3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 27: VRML 97--Now's The Time | 2
Lesson 27 - VRML 97--Now's The Time - Part 3
3-D hardware support is definitely a big issue, but once again, VRML development may be perfectly positioned to catch another migratory wave. 3-D gaming is a major industry force right now, and 3-D accelerator cards are becoming more and more standard for this reason alone. Bill believes that 3-D hardware will be a huge Christmas item this year, just in time for the emergence of wide-scale VRML web development. With powerful 3-D cards getting down well beneath the $200 price point, they should also become standard on new systems. In short, VRML developers can exploit the large move to 3-D capabilities on the standard home computer. With the right display hardware, VRML will run, and run well.
Bill made clear that he's not expecting the average guy to install a professional-level Open GL card. The Permedia 2 card and the Fire GL 1000 from Diamond are examples of the kind of very affordable cards that are now bringing the Open GL API to the masses. Consumer-level cards will be good enough and, indeed, Bill stressed that just the MMX technology in the Pentium 2 microprocessor will make a huge difference even without special 3-D acceleration.
The picture is therefore a positive one for those considering a leap into VRML development, but what's the best use of the technology in the near term? Are we really ready for on-line virtual shopping environments where customers wheel their browser down the aisles?
I was surprised (and relieved) to find Bill cool to such ideas for the present. He stresses staying away from what he calls "gratuitious" use of 3-D, and focusing instead on applications where VRML adds real value to a site. He spoke of three such areas.
The first is entertainment. Where entertainment content is inherent in the site, the argument for VRML over video animation comes down mostly to file size. The animated Dilbert comic strip currently running on www.mediadome.com is only 200 KB, a two minute download for the home user and a ten second job for the target audience of corporate employees on ISDN or T1 connections. This piece demonstrates the animation power of VRML 97, as VRML 1 supported only animation of the camera. Bill emphasized that the entertainment market for VRML will explode as streaming technology comes into play in the very near future. 20 and 30 minutes of animation will back up behind a file that begins to run very quickly.
The second focus Bill mentioned is where interactive 3-D provides critical commercial information. He notes a large VRML site now in development for Ticketron that will permit users to directly evaluate seat locations. Another project in the works for home improvement maven Bob Vila demonstrates lighting alternatives in rooms.
But the focus that really made my eyes light up was web advertising. This is a subject that we will no doubt pursue more seriously in subsequent columns, but it's hard to think of a direction with more immediate potential. Using VRML, very impressive animated banners in the standard 468 x 60 pixel size are possible are remarkably small bandwidth cost (10 to 15 KB). The Pepsi banner running on the big Mars landing site is a very impressive example. Bill noted that, because multiple instances of the Cosmo Player can run concurrently, there is no limit to the number of separate VRML banners on the page. Start adding interactive features, such as sound or action when the user pulls the cursor over the VRML banner, and you have some serious commercial possibilities. Indeed, it is possible that VRML banners could invite the user into a navigational space to explore, and having falling in and playing around, the user finds himself transparently "clicked-though" to the sponsor's site.
We'll be getting deeply into the new VRML over the next few weeks, exploring the specification and its potential. You'll need a VRML 97 browser to get the most out these lessons, so drop by the Cosmo site and download the Cosmo Player 1 or latest beta version. Then take a look at the sites in their Gallery. We're just getting started.
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Created: November 10, 1997
Revised: November 10, 1997