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3D for the Web

Interactive 3D for the web is a largely overlooked, yet extremely powerful format for providing an end-user experience that cannot be matched in any other web tool. Unfortunately, until recent years, very little headway had been made on reduction of file size but with the increasing availability and consumption levels of high speed Internet access 3D for the web is becoming a more viable tool.

The 3D format most widely in use is VRML. It's most recent specification allows for collision, depth of field, attenuated sound to simulated distance and many more enhancements. It is probably the most widely recognized format and has the largest browser plug-in install base. It can also be rendered in a compressed file format - a tremendous advantage over the raw file format which can very rapidly exceed 10 MB for complex projects.

Although there have been numerous promising language projects most of these have become very platform or use specific. An excellent alternative to VRML that is showing enormous promise is the VET format from Viewpoint Technologies. It has been used to excellent effect in commercial projects (see the Eddie Bauer web site for instance) and has been incorporated into Adobe's newer 3D venture 'Atmosphere.' It does require it's own browser plug-in but in our testing and applications we have found it to be very well behaved an we recommend this format highly.

Neo•Paradigms has created several VR projects for the web - including a rather large completely VR shopping mall (sadly defunct now and quite ahead of its time when commissioned). While we would hesitate to suggest an entire web site constructed in VR, we have experienced it put to good use to display products in a manner that cannot be competed with. The most memorable example was Dodge's web site for their new line of vehicles when the Viper and Neon were introduced. The interior of each vehicle was presented in interactive animation that included see-thru engine blocks, etc.

We design for, and are committed to, developing 3D Web content. Our works have been part of private digital 3D web art research, corporate R&D, art and educational presentations. The 3D web is the home of literary Neuromancers and sci-fi trekkers, the place of stereoscopic 3D virtual reality 2004 conferences, the place of art, science and entertainment.

With 3D animation and scale-free network interaction leading to better gaming, with stereoscopic 3D viewing and user-interaction leading to better entertainment and new forms of art, the 3D web continues to grow in visibility and prominence.

Thumbnail history of Web 3D

The VRML Legacy
Although we. like many other 3D enthusiasts, are still romancing Neuromancer (a classic 3D work), 'Virtual Reality on the Web' has undergone major shape shifts since it's inception (as VRML (1.0) ) in the 90's. VRML was designed for the web to allow real-time 3D interactive virtual worlds featuring low-poly low bandwidth rendering in a HTML environment.

VRML (node structure) has evolved/mutated to X3D (for extensible 3D markup) and much of it is incorporated into the MPEG-4 standard. VRML browsers have evolved and new X3D browsers greatly expand on the earlier VRML 97 standards with extended media and texture/lighting capabilities. The VR field is as wide as open source and proprietary standards allow. Open-source Cosmo VRML browsers are still in use (12% web users, by 1992's count, compared with 40% for standalone Netscape browsers). Current 3D web offerings includes game engines (Quake, Aurora, freeware Nebula, etc.) which feature faster animation, better lighting, ray tracing, and better multi-user support for 3D environments. All software mutates, recombines, splits apart, and VR will continue to evolve into future forms, including stereoscopic 3D browsing and 3D gaming.

3D Web - Java 3D
We employ Java applets/animations on several client sites as a 2D/3D complement to VR. Since the 90's java applet art and Java 3D has proliferated, in part due their cross-platform capabilities, portability, and in part due to the creative efforts of vendors.

Character driven environments
The 'avatar' of old is now streamlined for quick user modification and multi-user interactive worlds such as those found in the multi-user environments of 'There.com','Sim City' and others. The phenomenon of networked games is a new form of interactive VRML.

SGI's COSMO worlds and browsers, the avatar malls of BLAXXUN have contributed to a lasting legacy of 3D web interactivity that is a foundation for future innovations. Adobe has thrown it's highly rated and much anticipated hat into the 3D environment worlds arena with the much anticipated commercial release of Atmosphere. Drawing heavily upon the technology, speed and portability of Viewpoint's Viewpoint Entertainment Technology (VET), Atmosphere has spawned a host of industry support (Caligari, MetaCreations and others) for the purpose of implementing 3D multi-user environments.

Where is this leading?
We are now seeing early works in A.I.-driven 'speech recognition' capabilities of multi-user avatar environments, and motion-pictures in virtual 'space'. These are coming in more sophisticated forms, with faster rendering engines, improved MMP architectures, new streaming standards (MPEG-4) and a greater participation by the web-connected netizen public, which ultimately determines the success of failure of any commercial strategy. We have well-funded behind-the-headlines research into speech driven environments at Microsoft as well as the public low-band avatar play rooms in Traveler all working toward disseminating a speech-interactive 3D web.

For a small example of VRML we have constructed a mock web page for your enjoyment. We call it " Virtual World." It is a small example developed for fun only but a little imagination - and application of recent technological advances - could be brought to bear upon a more conventional, and commercial, application.

Contact Neo•Paradigms to discuss how 3D can allow your customers to interact with your products.

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