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-- by Serdar Yegulalp
VRML, the standardized language for creating 3-D worlds on the Internet, hasn't just been revamped-it's been reborn.
The new spec, officially VRML 2.0, supports animated and linked objects, richer multimedia capabilities (including sound) and built-in extensions to support the presence of multiple users in a single virtual world. Some of the biggest changes, predictably enough, are clearly in response to the omnipresence of Java, which VRML 2.0 relies on heavily for its most powerful feature: an open-ended architecture that lets manufacturers add their own extensions to the VRML spec.
No Longer Static
"VRML 2.0 is interactive and dynamic where 1.0 was passive and static," said Mitra, chief network technology officer at Paragraph International and a co-author of the 2.0 spec. "1.0 was fine for looking at static 3-D objects, but we want to be able to do more than that now.
"Also, VRML 2.0 lets manufacturers add their own extensions to the language in the form of transportable Java code," he added. "This way, the extensions can be transported to any browser that supports Java." One example of this is the Image Worlds extension, created by RealSpace, which adds panoramic viewing and sprite rendering to the VRML spec.
In contrast to version 1.0, vendors are beginning to show their support for the new spec. Among the products already being offered with VRML 2.0 support is Black Sun Interactive's CyberHub Client, which lets users plug their own "avatars" into VRML 2.0 universes and interact with each other in real- time. Virtus' 3-D Website Builder and IDS V-Realm Builder 1.1 are also getting the 2.0 upgrade. Developers have the option of using Silicon Graphics' Cosmo Suite to pull together conventional HTML, VRML and Java code.
On the hardware side, the 3Dlabs GLINT and Permedia chips are being ramped up to support the increased demands VRML 2.0 will make on any graphics processor. Plans are in place to ship boards that support both Windows 95 and Windows NT, with the high-end 3-D chips selling for less than $300.