Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 1 April 2002
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)
--MultiGen-Paradigm Ships Vega Prime
--Digital Artforms Announces SmartScene Advancements --Logitech Announces PS2 USB Audio SDK
--HRW, Quantum Partner for Online AI Tutors --Sun Announces Java VMs for Consumer Devices --Interra Releases MPEG-4 Verification Tool --ScanSoft Announces XML Speech Indexing Products --2D to 3D Video Conversion Software
--Alias|Wavefront Slashes Maya Pricing
--Electric Rain Announces Swift 3D Importer for Flash MX --Wildform Updates Flix for Flash MX
--BLS Launches 360-Degree Image Capture Solution --Discreet Ships cleaner central
--Autosolids Offers AutoCAD 2D-to-3D Converter
--Canesta Unveils Electronic Perception Tech
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
--New Books from O'Reilly
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--Spectrum Mini-review: Drakan for PlayStation2 --EA Ships Sims Vacation Expansion Pack --Activision Releases Bloody Roar for Gamecube, Hawk 3 for PC --Sony Announces EverQuest: The Planes of Power
MultiGen-Paradigm Ships Vega Prime
San Jose, Calif.-based MultiGen-Paradigm, Inc., a provider of realtime 3D software solutions, announced last week that Vega Prime for Microsoft Windows, the company's 3D application development and deployment tool, is now available and shipping to customers. Vega Prime includes VSG (Vega Scene Graph), MultiGen-Paradigm's low-level scene graph that provides an extensible, double-precision environment for the creation of realtime 3D visual simulation applications.
Vega Prime features a customizable, extensible, STL-compliant, C++ plug-in-based architecture for creating visual simulation applications. It also includes LynX Prime, a redesigned GUI configuration tool.
Vega Prime 1.0 is currently available for Windows users only, but MultiGen-Paradigm claims that because of its single-source architecture, applications and code written in the Windows version will be immediately usable and viable for the SGI Irix, Linux and Sun Microsystems Solaris Operating Environment platforms once released later this year.
(See related Digital Artforms story, below.)
Digital Artforms Announces SmartScene Advancements
Shipping today from Digital ArtForms are Vega/SmartScene, SmartScene/Collaborative, and SmartScene/Linux, three advancements of SmartScene, the company's immersive, realtime 3D environment software with two-handed user interface. SmartScene is designed to exploit realtime 3D technologies to train, certify and maintain workforces and to enable man-in-the-loop virtual prototyping processes.
Vega/SmartScene combines SmartScene's interaction techniques with MultiGen-Paradigm's Vega application development environment, enabling SmartScene users to take advantage of the range of application-specific functionality available in Vega modules including Vega Special Effects, Vega DI Guy, and Vega Immersive.
SmartScene/Collaborative brings SmartScene users based in different geographic locations together in a common realtime 3D workspace to brainstorm ideas, review 3D designs, and train for complex 3D tasks. In a recent demonstration, SmartScene/Collaborative linked the boardroom at the New York Stock Exchange with Silicon Graphics' Reality Center in Mountain View, California for a demonstration design review and brainstorming session.
SmartScene/Linux takes SmartScene to PCs with commodity-level graphics cards. Combined with SmartScene/Collaborative, users with laptops and supercomputers can collaborate.
Logitech Announces PS2 USB Audio SDK
Logitech last week announced the availability of a free USB audio software developer's kit (SDK) for PlayStation2. It is available directly from Logitech and from the PlayStation2 Developer Network Website.
With the SDK, developers can record audio from the headset microphone (input), and play data back through the headset (output). It also provides a simple programming interface that helps overcome the complexities of USB device enumeration, descriptor parsing and streaming USB audio data. When supplemented with other third-party tools, the SDK can also be instrumental in providing such features as command recognition and voice-over-IP communication.
The SDK library has both an EE and an IOP interface, and requires use of the 2.4.3 SCEI PlayStation2 SDK or later, which offers efficient USB audio data streaming. The Logitech USB Audio SDK is compatible with the latest development tools from SCEI, Metrowerks and SN Systems Limited. It includes a driver, sample code, and full documentation.
HRW, Quantum Partner for Online AI Tutors
Textbook publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston (HRW) has entered a long-term agreement with Quantum Simulations, Inc., a developer of artificial intelligence (AI) tutoring technologies. HRW will offer Quantum Intelligent Tutors for high school chemistry, high school physical science, high school integrated science and middle school physical science over the Internet.
"Our market research shows that tutorial programs are the number one supplement requested by teachers," states Ellen M. Standafer, HRW vice president of science product development. "As states struggle with increasing graduation requirements in science, standards-based instruction and high stakes testing, teachers are looking for targeted solutions to ensure mastery of core concepts."
