3D Photography to the Web

Dateline: 11/10/99

Minolta 3D 1500 camera
Image courtesy Mintola

Tired of the hassles inherent in creating 3D objects? Some new toys on the horizon should help. Minolta and Kodak are introducing cameras for 3D image capture applications. Minolta's 3D 1500 will be introduced in late 1999. Kodak in the meantime is part of a three-way agreement with Intel and MetaCreations to produce "future products" for 3D image capture. Both Minolta and Kodak are using the MetaStream 3D file format.

The Minolta camera works by taking two pictures for each image. The first is simply an image used for a color texture. The second is the magic part -- it uses a structured light technique to calculate the 3D contours and shape of the object. To capture a 360 degree view of the object you must take at least 2 complete images. Software called MetaFlash Studio (included with the camera) allows you to seam together the different images into a coherent object. The Minolta Web site has good descriptions of the work flow, software and a sample application, so no need to repeat that information here.

The MetaStream file can be simply placed onto a Web site and users must have the metastream viewer (available for free). It's a nice solution for creating all those 3D spinning objects you want to sell on your new whiz-bang electronic commerce site.

A number of significant sites are starting to demonstrate 3D products using MetaStream 3D. Lego Mindstorms, CBS for Joan of Arc, and Warner Brothers online store, to name a few. Clearly MetaCreations is making good progress getting MetaStream 3D into mainstream e-commerce sites.

Intel has a terrific explanation of the process as well. They also have a number of good pointers to a variety of 3D for the Web formats and software. In addition to the relationship with Intel, MetaStream.com is a joint venture between MetaCreations and Computer Associates which owns 20%. (They seem to own a piece of everything in 3D for the Web ;-) The 500-pound gorilla itself, Microsoft, is also playing with MetaStream 3D and has been reported to be including it (or portions of it) into Direct X.

Well it appears that at least one file format is getting its proverbial foot into the e-commerce door. In fact Popular Science has just named MetaStream winner of the 1999 "Best of What's New" award. It remains to be seen how authoring tools and interoperability will play out. MetaCreations does have some terrific tools and coupled with the new support from hardware manufacturers like Minolta, Kodak and Intel, their 3D-for-the-web (MetaStream 3D) file format is a serious player. Last but not least thanks very much to Derek Davies a MetaStream fan for pointing out most of this info!

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