One "biggie" making waves in the 3D world is the Java 3D API from Sun. Java 3D is Sun's answer to ubiquitous 3D graphics. So what is the relationship of Java 3D to VRML and what's been happening lately with Java 3D?
As far as the relationship, they are pretty much kissing cousins but definitely not siblings. Java 3D is an API, a programmers interface. Java 3D has a terrific set of representations for the geometry of a scene, as well as a scene graph, but no event model. This means that any behavioral aspect you want to embed to your 3D worlds must be programmed (presumably in Java). As usual this has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is you have complete control over all the behavior. The disadvantage is that each content developer must create their own behavior system. One would of course expect to see a common class library for behaviors develop, and if anyone knows of one drop me a line. Another important distinction between Java 3D and VRML is the simple fact that Java 3D is an API and VRML is a file format. There is no such thing as a 3D world represented as a Java 3D file. Of course the Java 3D world can be represented by the code used to create the world, a procedural representation rather than a static one.
Sun's main Java 3D page, has a good collection of pointers. In particular, if you want to try your hand at creating some Java 3D, the tutorial appears quite good. In addition the pointers to Customer Success Stories (does that sound like marketing hype or what) contains links to cool examples, including a Java 3D version of one of our VRML favorites from outoftheblue.
According to Sun Java 3D was created with high performance in mind and the ability to optimize. Well time will tell but I must say that almost all of the Java 3D I've seen performs very well.
Some interesting sites are CoreSpace, with some cool demos and a layer of tools on top of Java 3D; NCSA has the Java 3D Group with some scientific applications and they won Sun's Java 3D programming contest with a program called You Build It in July 1998; The i-stream Landscape engine demonstrates the use of Java 3D for terrain.
Sun's Java 3D is a robust and well thought out system for creating the geometry of 3D worlds. The ability to easily integrate with the rest of the functionality provided in a Java environment makes it a powerful addition to to developers of 3D environments for the Web.
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