Said Dr. Benny Johnson, president and CEO of Quantum and co-developer of the company's AI technology, "The Quantum Tutors ... converse with students, providing real-time feedback based on the students' work entered into the software. The Tutors respond to student questions, give hints, show correct next steps and ... explain why a step is correct or incorrect using scientific principles."
Sun Announces Java VMs for Consumer Devices
Sun Microsystems last week announced new Java Virtual Machine (VM) solutions said to improve the performance of Java technology-based networked devices.
Sun claims the two new VMs (code named Project Monty) for Connected Limited Device Configuration (CLDC) and Connected Device Configuration (CDC)/Dynamic Compiler will deliver a level of performance up to 10 times higher than existing virtual machine technologies in a small footprint. Sun is collaborating with ARM, a provider of 16/32-bit embedded RISC processor technology, and Symbian, a provider of mobile device operating system software, to deliver the technology to consumer devices.
The new virtual machine solutions are designed to work with ARM microprocessors, as well as other microprocessor designs, and will complement the ARM Jazelle technology. Following a licensing and collaboration agreement made last year, joint Sun and ARM solutions are broadening the market for consumer devices by providing higher performance solutions for devices at the high-end and low-end.
The Project Monty VMs are suited for data-enabled mobile phones and entry-level PDAs. CDC/Dynamic Compiler is aimed at high-end PDAs and communicators, game consoles, Web tablets, TV set-top boxes and automotive telematics systems, using solutions that need higher-end features than available in CLDC, but where memory footprint is still constrained.
Interra Releases MPEG-4 Verification Tool
New from Interra Digital Video Technologies is Interra M4, MPEG-4 conformance analyzer software. The Interra M4-1000 is the first release in the M4 product line and is targeted to organizations developing MPEG-4 products, turnkey systems, and network infrastructure.
MPEG-4 is said to hold immense potential as a worldwide standard for multimedia delivery, but as MPEG-4 products and systems are released to the market the focus will be on how seamlessly the various products interoperate with each other. Solid conformance to the standard is the foundation on which interoperability is built. The M4-1000 is Interra's first contribution to this emerging industry, and represents phase one of its plan to supply the MPEG-4 professional community with a set of test and measurement tools. Interra previously created MProbe, a file-based MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 stream analyzer.
Said Rob Koenen, president of the MPEG-4 Industry Forum (M4IF), "M4IF carries out interoperability tests between over 25 different vendors.
Products like M4 will help achieve interoperability, facilitate the creation of MPEG-4 coders and decoders ..."
ScanSoft Announces XML Speech Indexing Products
ScanSoft Inc., a supplier of imaging, speech and language solutions, last week introduced two products based on new AudioMining XML speech indexing technology: the AudioMining Development System and Dragon MediaIndexer for Windows.
The products use ScanSoft's speech-recognition capabilities automatically to create XML speech index and timestamp data for every word spoken within rich media files and allows text-based keywords and phrases to be used to playback speech information at precise locations within audio and video content.
The new XML speech indexing technologies and products are based in part on audio mining technology previously owned by Lernout & Hauspie (L&H) and recently acquired by ScanSoft subsequent to its December 2001 purchase of speech and language assets of L&H.
AudioMining Development System lets developers integrate XML speech indexing, search and playback capabilities with Web, commercial, government and custom software applications. The system can be used to add rich media-archive and retrieval capabilities to a range of applications, including Web, call center, content management, customer relationship management, database, security, training and video editing programs. The AudioMining Development System supports a range of applications through its ability to create XML speech index data from broadcast-, telephony- and amateur-quality speech content. For additional information on the AudioMining Development System, visit http://www.ScanSoft.com/AudioMining.
Dragon MediaIndexer is a turnkey Windows application that creates XML speech-index data from tapes and from digital media files in Microsoft Windows Media, RealMedia and other popular formats. The product replaces manual indexing and cataloguing efforts with automatic speech indexing and cataloguing. The Dragon MediaIndexer is intended to be used by non-technical staff to automatically index and archive media content for Web sites as well as for broadcast, corporate and government archives. For additional information and a demo of Dragon MediaIndexer, visit http://www.ScanSoft.com/MediaIndexer.
Dragon MediaIndexer is expected to be available within 60 days for $15,000 per index workstation. The product supports XML speech indexing for U.S.
English audio and video content and works with 32-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems.
The AudioMining Development System starts at $25,000 per developer workstation, with runtime licenses required to deploy applications created with the system. The product supports XML speech indexing for U.S. English audio and video content and works with 32-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems. The AudioMining Development System is expected to be available from ScanSoft within 60 days.
