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Tip of the Day
Language: DHTML
Expertise: Beginner
Mar 25, 1997

Are there any examples of VRML 2.0 I can see now?

Question:
What VRML 2.0 sites are there now?

Answer:
Yes, there are products available that have been developed with the same aspirations as VRML 2.0 (i.e., simulation of the real world) and which have some, all, or more features, than have been proposed by the protagonists in the current, VAG-arbitrated, VRML 2.0 debate.

The two examples covered here are:

  1. Superscape VRT 4.0 and its Visualiser and VisNet browser, and
  2. VREAM's VRCreator and WIRL browser.

Superscape gives you interactive VRML 2.0 today. The new VisNet VRML browser plug-in for Netscape or Internet Explorer can give you interactive 3D on the WWW immediately when you visit a Superscape site. Although the plug-in is fully compatible with VRML 1.0, it can also read SuperVRML, the .vrt file format used by Superscape for its own version of VRML 2.0.

This means you can visit a site built with the Superscape VRT world builder and experience interaction with objects, 3D sound, collision detection, intelligent and physics based object behavior, animation, and backdrops.

This is not a rival to the newly formed/forming VRML 2.0; Superscape is on the list of supporters of Moving Worlds. When VRML 2.0 from Moving Worlds is officially specified, the VisNet browser will be amended to include all behaviors included in the specification.

How is it that Superscape already has VRML 2.0 fully implemented? The company has been in the VR business since 1983 and the Superscape VRT world builder product was released in 1991. Superscape also has a lead in rendering speed.; its proprietary rendering engine is written in machine code and so is faster than any other in use by Web browsers. According to Superscape's own tests, it came out five times faster than even VRScout, known as the fastest VRML browser, and up to 20 times faster than some other browsers.

When dealing with its own worlds, Superscape can achieve even faster results because it uses geometry optimization routines to reduce file size and hence make transmission time faster.

In my experience, Visualizer is certainly the smoothest viewer. The really good news is that you don't need any special equipment to use the viewer or the VRML plug-in. These run on regular Intel-based 486 PCs with 8MB of RAM, and any version of Windows. They have no special acceleration or extreme memory demands.

There is a Developer's Kit for advanced interface building and Networks: a way to link up to 25 people in the same virtual world. This is your chance to experience the future of interactive multi-user virtual reality.

VREAM's VRCreator and WIRL browser are also Windows products. They too extend the reach of VRML but are more recent arrivals on the scene. As supporters of the Moving Worlds proposal for VRML 2.0, VREAM products will be compatible with the standard as it evolves.

VREAM has VRCreator available as a commercial product for Windows 95, 3.1 and NT. VRCreator uses a standard GUI to present a space in which to prepare a 3D world. It includes '3D clip models and textures' to supply objects for the world. VREAMScript is an open high-level scripting language that gives VRCreator capabilities similar in concept to VRML 2.0. It has been in use by VREAM since 1991. VRCreator uses an 'inline extensions' architecture in which an additional command line, that references an external file, can be inserted into a VRML file. The use of VREAMScript commands in external .vre files enables attributes such as weight and elasticity to be given to objects to give them physical presence.

Complex interactive cause and effect relationships can be assigned to enable objects, such as pull cords for lights, to function. The VREAM browser WIRL can access the contents of the external file and use it to extend the functionality of the 3D world. Other external files, .vrw files, can add behaviors and logic functions transforming static objects into actively moving ones. The world builder incorporates Microsoft's RealityLab rendering engine.

T WIRL (Web Interactive Reality Layer) is now available for free download from the site: www.vream.com. It is a Netscape plug-in for Windows 95 and NT. WIRL reads inline extensions to a VRML file and references an external file containing additional behaviors.

Opening the VRML file with a WIRL browser gives access to the contents of the external file. To a non-WIRL browser only, the normal VRML is visible. The extensions architecture gives static objects dynamic behaviors such as weight, motion, rotation, elasticity, and sound. Cause and effect behaviors can also be incorporated into objects, enabling them to interact intelligently with one another.

Try it out at their site and fly a helicopter, morph a video pyramid or throw around a TV set. There is a cyber-gymnast who demonstrates object behavior and a scripted product assembly demo. Lots to make you think the old VRML 1.0 is really limited. Once you've been converted, they will sign you up for a year's worth of upgrades and technical support for $29. WIRL is planned to include more on-line extension support for other emerging technologies such as JavaScript. For developers there is provided a Dynamic Link Library (DLL), allowing low-level access to VREAM's API.

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