While commodity computing and graphics hardware has increased in capacity and dropped in cost, it is still quite difficult to make effective use of such systems for general-purpose parallel visualization and graphics. We describe the results of a recent project that provides a software infrastructure suitable for general-purpose use by parallel visualization and graphics applications. Our work combines and extends two technologies: chromium, a stream-oriented framework that implements the OpenGL programming interface; and OpenRM scene graph, a pipelined-parallel scene graph interface for graphics data management. Using this combination, we implement a sort-first, distributed memory, parallel volume rendering application. We describe the performance characteristics in terms of bandwidth requirements and highlight key algorithmic considerations needed to implement the sort-first system. We characterize system performance using a distributed memory parallel volume rendering application, and present performance gains realized by using scene specific knowledge to accelerate rendering by reducing network traffic. The contribution of this work is an exploration of general-purpose, sort-first architecture performance characteristics as applied to distributed memory, commodity hardware, along with a description of the algorithmic support needed to realize parallel, sort-first implementations.