3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 74: New Era in Web 3D
Lesson 74 - New Era in Web 3D - Part 2
Two companies at that dismal press conference offered a technology so startling that it takes time to absorb its complete significance. The old VRML standard for interactive 3D graphics on the Web required a significant plug-in application on the client side in order to display the 3D content. Cosmo Player was (and still is) the best known and best designed of these VRML browsers. The installation of Cosmo Player requires a 2 MB download. This reality placed 3D development in a hopeless situation. The content was far too expensive to develop without the assurance that the large majority of the audience would be able to view it. Yet a relatively small percentage of the Internet public felt the need to download and install a VRML browser, largely because they never became aware of content compelling enough to justify the hassle.
It was only last summer that first-class VRML content began to appear, primarily from the hands of Shout Interactive, a company based in San Francisco, California. VRML was finally beginning to make great sense. But the entire VRML industry, such as it was, rested on the shoulders of Cosmo Software, a division of Silicon Graphics, Inc. SGI was the only major corporation committed to producing VRML display and authoring tools, and when the (still) struggling giant decided to jettison the Cosmo product line, all the hopes that had been so carefully primed were dashed against the rocks. The Cosmo products ended up in the hands of Platinum Technologies, an enterprise software company with a focus entirely unsuited to the future development of VRML. Then Platinum was sold to Computer Associates, and whatever hopes still remained for the future of VRML among the faithful largely disintegrated. Like many people, I stopped paying attention to VRML and Internet-related 3D issues entirely after this.
Yet the failure of VRML led to a fair assessment of what had gone wrong. So long as 3D content on the Internet depended on a plug-in application, it was doomed. But what if you could create a 3D player-a true interactive rendering engine-so small that it could load with the content? That's right. An application small enough to load with the page. The user would never have to download or install an application. Visit a site with 3D content, and it just appears as part of the web page.
This seeming miracle was actually worked before the jaded audience at the press conference. Shout Interactive and Blaxxun, a European company, both demonstrated 3D players that ran in Java applets only 40 KB in size. Because it was Java, the applets directly run in the Netscape and Microsoft browsers as a seamless element of the page.
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Created: August 31, 1999
Revised: August 31, 1999