Impressions of VRML99

Dateline: 3/3/99

Another VRML conference another crisis. VRML99 in Paderborn Germany was certainly no exception. After the 2nd day of the conference rumors started flying that PLATINUM fired all their Internet (including VRML) people. The rumor was quickly confirmed and the mood was noticeably frustrated and depressed. Soon however another rumor surfaced that PLATINUM was going to place the Cosmo source into some sort of "open source" framework. Eventually this rumor was also confirmed bringing a significant positive twist on the events. Can you stand the drama!

The day before anyone knew about the PLATINUM layoffs there was a meeting meeting about the future of X3D and the key presenters were Murat Aktihanoglu and Richard Lee of PLATINUM. They did a perfectly competent job laying out the issues and answering questions. It turns out that a day or so earlier they were informed that they had no jobs which, for my brain, makes their performance downright heroic and incredibly professions. While their firings, which included (so I heard from others) turning off of email and forcing them to pay their hotel bills personally may be the norm for corporate's a despicable practice that no one, especially dedicated hardworking professionals deserve.

So here we go with a bad news good news conference.  On with impressions of the conference. The venue at the Heinz Nixdorf Forum in Paderborn was wonderful. The rooms had plenty of space and the auditorium had terrific A/V facilities. (As an aside the museum was very cool too, it turns out to be (so they claim) the largest computer museum in the world. As I wandered through the exhibits I came upon a wall full of historic old calculators when I saw one that I actually owned a venerable TI SR10 my first calculator...damn it makes ya feel old when you see your old equipment hanging on a museum wall!) The only major problem with the facilities was the Internet access was extremely slow.

As always the highlight of the conference is the infamous Web3D RoundUP. As always it's organized by Timothy Childs and VeRGe. There is nothing like this fast paced shoot-them-down if they talk too long set of rapid fire demos. There were four categories to vote for winners who were Seamless Solutions (best educational), Blaxxun (best technical), virtual real-estate (best business app), VRML Dream Company (best performance).

The big question which still remains an open issue is the direction of the Web3D consortium and the possibilities for open-source. There seem to be two tracks going forward, one fix VRML97, and two work on X3D. Obviously one question is what exactly is X3D.

X3D appears to be a way of breaking up VRML97 into a component type of standard (a good thing). The existing VRML97 standard is a huge monolith difficult to implement. The use of XML as the means to integrate these components is also a good thing and makes perfect sense technically and politically as the consortium tries to make VRML play nice with other internet standards. The big question mark is can a largely unfunded effort coherently put together a complex standard and produce the implementations necessary to complete the standards track. Is the standards track even the right way to go for now? Is X3D simply Microsoft's CHROME revisited and is that a good or bad thing? Lots of questions, not many answers for now.

Finally one other major aspect in all the turmoil is the relationship of VRML to MPEG4. Large corporations like Sony, Philips, and Panasonic have been playing in the VRML game for a few years and their interests appear to be fueapparently mythical digital set-top box. Well these digital set-top boxes are no myth. They are VERY real and apparantly inapproximatelyy five years broadcasters in countries like England and Australia (for starters) must stop broadcasting analog and switch to digital. This means that millions of broadcast customers MUST purchase digital set-top boxes. These boxes will be capable of receiving MPEG4 data streams. MPEG4 can get more bandwidth bang for the buck and play with more applications by using 3D representations for faces and bodies. The 3D standard being pointed to by MPEG4 is VRML. This has the potential of making VRML truly ubiquitous...itwilll be broadcast to your TV!

To sum it all up, confusion and hope carry the day...stay tuned to this same web channel for the continuing soap opera known as VRML on the Web.

One Year Ago in Focus on Web3D VRML98 Demo Night URLs.

Previous Features