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Standards Group Unveils Web3D Spec

A kind of 3D version of Extensible Marking Language (XML) has come to the fore this week. The Web3D Consortium said Tuesday that it has dusted up a draft version of the X3D (Extensible 3D) standard to weave 3D graphics into applications for wireless devices, set-top boxes and gaming consoles -- pretty much any computing product.

Ultimately, Web3D hopes the spec will serve as the basis for commercial use of a "open, royalty-free standard" in preparation for submission to the International Standards Organization (ISO) in August. The organization's promise (and mantra) is to deliver "3D Anywhere" over the Web and on broadcast applications.

The idea of 3D graphics for the Web is hardly new -- it just hasn't moved much since its seminal days years ago as Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML), when greater computing power and more bandwidth were more of an exception than the norm. To date, graphics on small client devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) have been nothing to rave about, but X3D, when it's ready to be implemented, could change minds of the wireless persuasion. Orinda, Calif.'s Web3D hopes to rectify lackadaisical graphics with 3D.

The spec poses profiles to meet the demands of sophisticated applications, including: an Interchange Profile for exchanging X3D content among authoring and publishing systems; an Interactive Profile to support delivery of lightweight interactive animations; an Extensibility Profile to enable the development of add-on components and robust applications; and a VRML97 Profile to ensure interoperability between X3D and VRML97 legacy content.

One aspect of the draft spec, which came to light this past Sunday at the Web3D Symposium in Tempe, Ariz., received approval from the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG): MPEG has accepted the X3D Interactive profile as the basis for interactive 3D graphics in the still-being-tinkered-with MPEG-4 multimedia standard. Specifically, the Interactive Profile will allow interoperability between X3D and MPEG-4 content, which would ideally provide a consistent platform for 3D graphics and application development across Web and broadcast environments.

"The X3D Interactive Profile for MPEG-4 is the direct result of close collaboration between the Web3D Consortium and MPEG over the past year to establish a standard profile for interactive 3D content that would not only scale across a wide range of networks and playback devices, but also across our respective standards," said Aaron E. Walsh, chairman of the Web3D-MPEG Working Group and Web3D Consortium liaison to MPEG.

To be sure, the Web3D Consortium is as a member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and is integrating X3D with other W3C standards, such as XML, the Document Object Model (DOM) and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG).

"The X3D effort includes dozens of contributors solving the hard interoperability challenges facing the 3D industry," commented Don Brutzman, Ph.D., X3D Task Group chair and co-editor of the X3D specification. "Deliverables include a royalty-free specification, open-source and commercial implementations, a conformance suite, scripting interfaces, and multilingual capabilities. We're showing how the Extensible Markup Language (XML) can seamlessly integrate with real-time graphics playback technology to make 3D graphics interchange a first-class citizen in the new Web."

The X3D standard is being developed with an open source implementation dubbed Xj3D, which is a Java-based X3D toolkit from Yemtech Inc. that allows companies to readily support the new standard. The source code is available under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL).

Again, the idea of interoperability through open, non-proprietary standards is being stressed for the new technology.

"X3D will provide a level of consistency across multiple platforms that is currently unavailable through proprietary technologies," Alan D. Hudson, president of Yumetech.