3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 84: More on MetaStream | 2
Lesson 84 - More on MetaStream - Part 2
Readers who have followed these columns over recent months know that I am strongly attracted to emerging Web 3D technologies based on VRML (the Virtual Reality Modeling Language), such as Shout3D. One important reason is simply that almost all existing 3D modeling and animation packages can export in the VRML file format. I believe that it's important to keep 3D content development independent of specific packages, if at all possible.
But the MetaStream file format is worth serious examination because of its unique dynamic resolution properties. As discussed in the previous column, a MetaStream model has the remarkable quality of adjusting to multiple degrees of geometric resolution. The highest quality version may have very dense geometry, composed of a high-polygon count mesh with many thousands of vertices. But the MetaStream plug-in player is able to apply polygon reduction algorithms to simplify the model and reduce the mesh density. That means that models can build in resolution as they are loaded (the streaming effect), and can have their resolution adjusted while being viewed for optimal interactive responsiveness.
At one point, it seemed that access to the MetaStream file format was intended to be a selling point for the MetaCreations product line. All of the MetaCreations 3D programs provide export into MetaStream format. But as the future of these products is now uncertain at best, and as these products were not really professional-tier tools to begin with, it seems as though MetaStream work will be tied to 3D Studio MAX. At present, the only MetaStream export tool for non-MetaCreations products is for MAX, and then only for MAX version 2.5.
The MAX 2.5 exporter is available for free, which means (from all that I can tell), that developers can use MetaStream technology at no cost. Just export the models, plug them into Web pages, and they become viewable by anyone who downloads a free MetaStream plug-in player. I don't know how long this strategy will continue, but I assume that it serves MetaStream.com Corporation's interest in establishing the technology and the installed plug-in base. MetaStream obviously intends to make money from its service work--building and texturing the models for big e-commerce sites, like those for Sony. But the company claims also to be licensing technology as well, although this aspect of the business is unclear to me.
I downloaded the free MAX 2.5 exporter and installed it. Installation requires a password that you receive by email, and was a little confusing because it required the PKZIP utility, rather than just WinZip. But once it was installed, it was simple to use. The MetaStream format (.mts) appears as a file export option, along with all the regular ones. Exporting is simply a matter of naming a file and choosing a degree of compression for any JPEG texture images.
You can export MAX's Standard and Multi/Sub-Object Materials for models, including values for diffuse and ambient color. Specularity (highlights) is supported. Bitmaps will generally be used for textures, but procedural texture maps can be doctored into bitmaps if necessary. NURBS objects must be converted into a fixed Editable Mesh before exporting, as you might well expect.
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Created: Jan. 17, 2000
Revised: Jan. 17, 2000