3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 44: VRML - Life After Cosmo? webreference.com | 2
Lesson 44 - VRML - Life After Cosmo? - Part 3
I simply can't see any alternative to VRML at the present time for Internet-oriented 3D content. Java3D, an expansion of Java technology to include VRML-like capabilities is commonly mentioned as a possible direction. The main argument in its favor is the fact that nearly everyone on the Internet can run Java because the Java interpreter is part of the Web browser or the computer operating system. This gets around the VRML's biggest problem--the fact that relatively few people had yet to download or install a VRML browser as a "plug-in" to their Web browser.But the negatives for an all-Java approach to 3D seems to me, at least right now, to outweigh the positives. The VRML browser is a very effective real-time rendering engine, and it makes far more sense to use a technology like Java to control an existing VRML browser than to replace it entirely. And more importantly, Java programming is far too difficult for the 3D interactive artist to readily incorporate into his or her repertoire. One of the great joys of VRML for the traditional 3D artist is in the discovery that, with some small command of a scripting language, one can create powerful interactive content. My 3D students at Cogswell College, many of whom have no programming skills whatsoever, are quickly learning to write small procedures that slip readily into VRML. With an all-Java approach to 3D, content could only emerge from those very rare individuals who understood both 3D graphics and very sophisticated programming, or from such a combination of individual talents in a closely-meshed team. I, for one, am not prepared to learn Java at the level required for all all-Java solution to interactive 3D.
The emerging MPEG-4 standard for video compression will, amazingly enough, include some kind of interactive 3-D capacity with it, something like VRML. But this idea is so ambitious I can't pretend to understand it. In any case, it does not provide any immediate answer to our questions.
Another reason why, for better or worse, VRML will remain the direction of Web-based 3D, is that Microsoft is including their VRML 2.0 browser, "World View" from Intervista, in Windows 98. My present understanding is that it is part of the standard install, so all new machines, and all machines that upgrade to Windows 98, will have a browser installed. I'm no Microsoft basher, to say the least. But Microsoft has not put serious effort into the VRML field, and has largely abdicated it to Cosmo. Perhaps Microsoft will now choose to make the World View product as strong as Cosmo Player. If so, the problem of an installed VRML browser base will be solved in the long-run. Despite a lot of the negative press, I have little doubt that Windows 98 will completely supplant Windows 95 within a year.
One must hope that SGI will continue to make the Cosmo Player available, but may be a very good idea to grab a free Cosmo Player 2.1 while it's still around. If the Cosmo Software site is down, the Player is still available at the time of this writing through a promotional site.
If Cosmo Worlds disappears as a product, one might turn to the other specialized VRML development tools. I have not worked with them, so I'm not competent to assess them. I saw a very impressive demo of Ligos' VRealm Builder, and knowing the quality of Caligari products, I don't doubt that their Pioneer is an excellent tool. The argument for turning to these tools is that, like Cosmo Worlds, they provide the kind of specialized environment needed for VRML development.
I can't help but guess, however, that VRML development will move more to the traditional 3D packages, and particularly to 3D Studio MAX. MAX 2.0 already had an outstanding VRML toolset, including some features that Cosmo Worlds did not have. MAX 2.5 adds the ability to read (import) VRML files as well as write (export) them. This is a large step toward making MAX something closer to a true VRML development environment. As so many people already know how to use MAX, it's natural to expect that they are more willing to leverage this knowledge than to learn a completely new application.
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Created: July 8, 1998
Revised: July 8, 1998