TouchDesigner 2021 Release

It’s always a great time of year when a big TouchDesigner release is dropped. Over the years we’re seeing a change of pace in development from a constant flow of new features appearing in the stable branch towards a bigger stable release happening while new features get tested in experimental. The first official big 2021 release of TouchDesigner has lots of new features, workflow improvements, and tools you can take advantage of now. Here’s the fastest way to know what’s new!

New operators

The first piece of fun is always the new operators. What are the cool new things we can do? Let’s hit it:

  • Lens Distort TOP – this one could be a hidden gem for pros and productions and XR workflows in that it allows you to quickly and easily apply lens distortion correction to your camera feeds in real time
  • Point Transform TOP – I LOVE this one. Most workflows that need to scale are moving to the GPU, this includes working with particles, point clouds, and big sets of visual data. Point Transform TOP, along with Limit TOP and others, are part of a collection of operators that don’t do anything “visual” instead they’re math operations wrapped in TOPs. Perfect for those that want to get involved in these workflows without doing workarounds or needing to learn GLSL.
  • Sprinkle SOP – for a long time, anyone who wanted to do this would grab the Script SOP example out of Op Snippets! But now we finally have an operator that can scatter random points along the surface of a mesh. Great for particle system usage and instancing. We’ve got a video about it here!
  • JSON DAT – similar to Point Transform TOP, for those that have to work with JSON but maybe don’t want to fully commit to Python (you should at least commit a little bit though!!), you can use the JSON DAT to fetch keys and values from a JSON tree without needing to write parsing scripts. We have a video about that here.
  • wrnchAI CHOP – This is something I haven’t personally used, but every demo I see and all the colleagues I’ve talked to say it’s pretty incredible the accuracy of the skeleton tracking without all the fuss of a Kinect. That sentence alone excites me enough!

Floating Licenses

I’ve written about the new floating licenses in another post that goes deeper into it. I think they’re great. It’s essentially a TouchDesigner license in a file that acts like a dongle. What’s there not to like? It’s great for companies that are doing remote installs, since you can have your player licenses installed by default, and then override them with the floating edit license. They’re great for schools who have larger number of licenses that need to be moved between labs/departments/etc. They can be used for licensing cloud boxes, which are quickly becoming a lot easier with platforms like Paperspace.

New features

Here’s some of the top highlights of general new features:

  • NDI In TOP – supports NDI | HX which is GPU hardware accelerated new codec of NDI (meaning more NDI without bottlenecking CPU)
  • Video Stream In/Out TOPs got a lot more firepower with support for HLS/DASH and SRT protocols.
  • OpenVR CHOP got better support for controllers and controller channels
  • OpenCV in TouchDesigner got a big update to include the full 4.5.1 toolkit including CUDA and contrib modules for things like 3D object recognition, market detection, etc
  • New camera modes for 3D viewers – if you’ve ever moved the 3d viewer and thought “this feels weird…” then you’re in luck. You can right click inside of the viewer and you’ll have 4 different camera navigation modes you can choose from that will help you match whatever previous software you have in muscle memory
  • Generator TOPs received an input for compositing their output with an input. This is kind of huge because you can imagine not needing tons of extra Over TOPs and Composite TOPs (although it might be better for optimization still!) just to do simple compositing

Should I upgrade?

If you’re within about 1 month of delivering a big project, I wouldn’t recommend updating only because this is such a feature rich version that also has some backward compatibility warnings, so if you did upgrade it might be a hard downgrade. If you’re more than 1 month away from a large project delivery, I would ABSOLUTELY upgrade. Between the new operators, features, licenses, and bug fixes, it’s a fantastic update.

Full release notes

If you’re liking what you’re reading and want to take a deeper dive into all the new features, you can go to the full release notes page on the wiki and search for your favourite operators or get deeper insight into a lot of the changes.

Wrap up

I’m always excited when a new TouchDesigner release is dropped, and I’m even more excited when it’s the first big release of the year and is full of new features. As always, TouchDesigner is touching on a lot of different areas of improvement, so it’s hard to say “It’s good for XR” or “this is ‘the audio’ update.” What you can take away is that there are a lot of cool updates and you should definitely dive in and explore the ones that excite you the most!