3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 45: VRML - Embers in the Ashes
Lesson 45 - VRML--Embers in the Ashes - Part 1
It seems that everyone is asking the same question right now. Is VRML dead?
In our last column, written in the immediate wake of the announcement that Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) would be closing Cosmo Software, we considered the prognosis for VRML. But we cannot leave this important subject without some more well-considered thoughts, developed with the benefit of a couple of weeks of discussion and reflection.
A couple of corrections are in order first. Our last column noted the temporary shutdown of the Cosmo website after the corporate announcement was made. Reliable sources at Cosmo have informed me that the site was not shut down deliberately. The timing of the shutdown was, of course, most unfortunate, and was assumed by many, including myself, to have been intentional. In any case, the site will presumably shut down soon.
A more important correction, or re-evaluation, concerns the Microsoft VRML browser. The previous column noted that the Intervista World View browser supplied with Microsoft operating systems and Web browsers, might provide assurance that free VRML viewers would be broadly distributed in the near future. I stated that the Microsoft browser would be included in the standard install for Windows 98, but this requires some further clarification. As I now understand it, new machines with Window 98 installed by the manufacturer will have the VRML browser installed. But for those upgrading to Windows 98 the situation will be the same as it has been with Windows 95 and Microsoft Internet Explorer. In other words, these users must specially request the installation of the VRML browser, and this option is not higlighted in the installation interface. Thus most of those who upgrade to Windows 98 will not have VRML capabilities ready when they chance upon a VRML file.
But now for the really bad news.
I've been extensively testing the Microsoft browser (the Intervista "World View" name is not directly on the product) to see what life without Cosmo Player might be like. I did not like what I saw, and you won't either.
Here are two screen shots of a simple VRML model, built entirely of primitives, to be used as an "avatar-like" navigation tool. The first is from Cosmo Player 2.1, and the second is from the Microsoft VRML 2 browser.
The loss of smooth color gradients and accurate lighting completely destroys the sense of object depth, and therefore of the perception of 3D space. In fact, the specular highlight are darker instead of lighter!Higher-end work, with greater detail, suffers as much or more in the Microsoft browser. Continue on to the next page (using the green navigation buttons below at right) and compare two screen shots of an ancient Roman arch built in Cosmo Worlds by Steve Smith, an outstanding architectural modeller. But be warned. It's not a pretty sight.
|To Continue to Parts 2 and 3, Use Arrow Buttons||
Created: July 21, 1998
Revised: July 21, 1998