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VRMLSite News
by Bernie Roehl

Dimension X Launches New Authoring Tool
Dimension X, a well-established developer of VRML software, has announced a new content creation tool for VRML 2.0. Called Liquid Reality Composer, the product is built around the same Java-based VRML implementation as the Liquid Reality browser. Like most of the other recently-announced authoring tools, Composer is strictly a scene builder which requires a separate 3D modelling tool to create complex shapes.

Since Composer is built around the same core as the company's browser, users are able to preview animation "live" instead of having to launch a separate application. Aside from that, the product is very similar to other packages such as Sony's Community Place Conductor or VREAM's VRCreator.

Dimension X

The product is expected to ship in April, and no retail price has been announced. The company's website is www.dnx.com

Sony Unveils Community Place Conductor
A similar announcement was made by Sony Architecture Labs, which released an early alpha version of their Community Place Conductor authoring tool. Like the other scene builders, Conductor provides full drag-and-drop capabilities and allows the dynamic creation of ROUTEs. What sets it apart from the others is its tight integration of Java support; users are able to set up their ROUTEs to a Script node and have a skeleton for the corresponding Java code generated automatically.

For an alpha release, the product is surprisingly robust and has a number of interesting features. Unfortunately, many nodes such as interpolators are still unimplemented in this early version.

The VRML authoring tool competition is definitely beginning to heat up. There are already a number of contenders: Conductor, Liquid Reality Composer, V*Realm Builder, VRCreator, Spinner, Internet 3D Space Builder, Cosmo Worlds (which will soon have an NT port available) and the freeware VermelGen. At least two other companies are expected to enter the race in the months ahead, and several existing authoring tools (such as SuperScape's VRT 5.0, 3D Studio Max from Kinetix and Pioneer from Caligari) are able to export to VRML 2.0.

Sony

The Sony browser and authoring tool are both available from their website, sonypic.com/vs

Worlds, R.I.P.
The other shoe finally dropped for troubled Worlds, Inc., which laid of most of its remaining staff. A company that just two weeks ago had nearly 70 employees is now down to less than a dozen, and the speculation is that the firm will be selling off its assets in the near future.

Worlds has had a difficult history, with management problems apparently underlying many of its hardships. During its brief history it released no less than three different and mutually incompatible multi-user technologies (Worlds Chat, ActiveWorlds and Gamma), none of which were VRML-compatible. Although ActiveWorlds did attract a large user base, it was apparently insufficient to sustain the company through its difficult early growth phase.

Both ActiveWorlds and Gamma are likely to be sold, and rumors abound that there are several bidders for ActiveWorlds. The older Worlds Chat system is less likely to be on the block.

Worlds Inc.

The Worlds site can be found at www.worlds.net

OZ Interactive Brings Speech to VRML Worlds
At the other end of the spectrum, and half a world away, Iceland-based OZ Interactive is adding features and functionality to their multi-user system.

OZ has licensed speech compression and communication technology from Voxware, and plans to include voice support in their multi-user VRML browser, OZ Virtual.

The compression technology will allow users to chat with each other in real time, much as they can with Onlive Traveler. The technology also allows voices to be altered, using a selection of more than 40 different "Voice Fonts". The system is expected to be available starting in March, to coincide with the debut of the company's new multi-user world, Ozone.

OZ has gained a reputation for building graphically rich worlds as well as a wide variety of avatars. The combination of those elements with actual speech should prove quite effective.

Oz

OZ has a good-looking site at www.oz-inc.com

Black Sun Releases New Client and Server
In a similar announcement, Black Sun Interactive announced that they have licensed avatar technology from Zapa Digital arts for incorporation into their new multi-user client and server. Zapa's "3D Smart Objects" include animation sequences that make them more lifelike and expressive than the relatively static avatars used by most online systems.

The new client is known as Black Sun Passport, and the new server is called Black Sun Community Server. They're the latest releases of the products formerly known as CyberHub Client and CyberHub Server.

The client software is designed as a plug-in for either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, and can support plain 2D worlds as well as 3D content in VRML. The server can run on Irix, Solaris, AIX or Linux.

Black Sun's business model is based around giving away the client and selling the server, and this most recent release makes it easy for someone running a server to put advertising space into their world in order to generate revenue.

Black Sun

The Black Sun client software can be found at their site, www.blacksun.com

Intervista Strikes Deal with Diamond Multimedia
Diamond Multimedia has nnounced that it has licensed the WorldView VRML browser from Intervista Software, and will be bundling it with its new sound cards. This follows a recent agreement between Intervista and 3D board manufacturer S3 to bundle WorldView with that company's 3D accelerators.

This represents a relatively new phenomenon, in which VRML browser developers are aligning themselves with particular hardware vendors in order to gain increased distribution for their products and a known hardware base to build on.

Intervista

Intervista's Worldview browser can be found at www.intervista.com

Silicon Graphics Partners with 3DLabs and ATI for 3D Accelerators
In a somewhat similar move, 3DLabs has announced that it will be bundling SGI's Cosmo Player browser with new shipments of its Permedia and Glint 3D processors on both the PC and Macintosh platforms. Access to the hardware will be provided via OpenGL under Windows and QuickDraw3D on the Mac.

Similarly, ATI Technologies will be bundling Cosmo Player with its Rage #D graphics accelerators.

Silicon Graphics

SGI's site is www.sgi.com

Sony Adds Stereoscopic Viewing to Community Place Browser
In yet another similar announcment, Sony has demonstrated VRML worlds running in full stereoscopic 3D using shutter glasses and a 3D accelerator board from Canopus.

The Canopus board uses the Rendition Verite chipset, which has built-in hardware support for the shutter glasses. The browser renders each image twice, once from a left-eye perspective and once from a right-eye perspective, and the hardware alternates between the two while simultaneously opening and closing the liquid-crystal "shutters" over each eye. The result is that the left eye sees only the left-eye image and the right eye sees only the right-eye image. The two images are combined in the user's brain, and the disparity between them creates a sense of depth.

Sony is the first VRML browser company to announce stereoscopic support, but the others can be expected to follow in due course.

This represents yet another deal between a 3D board manufacturer and a VRML browser company. These deals make a certain amount of sense; after all, manufacturers of 3D boards need application software to support their products, and the browser developers need the distribution that the card vendors can provide.

Sony

Sony's website is sonypic.com/vs

New 3D Animated Series Debuts on the Web
Following in the virtual footsteps of Floops, Protozoa recently released the first in a ten-part series of episodes entitled "Driftwrood". The episodes, or "webisodes" as they've been called, will deal with an Irish lobster named Red and an East Coast seabird named Frigate.

Protozoa has earned a reputation for creating lifelike characters, and these are no exception. The key is their use of motion capture technology, which lets actual human actors provide the animation sequences. This is the same technology Protozoa used for creating MTV's "Blockheads" and The Cartoon Network's "Moxy".

Mediadome

The new series can be found at the Mediadome site, www.mediadome.com

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