2D to 3D Video Conversion Software
On April 18, TDV will release its 2D to 3D video conversion software, allowing existing digital content to be viewed in 3D. The TDV system reportedly lets broadcasters, cable operators, and Webmasters deliver content "on-the-fly" for 3D viewing using the TDV 3D Viewing Glass System.
The system has been developed for three applications: * Internet "on-the-fly" 2D to 3D display conversions * broadcast TV and cable programming in 3D * DVD or VHS formats viewable on TV or the PC in 3D
Alias|Wavefront Slashes Maya Pricing
As of April 4, Alias|Wavefront will significantly reduce the standard list prices of its Maya Complete and Maya Unlimited 3D animation software packages. Maya Complete, formerly priced at $7,500 will now sell for $1,999 and Maya Unlimited, which formerly sold for $16,000 will be priced at $6,999. Prices are list prices for node-locked licenses; floating licenses for Maya Unlimited are available at an additional fee.
In conjunction with this repricing the company is offering an upgrade special to its current customers on annual full maintenance whereby those with licenses of Maya Complete for the IRIX, Linux or Windows platforms can upgrade to Maya Unlimited for $1,499. The company is also moving to an operating systems policy more consistent with that of other volume software products. As part of this move, a new licensing policy comes into effect April 4 which, among other things, gives Maya Unlimited customers with floating licenses "right to operate" licensing free of charge.
Electric Rain Announces Swift 3D Importer for Flash MX
Electric Rain describes its new Swift 3D Importer as an improved solution for incorporating Swift 3D vector animations into Macromedia Flash MX projects. The software, accessed through the Flash MX menu system, will recognize a new proprietary Swift 3D file format. It will reportedly provide users with access to greater functionality and tighter 3D integration with Macromedia Flash MX.
Currently, the entire Swift 3D product line exports to the Flash (SWF) file format. As a compiled format, SWF files inherently limit the type of 3D information able to be imported into Macromedia Flash. The Swift 3D Importer, along with Electric Rain's new proprietary file format, is said to provide a better integrated workflow between Swift 3D and Macromedia Flash MX, while allowing Swift 3D to take advantage of Flash MX's features and functionality.
Wildform Updates Flix for Flash MX
Wildform last week released Flix 2.1, which features Flash MX (Flash version 6) video output. This addition lets Flix output all types of Flash video: Flash 3-5, Flash MX, and Flix's proprietary vectorized video.
On March 15, Macromedia released Flash MX, which offers a new MX video output. MX video uses video compression comparable to Quicktime, Windows Media Player, and Real. However, while Flash is the most popular media format on the Web (according to a December, 2001 NPD Research study, 98.3% of all Web users have Flash 3-5 installed), the MX video format plays only in the new Flash 6 player, which will likely take at least a year to achieve wide distribution. That is why Flix gives users the option of encoding in the ubiquitous Flash 3-5 format, the new Flash MX format, or both.
In addition, Flix includes its own vectorized video output that consists only of vectors - lines and curves defined by mathematical equations that can scale to any size without distortion. Flix's vectorized video will also play in any Flash player (3-6). Other Flix features let users encode video, add their own customized elements such as links, play controls and variables, and post it on the Web in minutes.
BLS Launches 360-Degree Image Capture Solution
BLS Designs recently debuted its Accupan Image Capture System, a new solution for creating both QTVR Panoramas and QTVR Objects. The system is targeted at consumers who want to produce panorama photographs, QTVR panorama movies and QTVR object movies.
Features include the ability to support 35mm, digital still, and consumer video cameras on tripods or any flat surface for panoramic image capture.
The rotation control unit, machined of aircraft grade aluminum, brass, and stainless steel, converts from a camera support to a turntable to capture images for QTVR object movies.
Discreet Ships cleaner central
Discreet, a division of Autodesk, has begun shipping its $4,995 cleaner central software. The product is designed for professionals who require increased streaming output and distributed workflow management. Scalable for large streaming projects, cleaner central automates the process of mastering content to the Web, DVD, and other digital delivery mediums used in Web-based marketing, product promotions, entertainment, e-learning and corporate communications.
Based on cleaner, the Windows-based cleaner central performs batch transcoding processes across multiple clients in a distributed, fail-safe configuration. The cleaner product line is used in importing, authoring, encoding and delivering interactive streaming media in streaming formats, including RealNetworks RealSystem, Apple QuickTime, Windows Media, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MP3.
