On Monday 19 August, it was announced that Server Side Appearance (also known as Server Side Baking/Appearance, SSA, SSB/A, Project Shining or Project Sunshine) would be enabled this week, after a period of testing on the Release Candidate servers, BlueSteel and LeTigre. Now, although the announcement on the official blog post doesn’t give any specific date for when LL will “throw the switch” and enable SSA across the grid, Nyx Linden confirmed that:
- SSA will be enabled on the Main channel after the server deployments (read: rolling restarts) today, August 20.
- As for the Release Candidate servers (BlueSteel and LeTigre), SSA will be enabled on them after the server deployments of Wednesday, August 21. Right now, the only RC channel with SSA enabled is Magnum.
Of course, this means that those who were “holding out” for the last moment or holding on to obsolete viewers (which are also laggy, as they don’t take advantage of the significant improvements in the rendering pipeline that had been implemented in the past few months) have only a few hours to update their viewers. Currently, all maintained viewers (i.e. viewers that haven’t been abandoned) support SSA, with the exception of Dolphin (V3-based), which is hoped to get SSA support shortly, and Imprudence (V1-based), which has become practically obsolete and will need a lot of work before it gets up to speed again.
As a reminder, SSA takes the burden of avatar rendering from your computer – the rendering is done server-side. Also let me remind you that, if you’re still on an obsolete viewer, you’ll start seeing grey avatars all over the place, and you’ll appear as a cloud to everyone else.
Now, regarding the grid-wide activation of SSA, Nyx said:
We have stats that show that it should speed up avatar loading time for everyone, so hopefully it will go smoothly and be a great improvement across the grid.
Of course, LL’s official viewer supports SSA and the announcement includes Torley Linden’s video which explains what SSA does.
The slogan goes, “don’t be cloudy and grey – enjoy sunshine today”, but there are some issues, which I’ll explain below.
Areas of concern
In Her Saturday, August 17 update on the SL projects, Exotix (Inara Pey) documented a texture load issue that has reared its ugly head on week 30. One of the most common problems is “texture thrashing”, which can be summed up as having the textures constantly reloading and alternating between blurred and rendered states. This problem occurs most in systems where the virtual address space is filling up and/or the VRAM (the dedicated memory of the graphics card) is getting full (for instance, on older graphics cards with 256MB of dedicated RAM or less). This results in textures getting discarded (the “# textures discarded due to insufficient memory” error message on your screen).
The discards refer to the resolution at which the textures are rendered: 0 means full resolution, 1 means half resolution, and so forth. As the memory/address space gets full, the discard level rises, which makes the textures progressively appear blurrier. This, in turn, causes memory/address space to free up. So, textures begin to render correctly – only to start getting discarded and blurry again as the memory/address space gets full, and the viewer is thrown into an endless loop of textures alternating between blurry and rendered state.
This problem has been the topic of a number of JIRA reports on the non-public BUG project, but Firestorm have an open JIRA on it, which you can see: FIRE-10994. Another issue has been raised: textures fail to maintain focus from far to near (MATBUG-355), which results in a similar effect, and it could be a caching issue. These issues are still under investigation w.r.t. their root cause, which seems to be in the viewer code; the Firestorm team have found that, with non-SSA viewers, these problems don’t occur. Now, before the blame is put on the SSA code, it must be noted that there have been quite a few changes to the viewer’s rendering code lately, so singling out a cause is not going to be that simple, especially given the fact that, due to the way mandatory updates are handled, older versions of the official viewer cannot be easily tested. Also, these issues are difficult to reproduce, as some users experience them and others don’t. If you are having these problems, do file a detailed JIRA – public or not, it’s the only way to get someone to investigate the matter and work on it.
For the time being, though, there are some workarounds proposed by Whirly Fizzle of the Firestorm team:
- Enable texture compression.
- Lower texture memory buffer.
- Disable VBO (Vertex Buffer Object) – this can help with memory bloat, but you will sacrifice some of your framerate.
- Go to your debug settings and disable TextureLoadFullRes (set it to FALSE) – never mind what some content creators say.
- If you use Firestorm, go to your debug settings and set FSDestroyGLTexturesImmediately to TRUE.
- Project Sunshine deployment announcement – Linden Lab
- Project Shining – Linden Lab
- Nyx Linden announces SSB/A ‘imminent’ (this blog)
- SL project reports week 17 (2): COF corruption and SSB/A – by Exotix (Inara Pey)
- SL projects update week 18 (1): viewer, SSB/A and materials – by Exotix (Inara Pey)
- SL Server Beta User Group wiki page
- SL projects update week 33 (2): server releases, group bans, texture issues – by Exotix (Inara Pey)
- [#FIRE-10994] (Firestorm JIRA)
- [#MATBUG-355] Textures do not maintain focus from far to near – Second Life Bug Tracker
For more details on SSB/A, I highly recommend (as always) reading the detailed and concise coverage that Exotix (Inara Pey) has offered on Her blog ever since LL disclosed technical details about it.
- Avatar Baking: “and the clock has started!” (15 December, 2012)
- Server-side Baking / Appearance update (6 April, 2013)
- Server-side Baking / Appearance: key questions answered by the Lab (14 May, 2013)
- Server-side deployment news (18 May, 2013)
- All SSB/A updates by Exotix (Inara Pey)