Tuesday, June 15th, 2021 Posted by Jim Thacker

View USD files inside Windows with this free Shell Extension

Games developer Activision has released its USD Shell Extension, a neat open-source project that lets Windows users view and format USD files natively inside File Explorer.

The Shell Extension reduces the need to open software to perform basic tasks like previewing USD files, which can be done in 3D directly inside the Windows preview pane, using any Hydra renderer.

Preview, search and edit USD files directly inside Windows
The Activision USD Shell Extension is intended to let VFX and games artists working with data in Pixar’s Universal Scene Description format to manipulate them directly using the Windows file manager.*

It’s architected to handle large production assets, running the majority of tasks asynchronously outside the File Explorer process, so as not to stall or crash either Explorer or the Windows desktop.

Once installed, users can preview USD files in 3D inside a standard Windows preview pane.

By default, the 3D viewport is rendered using UsdView, the native USD viewer, but you can switch it to use any Hydra render delegate you have installed, like Arnold or Houdini’s Karma renderer.

The Shell Extension also automatically generates thumbnails for USD files, and makes it possible to search for USD metadata – including comments, documentation and custom layer data – via Windows Search.

In addition, users can convert assets between USD, USDA, USDC and USDZ formats from the right-click context menu, or edit the code in place using Visual Studio, or any other specified IDE.

Licensing and system requirements
Activision USD Shell Extension is available under an Apache 2.0 licence. As well as compiling from source, you can install one of Activision’s free readymade binaries.

To use the extension, you will need to be running Windows 10 and to have USD itself installed, either by building it from source, or installing a pre-built library, like those available on Nvidia’s developer website.

Read more about USD Shell Extension on Activision’s GitHub repo

Download the latest version of Activision’s free USD Shell Extension for Windows

*Editor’s note: Activision’s documentation refers to the Windows file manager as Windows Explorer, which is how most people still think of it, but strictly, it’s now called File Explorer.