Letting a Thousand 3D Flowers Bloom

Dateline: August 30, 2000

One of the good things about the lack of a dominant 3D standard and company is that entrepreneurial individuals and organizations are more likely to produce systems. Of course the danger is yet another babalization of 3D content for the Web with little if any interoperability, and requests for "please download this plug-in to view the content".

There are currently links to over 40 links to 3D viewing technologies on the Web3D Technologies page. Some of the larger efforts include the work of Brilliant Digital Entertainment, Cycore, Flatland, Hypercosm, Metastream, Pulse, Shout, WildTangent, and WorldUP. Each of these are not small one or two person efforts but represent sizable investment in the millions of dollars. Each one approaches the world of Web3D with a slightly different spin, a different focus.

At the risk of oversimplifying the approach each of these efforts takes let's examine the field.

Brilliant Digital Entertainment and Pulse are both oriented towards the production and delivery of "long form" content. Telling stories using 3D as a medium with streamed and compressed data are their strengths. Brilliant Digital take the content a step farther by syndicating such well know characters as Spiderman and Superman. You get to view the movies they offer a subscription service. Their "Multipath Movies" allow the viewer to steer the plot by making decisions at key points. No slouches Pulse Entertainment is cutting deals with the Children s Television Workshop for the Muppets, and with Warner Brothers to bring Marvin the Martian alive in 3D. Pulse's key ability is to capture and lipsync the motion and speech of characters. Both rely of authoring with 3D Studio Max using proprietary export plug-ins.

Cycore's Cult3D and Metastream are both clearly focused on the e-commerce market. Both support the usual spinning around and manipulating products approach. Metastream's quality is some of the best 3D graphics for the Web available.

Flatland with it's Rover browser is focused on ease of authoring. Their 3DML markup language is a laudable attempt at producing an HTML for 3D. The resulting worlds are fairly simple and limited by the language but is a great way of getting novices started with 3D.

Hypercosm approaches content creation with a robust language called OPAL. OPAL makes it very simple to add dynamic complex behaviors to your 3D world. This strength has made them a leader in educational 3D for the Web and their worlds have been used several times for illustrations and articles for the online version of the NYTimes.

Shout3D offers the premier Java based 3D solution for the Web. A direct outgrown of Shout's long experience with VRML the Java player enables content delivery with no plug-ins. The ability to deploy sophisticated complex 3D graphics on the Web without asking the user to download yet another plug-in is no small feat.

WildTangent is going after the gaming market. The folks that developed WildTangent are the same people that originally developed Direct 3D for Microsoft so they know the graphics world well and speed is their calling. Little embedded games right in your Web page are their forte and they are beginning to have an impressive collection of demos and authoring tools.

An announced but not yet available 3D technology is being created by Macromedia and Intel. They are going to soon allow 3D inside of Shockwave animations. This may prove to be a formidable force but it remains to be deployed. And never far from the bleeding edge look out for Microsoft they often have surprises, and their recent focus on the Internet via the .NET effort is sure to come up with something.


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