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by Bernie Roehl

Newfire Releases Fast VRML Browser

The much-anticipated browser from Newfire has now been released, and early indications are that it will live up to its lofty performance claims. The final name of the product is "Torch", though it had formerly been called "Heat" and "Flyer". The company itself has also undergone a name change, having originally been called Axial Systems.

The Torch browser is designed to run at "game speed", and in general it outperforms most mainstream browsers such as CosmoPlayer, WorldView and Liquid Reality. Most of the speed apparently comes from clever culling, which allows the browser to render only those parts of the scene that are actually visible. This technique works particularly well on large indoor environments, though it's less effective in an outdoor setting. Other techniques such as early backface culling and level of detail management provide further performance improvements.

Newfire also announced OEM deals with hardware vendors such as Diamond Multimedia and 3Dfx Interactive. These deals are far more important for Newfire than they are for Silicon Graphics, Intervista, and Dimension X, whose products will be bundled with popular web browsers such as Netscape and Internet Explorer. It remains to be seen whether a VRML browser that is not distributed with a web browser will achieve significant market share, even if it does offer substantially better performance.

More details about Torch can be found at the Newfire web site www.newfire.com

Black Sun Interactive Strikes Deal with Superscape Black Sun Interactive, best-known for their multi-user VRML technology, has announced that they will be providing similar support to Superscape's products. The plan is to integrate Superscape's Viscape 3D web browser with Black Sun's multi-user client, Passport.

Superscape, which manufactures a real-time 3D web browser and matching authoring tool, is eager to compete for a market that seems destined to be dominated by VRML. Superscape has been promoting its proprietary VRT file format as an alternative to VRML, but has been facing an uphill battle. By adding multi-user capabilities to their Viscape product, they hope to gain them greater visibility.

The deal works out well for Black Sun, since Superscape's relatively deep pockets are likely to help Black Sun stay afloat until multi-user technology takes off.

More information about the two companies can be found at http://superscape.com and http://www.blacksun.com

Oz Interactive Releases New VRML Browser, Server, Online World

Iceland-based Oz Interactive has released a new browser which supports the use of VRML 2.0 worlds. The browser also features such capabilities as real-time voice chat, facial expressions for avatars, and scripting in Java.

These features are implemented in conjunction with the company's Oz Server software, which can be used to host multi-user VRML worlds. The first of these worlds, called Ozone, is provided by Oz itself. It serves as a showcase for the world-building skills of the content creators at Oz, as well as the underlying technology.

Oz appears to be pulling into the lead in the multi-user marketplace, offering a combination of good design and strong technology. However, there is a lot of competition waiting just around the corner. Oz will have to run very fast indeed to keep up with other providers of multi-user 3D technology and content.

To find out the latest about the new products from Oz, check out their web site: http://www.oz-inc.com

Dimension X Shows Off Liquid Reality Composer

It's not only VRML browsers that are beginning to show up; authoring tools are starting to appear as well. Dimension X, whose Java-based Liquid Reality VRML browser will be shipped with future releases of Internet Explorer, has announced a new tool for building VRML worlds.

The product, which is scheduled to be released in April, will be called Liquid Reality Composer. Like most of the authoring tools that are coming out in the months ahead, it's being positioned as a scene-builder rather than a modeling tool. The intent is that content creators will use other modeling tools or off-the-shelf 3D clip art rather than trying to model inside the world builder.

Additional information about Liquid Reality Composer can be found at http://www.dimensionx.com

Caligari Announces TrueSpace 3

Caligari, maker of the TrueSpace and Pioneer authoring tools for 3D content, has announced that those two products will be integrated into a single package known as TrueSpace 3.

TrueSpace 3 was demonstrated at the Spring Internet World Conference, and it appears to be an impressive package. Designed as a general-purpose 3D modeler, the software features support for VRML 2.0. Other features include metaballs, built-in 3D Paint for putting texture maps onto objects, an integrated VRML browser, and an open architecture to support third-party plug-ins.

More details can be found at http://www.caligari.com

IDS Releases Open Beta of V*Realm Builder

In anticipation of a Spring release, Integrated Data Systems has released an open beta of V*Realm Builder. Builder is a mid-range VRML 2.0 authoring tool, which features editors for ElevationGrids, Extrusions and other VRML capabilities.

The package is one of the first to use VRML as its native format, with support for both reading and writing VRML 2.0 files.

http://ids-net.com Integrated Data Systems can be found at http://ids-net.com

OpenWorlds Goes Into Beta Release

DRaW Computing has put their OpenWorlds product into beta test. OpenWorlds is a C++ class library which can parse and load VRML 2.0 files, in order to allow developers to add VRML support to their existing products with a minimum amount of effort. The package might also be used to simplify the task of implementing a VRML browser.

The software is impressive, but it remains to be seen how many firms will choose to license the package as opposed to simply implementing their own.

More information is online, at the company's web site: http://www.drawcomp.com

Bernie Roehl is a software developer based at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He is probably best known in VR circles for REND386 and AVRIL, free VR software packages that are still in widespread use.

Bernie is also the author of two books on VR, "Virtual Reality Creations" and "Playing God: Creating Virtual Worlds", and he recently co-authored Que's "Special Edition: Using VRML". He is currently writing for VR News, CyberEdge Journal and VRMLSite and has previously written for VR World and VR Special Report. Bernie is also a popular speaker on VR and VRML at various conferences throughout the year. In the months ahead, you'll be able to find Bernie speaking at a number of conferences.

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