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SandDance Power BI Custom Visual updates

SandDance is a data visualization tool developed by the VIDA (Visualization and Interactive Data Analysis) team at Microsoft Research and is available as a custom visual for Power BI. SandDance uses unit visualizations, which apply a one-to-one mapping between rows in your data and marks on the screen. Smooth animated transitions between views help you to maintain context as you interact with your data. These animations are one of its most compelling aspects yet are currently only visible to the report designer – not to casual report viewers.

The VIDA team has made significant updates to the SandDance 2019 custom visual. We’ve enhanced the ability to deliver richer and more compelling data-driven stories, both by adding support for Power BI bookmarks and making significant improvements to the rendering capabilities.

Support for Power BI bookmarks

We have now added the ability to save the state of a SandDance view as a Power BI bookmark. This includes the layout (such as a scatterplot, unit bar, column chart or stacked 3D), selection, and filter. This significantly enhances the storytelling capabilities for a Power BI report that uses SandDance by enabling dynamic transitions between a series of Power BI bookmarks and provides better context and narrative to the data (commonly known as ‘data storytelling’).

Support for richer transitions

In the current version of SandDance during an animated transition, all data points begin animating simultaneously. We now support the ability to customize the order in which each datapoint transitions between views. We call these staggered transitions.

Animation of SandDance chart elements changing layout positions in separate movements.

Support for background images

You can now use an image as the background of a Scatterplot or Stacks chart to help provide additional context to the visualization.

This example is a Scatterplot showing house sales data for King County, WA.

Screenshot of bar chart elements overlaid on a map of the Puget Sound region in SandDance.

This example is a Stacks plot of the positions of shots made on a basketball court by Kobe Bryant, who was a professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers team.

Screenshot of stacked elements overlaid on an image of a basketball court in SandDance.

New rendering engine

We’ve completely re-engineered our WebGL rendering engine. It has two modes:

  1. Standard mode can handle many data points while still being responsive and works on mobile devices and lower power GPUs .
  2. Enhanced 3D mode adds shadows, emissive lighting, and depth of field effects, and requires a more powerful GPU.

The rendering engine also now supports stereo rendering and immersive Virtual Reality experiences using WebXR.

The following examples compare the two rendering modes. In each image, the same visualization is shown using both the standard rendering mode (top half) and enhanced 3D rendering mode (bottom half).

Screenshots of two chart renderings in SandDance; above is a standard bar chart 3D rendering, below is the same chart enhanced with depth-of-field, shadow, and lighting effects.

Shadows can be used to help convey depth in 3D visualizations, such as in the following examples.

Screenshots of two chart renderings each overlaid on a map of Puget Sound in SandDance; the 2nd chart showing elements which have shadow effects.

Screenshots of two chart renderings in SandDance; above is a standard bar chart 3D rendering, below is the same chart enhanced with depth-of-field, shadow, and lighting effects.

Emissive lighting can be used to emphasize selections, such as in the following examples.

Screenshots of two chart renderings with selected elements in SandDance; above shows selected units in a different color, below shows selected units with a glowing effect.

Screenshots of two chart renderings each overlaid on a map of Puget Sound in SandDance; the 2nd chart showing elements which have glowing lighting effects.

Depth of field can also be used to emphasize and draw attention to specific areas of 3D visualizations, such as in the following examples.

Screenshots of two chart renderings each overlaid on a map of Puget Sound in SandDance; the 2nd chart showing a depth-of-field camera lens effect.

Screenshots of two chart renderings each overlaid on an image of a basketball court in SandDance; the 2nd chart showing a depth-of-field camera lens effect.

Adaptive 3D chart axes

In a 3D view, axes now adapt to the viewing angle, ensuring they are always visible without obscuring the data:

Animation of a 3D SandDance chart rotating, showing axes which appear or disappear depending on the viewing angle.

New selection modes

As well as using the axis edge divisions and labels, you can now also make selections via the axes background grid squares:

Animation showing selections made by clicking on grid cells in a SandDance visualization.

We have also now added lasso selection, using the ALT key with a mouse drag:

Screenshot of scatterplot chart with a rectangular mouse selection area in SandDance.

Release timeline

Watch for these features to be released in summer 2022.

If you have any feedback on these new features, or any new capabilities you’d like to see in the future, please send us an email. You can also track issues at the SandDance GitHub repo.

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