length of time so lot of nice customizing there. Very nice feature and was easy for me to figure out and use. The Wiki shows more than one method of getting your animations into the AO as well.

    • Thanks for the info on the AO. I’ve shied away from it because I change viewers so often. Now I want to play with it.

  4. I like it but I find there is some wasted spce ( I like to use as much of the screen as possible, for eg the chat box which I always tear away, it has a header with local chat on it and the untear clicker and the x, then it drops down to another line with the translator, that should all be on one line, just my opinion and the same with the viewer window itself, one line with the version number name of avatar and then – ¤ X, could put avatar / COMM / world / content… and all that good stuff between ( yeah my screen is that small )

    • ok that was my comments as an ordinary person, now my views as a club and group owner, this viewer and to be fair, so does the second life new beta, stuff that already took long enuff to do, now takes sooo much longer as I have to hunt for everything, the group pages are now nightmares to manage, its a good thing I still have my old phoenix or I would give up SL. Here is a good example, today I had to go into group and return crap that shouldn’t be on the sim so where is the friggen refresh button that lets me see who has what on the land? I mean come on, why did that have to be removed? After spending 5 minutes trying to bring up items on land I gave up in frustration, when I’m working I don’t have time to learn how to use a new interface, I did give this a good shot but as far as doing the stuff I need to do from day to day to maintain the sim and club, this viewer fails miserably. And no, i really don’t care how to bring up a list of items, it should have been obvious as soon as I opened that page, not necessitating another hour long hunt for more instructions

      • Am much happier with the final release, not sure what was attempted before with the profiles but I see things were reversed to the old profile look which is much better, my click to offer joining button is back, yay!

  5. I really like firestorm. Your efforts to show us how it works are great. I keep thinking what love and dedication just for the pure pleasure of doing it.
    Thank you so much.

  6. Thanks for the review. I’ve been trying the beta for about a month now and find it more and more likeable. It seems to answer most of my complaints I had about the LLV2
    The obvious question is: given all the time LL have had to respond to these moans from me and many others, how come they never listened?
    Is common sense restricted to the Firestorm team?
    (looks forward to the one with mesh enabled)

    • The LL viewer team has different priorities, workloads, and goals than do TPV Developers. From watching the LL team and being in the User Group meetings I’ll point out they do listen to the residents.
      Many things residents ask for various Lindens would personally like to add or fix. For instance; older viewers will render mesh clothes as prims. It is hard to know if the problem is a slow rendering sculpty or a poorly built whatever or just plain ugly. It’s been suggested the mesh clothes default to a barrel with suspenders in old non-mesh capable viewers to make it clear it is a viewer problem. While the Lindens seem to like the idea, no one is going to spend the time to go back and change old viewers. More important things need to be added or fixed and Linden programmers are employees following management’s direction. Programmers and management have different ideas of priority. If the programmers can convince management priority shifts and they are allowed to work on what they see as important. Picking on the Lindens or belittling them is counterproductive.

    • The current viewers run with Win8. If you are having a problem look in the Answers section of the SL Forum.

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