Watershed du jour -- 3D coming of age

While software and hardware have made great strides, some things still remain in the realm of specialized software. One way to look at this is, what can you still not do on the web? I can think of a few things: 3D, sound synthesis, video editing. I have hopes for all of these, but 3D in particular looks to be on the edge of a real breakthrough, and not necessarily from where I expected it.

For years I have been tracking X3D, the XML-based 3D specification that is the successor to VRML. I've been watching and working with the open-source FreeWRL tool, and it has been making good progress. However, the Age of Plugins appears to be on the decline. If it isn't built-in to the browser (or ubiquitous, like Flash, and I have doubts about the long-term viability of Flash), there is little chance of getting viewers to install a plugin for your media format. That's why I'm excited to see that Firefox is experimenting with a 3D context for the <canvas/> element, which will base its API on OpenGL ES, and significantly will support import of Collada models (presumably Collada Digital Asset Exchange, or .dae files).

But Firefox alone does not make a viable ecosystem. The other things I have come across recently that have convinced me that Collada models are going to springboard 3D into the hands of ordinary users are that Spore patch 5 (available now for PC, coming soon for Mac) supports exporting creatures (with textures and ready for animation) in Collada format, so you can work with them in the 3D tool of your choice, and that the next major release of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, will support Collada as a built-in file type (scroll down to "Digital Asset Exchange support"). Collada has kept pretty quiet, at least in my world, but the support for it is pretty widespread, including open-source tools such as Blender and OGRE, plus all the usual suspects such as Maya and 3dsMax. Sadly, my editor of choice, Cheetah3D does not yet support it, but I understand they're working on it.

I, for one, welcome our new 3D asset exchange overlords. Along with improved user creation tools like Spore, SecondLife, and SketchUp, 3D is almost ready for prime time.


[] Posted on 2009-07-26 by Dethe Elza

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