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Photo Academy: SL Viewer’s Graphic Settings


Many of us is well aware of graphical options in SL Viewers, but questions about them appear again and again. I do not intend to save the world with this post, I know questions will never stop (what is good, dare to ask!), but maybe it would help someone understand what is what in this subject. I will try to go over most of options in the Graphics tab in viewer’s Preferences window to show what options does what. Let’s start!

General informations.

First, let’s have a quick view at proper tab in Preferences window:

Well, tons of options here. This is why many users don’t bother with them and simply useĀ  the slider on top, called ‘Quality and speed’. Basicaly, it allows you find a balance between performance and graphics quality without going deep into details and it’s nothing else but couple of presets ready to use. As you slide it, some options are being turned on or off, what affects how your screen looks like and how fast framerate you get. You could ask: why bother with details then? Well, you don’t have to. But it’s possible to improve the look of the world or the viewer’s performance quite often by changing some options here. It may happen after the tweak the performance rises significantly, while the quality does not drop that much. If you are into SL photography or movie making, these detailed options are definitely something you want to know about, in my opinion.

I divided the whole window into 4 sections I am going to describe below.

1. Shaders.

What is a shader. Well, if you’re interested more about it, read the Wikipedia article about it, but in short: it’s a piece of software that renders the graphics. First four option in this section can be turned on and off separately, but these are very basic options and in these days I really doubt any of you have one of them switched off. You can obviously experiment to see how world looks like with having them off, but to briefly explain: they allow to have textures visible on objects, same about basic, not pointed lights (light sources) and the water looks more less like a water. Yes, I could give long descriptions here, but this is really not interesting.

Last three options in shaders section depend on each other – turning on one allows to turn on next one. So, to have Atmospheric shaders turn on you must first turn on Basic shaders, and so on. These three options are more essential and it happens some people have them turned off as they affect performance. What are they for:

  • Atmospheric shaders allow you to see atmosphere lights, colours, sky clouds.
  • Advanced Lighting Model – very important option, allows you to see whole bunch of effects like shiny surfaces and shadows. Some of these must be turned off separately, but with ALM turned off you won’t be able to see any of them. It also allows you to use direct lightings (and we will learn about light source types soon, in the next article).
  • Ambient Occlusion – this option allows you to turn on the effect how the ambient lights affect the scene. Example: imagine a sunny scenery with a cube rezed. It’s most likely you can see lights when you’re outside the cube and you see darkness when you’re inside of it, it’s what ambient occlusion is for.

2. Shadows, water reflections and point lighting.

Shadows is a dropdown menu with few options available: ‘none’ (no shadows rendered at all), ‘Sun/Moon’ (only shadows casted by windlight light sources will be casted), ‘Sun/Moon + Projectors’ (all light sources cast shadows). Obviously it affects your overall performance as well as the quality of rendered graphics. If you can’t see shadows, check this option first.

Avatar Shadows is another dropdown menu, basically it turns on or off how shadows are being rendered on and by the avatar – it may happen your head cast shadow on your shoulder etc., this option controls how good (if at all) such shadow is visible on your body.

Water Reflections – the name seems to explain everything and I am sure you would want to play with it if you photograph lanscapes, it allows to reflect various types of objects rendered in SL in the water.

Point Lighting – controls the amount of light sources rendered when Advanced Lighting Model is OFF. For most photography needs we’ll have ALM turned on, so this option doesn’t bother us much here.

3. Various options.

Draw distance – controls how far from your current point of view the scene is being rendered.

Max particle count – how many particles you can see at a time.

Maximum complexity – it’s quite new option, controls at what complexity level an avatar is being shown to you as jellydoll.

Max. # of non-impostor avatars – sets the number of avatars being rendered around you at a time.

Post process quality – controls how the glow is being visible, lesser value the glow becomes more pixelated.

Avatar physics – if set to 0, physics is disabled, higher value the physics is being calculated more detailed.

4. Level of Details factors.

Few sliders that control the amount of details the viewer will use to render various ‘elements’ of the world. Very briefly: higher values mean things around you should be less polygonal.

Avatar Rendering lets give the process of rendering parts of avatar and its clothes to graphics card directly, what may increase performance.

Terrain detail is always grayed out when Basic Shaders is on, so in most cases it’s nothing we can change.


One: dare to experiment! Yes, I know, I say this every time in every post. But it’s exactly what you need to do to get best results in many, many areas. You can obviously trust viewer’s presets and use top slider only, but why not try to have shadows turned on all the time while draw distance is limited to nearest area? Or maybe you want to turn off or limit particles? Same with water reflections, I doubt you really want to have them all at maximum level for all the time if your PC isn’t top performance. Just try to find your individual settings that makes what you do in SL nicer or easier.

Two: if you suffer from lack of PC performance, but you need high settings quite often – you can simply make your own sets of settings and save/load them. In the same preference tab you will find buttons like ‘Load’ and ‘Save’, these are your friends if you want to switch between favorite settings for every day life and photo works, for example. Why not make settings like ‘home’ and ‘crowded area’ too, for example? Less clicking, less crashing, less troubles.

Three: most of options in this settings tab are independent, what means you can have some at maximum values while other at minimum. No need to slide to ‘Ultra’ and suffer 0.1 frame per second (and most probably crash at some point) while you can simply switch on most needed options and turn off those you don’t need or you can live without.

Four: if you thought number two is what you need and you’ve made your own presets – you most likely won’t need to return to change these settings again, or very rarely. All time you really needed to make things easier was couple of mins to read my post and prepare two, maybe three presets. At the end of the day you don’t even have to understand or remember what shaders are, it’s not what aboud SL is. Know your limitations and let them become neutral things, not affecting your joy of using SL.

Five: there are some other tabs in Graphics settings, I know. I can describe them too, but I need a little feedback to make sure it’s what you guys really need. No feedback – no post about advanced graphics options ;P



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