Flashing with Viewpoint
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Dateline: July 11, 2001

The latest incarnation of Viewpoint's 3D for the Web technology (VET - Viewpoint Experience Technology) integrates Flash in a very cool way. It's a true integration not simply the use of Flash as a texture like other technologies. You can look at some examples on the Viewpoint developer site. I have to admit I have a real love/hate relationship with these guys. Their Web3D technology is probably the best looking stuff out there. Their licensing and marketing hype really turns me off. Ce la vie!

I had the pleasure of talking with Anders Vinberg, Executive VP of Engineering for Viewpoint and thank goodness he wasn't a marketing guy! Viewpoint has really done a terrific job of integrating Flash and other rich media elements (such as zoomable photos) into the capabilities of their player.

First let's look at the overall architecture, approach and get some terminology straight. The actual executable that displays the 3D scenes or Flash content is called the VMP, Viewpoint Media Player. The actual 3D content is described using two files the .mtx file and the .mts file. The MTX file is actually an XML file that describes overall layout of objects in the scene and in addition can contain "interactors" which defines the interactive elements of the scene. The MTS file is a binary representation of the geometry used in the scene. The geometry is highly compressed and can be progressively streamed to the client by the VMP scene which is embedded into the HTML page. The Flash content, the .fla file, is simply referred to by the MTS file, and remains in it's original form.

The interactive elements of the whole scene are defined by interactors and are in the MTX file so interaction defined in the Flash file is ignored. The VMP player is in control of the user interaction. The VMP architecture excels at allowing authors to integrate a variety of rich media elements. These elements can include 3D geometry, hi-res zoomable photos, Flash, QTVR panoramas and more.

Flash can be used in a variety of ways. The most obvious is as simple feedback for user actions. You roll over something like the headlight of a car and a cool Flash graphic gives the user rollover feedback. Little Flash panels can pop up with clear vector text describing the scene. The high quality of Flash vector displays match the high quality of the 3D scenes. Viewpoint offers a robust and very complete set of tools to let authors tweak the look of a scene to photographic quality and to integrate with the HTML page very cleanly.

Another interesting Flash/VMP trick is to use map the Flash animation onto a 3D surface. The Compaq demo illustrates the use of a Compaq PDA with Flash mapped onto a the surface of the PDA. This is boring though, the fun is to map the Flash onto a 3D surface. You can see the new demos also.

Viewpoint is going to be pushing this technology as a solution for rich media banner ads. Complex full featured ads with very small download size. They are of course going to have to fight the plug-in battle VRML waged a few years ago. They will presumably have some more luck but the verdict is out on this one. The current lack of advertising dollars for ad banners won't help matters either, but markets come and markets go.

Viewpoint continues to impress me with the visual quality of their scenes. I have yet to encounter a more visually appealing Web3D technology. It functions smoothly and is well suited for the Web even in low bandwidth environments. The visual integration possible between 3D elements and the web page itself along with the addition of Flash as a fully integratable media element pushes the envelope. If they can overcome the plug-in barrier and achieve a sufficient quantity of market penetration they just might manage to create a viable business.

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