3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 85: Superscape Reborn in Web 3D | 2 | WebReference

3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 85: Superscape Reborn in Web 3D | 2

Lesson 85 - Superscape Reborn in Web 3D - Part 2

My talk with Paul Beardow, Vice President of Research, was pleasant and informative. Paul is the kind of urbane and sophisticated gentleman that Americans love to find in a Brit. The first and most important point that surfaced was Superscape's decision to keep its technology in-house, as least for the present. In other words, companies that want to use the new SeV for Web 3D must let Superscape do the work itself. This is in contrast with MetaCreations, which is presently focused on selling content development services, but also is making its MetaStreams technology available to other developers. Paul stressed that companies seeking to do their own development using SeV are invited to "talk to us" about partnership arrangements, but noted that keeping their technology in their own hands was a central element of their corporate strategy.

The audience that reads these columns, of course, is overwhelmingly composed of people who develop 3D content themselves, rather than purchase it from others. They may fairly wonder why I should devote attention here to technology that is unavailable to them. But Superscape's business strategy is important to understand in its own right as we all try to make sense of the fast-developing Web 3D scene. And, more significantly, some aspects of Superscape's technology are impressive enough to deserve attention from all interested players.

First to the business strategy. I talked with Paul at length about the issues surrounding the use of a plug-in application requiring a separate download. He acknowledged that requiring users with to download and install the player, which is necessarily presented in the slightly intimidating context of a security alert, is a problem. But he argued that the Superscape download and installation is fast and easy—which is true—and that users are becoming more and more accustomed to such downloads. Readers of this column must certainly be aware of my skepticism on this point, but mine is hardly the only view around and Superscape has invested considerable money and energy on this premise. Like all players using a plug-in strategy, Superscape hopes to see the day in which its technology is perceived as the leader and finds its way into a standard Web browser installation. This, of course, would be the ultimate payoff, but is entirely speculative right now.

Just as with MetaStream's players, SeV players come in separate versions for Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape. The former is implemented as an ActiveX control, the latter as a collection of Java class (in a .jar file).

Paul indicated that the primary market for Web 3D content for the present is e-commerce sites on which consumer products are examined interactively as 3D models. This is what MetaStreams is focused on as well. But Paul envisions a larger and developing role for 3D graphics in an e-commerce setting that goes beyond simply displaying products for sale--toward demonstration and interactive visualization. This necessarily requires sophisticated tools for creating user interactivity, and the Superscape package makes use of a Java API (Applications Programming Interface), and even JavaScript, for this purpose. I found in this further evidence of what I believe to be the central role that Java technology and the Java programming language will play in the emerging world of interactive realtime 3D, on and off the Web. I'm always telling my 3D graphics students at Cogswell College that any time invested in learning Java is sure to pay off. Regardless of which of the competing 3D technologies survive, it's a good bet that most of them will rely largely or wholly on Java.

I didn't talk about it with Paul, but Superscape's decision to cut its ties to VRML is noteworthy and deserves consideration by all observers of the new Web 3D landscape. Superscape was a major player in the VRML community—perhaps the most significant one remaining after the collapse of Cosmo Software. At a mininum, this action is evidence that some in the best position to know feel that the VRML standard and its institutions are no longer a viable path for the future. I don't agree with this view, but it must be given it's due.

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Created: Feb. 1, 2000
Revised: Feb. 1, 2000

URL: http://webreference.com/3d/lesson85/part2.html