Monday, September 30, 2013

Materials & Advanced Lighting Model - Are YOU Ready?

Daily almost I find myself in conversation with someone about whether materials will catch on. Coming from a creator (of usually mesh but not necessarily mesh) currently using materials as part of her work, the chat will normally wend its way around just how many people can see them anyway and what one should or shouldn't say in an ad for an object that includes materials. E.g. What exactly is "Materials Ready" supposed to mean?

Coming from a creator of mesh not currently using materials in her work the conversation will also revolve around just how many people can see them, but focused around a different sort of concern, which is whether the conversant needs to switch to a materials viewer yet or can afford to stall a little longer since apparently no one else can see them either.

I only ever guess that the number of people who can see materials is still very low, since on any given free sample giving day, I can rarely scare up more than a handful of people on a materials capable viewer (so far these are: the LL viewer, Kokua & Exodus). Add to that the fact that according to LL, the adoption of ALM (Advanced Lighting Model) is also still shockingly low, and the second kind of creator/conversant mentioned above (the one not yet using materials) has for now no real rush to switch viewers or get busy baking normal maps.  

I should maybe clear up a possible confusion. You need a materials capable viewer to apply the material textures to an object. To see the effect produced by materials on an object, you need the materials capable viewer as well as ALM turned on. And this means that even some of the people using a materials viewer still aren't seeing materials because they may not have turned on ALM. 

I just don't get that myself. From my view ALM even without materials in the offing is a whole lotta lovely to be had for no more than the flip of a switch. Add material textures into that mix and you get a whole lotta lovely, PLUS potentially a big reduction in LI and rendering resources. Seems to me like this shouldn't be that hard a sell.

But some people experience performance hits with ALM turned on, some people might be worried by the word "advanced" and some people have never actually used anything but the slider bar and graphics settings by category (Low, High, Ultra etc), so have no real idea what individual graphics settings are or do. Add to that the fact that not all viewers left ALM in the same category of graphics settings (everything from med/high to Ultra last I looked) and you have a recipe for peeps holding back based on fear or confusion or simply overlooking the issue altogether.

If you thought ALM was too advanced for your graphics cards, or worse a setting that requires Ultra Graphics, maybe it makes sense to approach this cautiously. No one wants a fried GPU right?

And how are we supposed to know what our graphics cards can handle?

Nalates' Things & Stuff to the rescue!

I was delighted to find that her latest blog post offers excellent lengthy reportage from the most recent TPV meeting at which who can see materials was discussed. Scroll down to the last subheading "ALM Stats" for the discussion as well as Oz Linden's tip on how to find out if your graphics card can handle ALM. 

Oz told Nalates where to look for the txt file in your viewer's installation folders to find a table that breaks what looks like all known graphics cards into classes. These classes are then used to determine what sort of graphics settings are suited to individual installations of Second Life based on system. In case that's not clear it means that when we download and fire up a fresh installation of Second Life, the viewer predetermines some graphics settings for us, based on among other things our graphics card classification as determined by LL. 

I was pretty pleased with this info, but I found the table almost impossible to read or decipher in Wordpad. Indeed, I could not even find my own graphics card in the blizzard of bits and pieces of data. So I copied everything out of there and into InDesign to recreate the data as a table that regular humans can read. (No reformatting, and no changes were required - making tables based on weird typesetter symbols and codes is just something InDesign happens to know how to do - go figure.) 

Graphics Cards by Class Table
Warning this small text file became a 22 page pdf so rather than copy it into this post, I have made it available here for preview or download.

So as Oz explains and Nalates relates, if your graphics card is a class 3 or above, you should have no trouble using ALM

My suggestion is turn it on just to see what you've been missing and you'll be, as they say, Materials Ready  :)

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