Virtue Ltd, a company started by computer scientists from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, will be at next week's VRML98 show in Monterey, California showing how Web users with modest PCs and Internet connections can interact with dynamic 3D virtual worlds of great size and complexity.
"The 3D graphic content that has existed on the Web until now has been very simple, uninteresting and toylike," said Jeff Fayman, Virtue's vice president for product development. "Virtue has developed software technology that allows more complex, interesting, rich 3D content to be accessed through the Web," Beta versions of two products will be available for download from www.virtue.co.il "in the near future". The Thunder optimiser programme processes VRML (virtual reality modelling language) files, outputting a stream of VRML optimised for efficient viewing over the Internet. Its final touch is to compress the optimised VRML text to about half its original size.
The Lightning 3D browser decompresses the VRML data and provides an interactive display. It understands Thunder's optimisations and can render scenes efficiently even on modestly powered PCs.
While developing these products, the scientists were trying to solve two problems: the usual Internet problem of insufficient bandwidth and the problem of rendering complex 3D scenes on weak PCs.
"Even if you solve the problem of transmitting the data to the PC, you still have to display it to the user. The typical PC is not strong enough to display complex 3D graphics," Mr Fayman said.
Virtue's software uses a combination of techniques to avoid unnecessary work. It does its best not to transmit or render parts of the scene that will be invisible from the user's current point of view. It also tries not to waste time rendering invisibly fine detail.
Thunder and Lightning are expected to have educational applications. Other possibilities include virtual shopping, interactive games, a variety of simulations, and architectural and urban planning "walk-throughs".