The Immersive Talks: The Future Of 3D

Hiperia3D News proudly presents a series of conversations with one of the driving forces in Web3D. He is an early pioneer in virtual reality, and someone that is admired by many of the 3D community as an example of entrepreneur, developer and researcher: Tony Parisi.

In the first and second chapter we were talking with Parisi about virtual worlds and related technologies. Here comes the third part, in which we start to analyze the future of 3D.
Stay tuned for upcoming new conversations that will be published. 

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- How do you think augmented reality fits in the 3D and virtual worlds scenario?

- I have no clue. My suspicion is that AR is going to go down its own path for the next several years. There may be interesting intersections with VR and 3D here and there, but I do not believe they are going to be fundamental or game-changing. We might see that happen in vertical markets such as medical visualization, or urban planning. These are potentially lucrative areas but they will be on the margins compared to the AR initiatives we are seeing on the consumer side, especially in mobile.

- Do you think that AR associated to 3D and virtual worlds will have more protagonism in desktop PCs or mobile devices?

- While there is a huge buzz around AR in mobile right now, I am not sure how that fits in with virtual worlds in the short term. I think we will see more uptake of AR integrated into virtual worlds on the desktop first, where there is less technology risk and also a little less of an AR land grab going on. The land grab in mobile AR means that startups are building small, simple consumer apps that can be viable very quickly with millions of users. That means they will be averse to the technology and design risks that come with integrating AR into a 3D virtual world.

- As a developer, in which areas do you think you will be dabbling in the near future and what do you think is more interesting amongst the current technologies for 3D?

- For my "day job" right now I am building social games as an independent consultant. I am largely focused on the back end, to round out my technical expertise. So I am spending a lot of time with a LAMP stack, PHP, MySQL, memcache etc. But my passion is still around 3D so I am keeping a close eye on several emerging technologies.

I will say that is highly unlikely that I will myself build another 3D client. I have done this in startups twice now and tried to "boil the ocean" around that technology. I think I can safely say that I have moved past that part of my life. However I am still a believer that there is a big, bright future in Web3D. I am looking into creating highly scalable platforms and services that take advantage of 3D client software that is emerging from several directions. In particular I am looking at three different kinds of client technology.

Unity is an amazing achievement. By far they have done what no other Web3D plugin developer has done to date: built a usable Web3D tool set and deployed it to millions of users. They have done it by staying focused on gaming, and working very closely with their customers. Kudos to them! Unity has the big issue of being an additional download, which is a problem for most web developers. But if they succeed in becoming ubiquitous, that will solve a distribution problem that has plagued Web3D for over a decade. I am definitely keeping a close watch on them. In addition, there may be other plugin-based solutions that make a run at Unity's dominant position. Any of these could become a viable platform for building 3D social experiences for consumers.

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Away3D is the best Flash-based solution. They recently released a "lite" version that is very friendly for building web games and worlds that download fast; it also takes advantage of the 3D rendering built into Flash 10. That capability is rudimentary, and very limited in the complexity of content you can deliver. It is nothing near as sophisticated as native OpenGL rendering. However, it has the advantage that there is no additional download, which is a boon to most web developers. I have used Away3D on projects and had a very pleasant experience. It is stable, relatively high performance and easy to develop with.

Finally, there is WebGL emerging in the so-called HTML5 browsers. With WebGL, at last the native rendering capability of the underlying machine is exposed to web developers. However, because of how it was designed I am a bit concerned that it might not be industrial strength enough to deploy meaningful 3D applications such as a fully featured game or virtual world. To get a bit technical: it is a procedural solution, a JavaScript API to the OpenGL hardware-accelerated rendering on the native machine. That is wonderful as far as it goes: large meshes with textures and shaders can be rendered with high performance. However, graphics is not just about rendering; it also involves animation, interactivity, picking, physics. Those tasks typically fall on CPU-based code, which in this case has to be built in JavaScript. So in a sense the success of WebGL is tied to the performance capabilities of the host browser's JavaScript interpreter, or virtual machine (VM). That is a risky proposition. Performance of the JavaScript VM's varies. Google has built a fast VM for Chrome, and Safari's is reputed to be fantastic as well. But there are other browsers - how well will it perform in those?

Which brings up another point: Microsoft has not committed to WebGL for IE. I don't how much that means in today's world but it probably still counts for something. So, there is some risk there. But by far this is the most promising direction in my opinion so I am spending some time with the Chrome daily builds and WebGL development.

-Jordi R. Cardona-

© 2008 by Jordi R. Cardona. Link to this post without copying the text.

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