Autosolids Offers AutoCAD 2D-to-3D Converter
AutoSolids, Inc. (ASI) has begun including a special edition of CADalog Inc.'s "Auto-Z" 2D-to-3D automation software with ASI's 3D solid modeling program "AutoSolids."
AutoSolids and Auto-Z are both add-on software packages for AutoCAD. Two major AutoSolids features are:
* parametric creation and editing of 3D solids * automatic multi-view 2D geometry generation from 3D solids via AutoSolids' "QuickDraw" feature
Auto-Z performs the reverse function of QuickDraw, creating 3D solids from multi-view 2D geometry. The special edition of Auto-Z included with AutoSolids creates parametric 3D solids, fully editable via AutoSolids.
Canesta Unveils Electronic Perception Tech
Silicon Valley startup Canesta last week introduced its "electronic perception" technology. Described as a low-cost, real-time 3D imaging capability that will enable machines and electronic devices to perceive nearby objects and their movements in three dimensions, the technology reportedly lets products such as cell phones, PDAs, video games, etc. react to and interact with individuals and the nearby environment in real time, through the medium of sight.
The heart of Canesta's technology, as revealed in a recently issued U.S.
patent, is a small, moving-image sensor and software that "sees" the environment in three-dimensional contours, rather than the flat, two-dimensional images historically provided by video camera chips.
Additionally, because the sensors provide over 50 3D frames per second, applications can track subtle movements and positions of nearby objects in real time.
Potential applications include baby monitoring, building and airport security, law enforcement, and medical diagnosis. Video games could sense players' body and hand movements, relying on electronic perception rather than mechanical controllers for input. "Virtual" input devices might include virtual keyboards and gestural control of consumer electronics.
For more info, see "Background Information: Electronic Perception Technology," March 2002, http://www.roederj.com/RJDocs/CABG.html.
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
New Books from O'Reilly
Three new releases this week:
Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) is a family of specifications that defines compact versions of the Java 2 platform that can be used to develop Java applications for cell phones, PDAs, pagers, set-top boxes and other resource-constrained devices. It is enough like Java to be familiar to Java programmers, and different enough to challenge them.
"J2ME in a Nutshell" follows the format of "Java in a Nutshell," including the classic-style quick reference material for all the classes in the various J2ME packages. Its introduction to J2ME covers the essential APIs for different types of devices and deployments, the profiles, and the Java virtual machine functions that support those APIs. This book offers Java developers reference material plus a tutorial that leverages their existing knowledge of Java, while teaching what is different about the Micro Edition.
Chapter 3, "The Mobile Information Device Profile and MIDlets," is available free online at
Second, the "Transact-SQL Cookbook" contains solutions to problems that SQL Server programmers face. The "recipes" in the book range from those that show how to perform simple tasks such as importing external data to those that handle more complicated tasks involving set algebra. Each recipe is followed by a discussion that explains the logic and concepts underlying the solution.
Chapter 8, "Statistics in SQL," is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/transqlcook/chapter/ch08.html.
Last, "Java Web Services" offers working examples of how each Java-based API can be used in real-world business-to-business communications environments. Java developers can learn how to use SOAP to perform remote method calls and message passing; how to use WSDL to describe the interface to a Web service or understand the interface of someone else's service, and how to use UDDI to advertise, or publish, and look up services in each local or global registry. The book also discusses security and interoperability issues, integration with other Java enterprise technologies such as EJB and JMS, the work being done on JAXM and JAX-RPC packages, and interoperability with Microsoft's .NET services.
Chapter 6, "UDDI: Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration" is available free at http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/javaWebserv/chapter/ch06.html.
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Spectrum Mini-review: Drakan for PlayStation2
I'm having a hard time figuring out why Drakan is so much fun. It's pretty much a textbook action adventure for PS2, based on the world of the original PC title from Psygnosis but with all new missions. Rynn and Arokh, her dragon friend/flying steed, journey through mountainous worlds and craggy caverns doing battle with a variety of foes on two and four feet and flying through the air. Part of the enjoyment is because everything looks so gosh-darned good. The 3D artwork is always impressive, and sometimes breathtaking. The designers have done a superb job of creating a fantastical world that's nonetheless convincing, and makes you always want to explore just a bit farther, despite the anticipated dangers. It also doesn't hurt that interaction with the game's NPCs can be quite amusing.
And certainly, the fact that I've progressed through most of the game without getting stuck for very long is a major plus. Not being a professional gamer, playability is important to me; why do so many designers insist on making their games too difficult for most people?
Drakan is not without significant challenges, such as when our valiant duo emerges from a tunnel into a vast cave populated with hordes of missile-firing dragons that attack from all sides. But, as with all such situations in Drakan, a few minutes of experimentation (thank goodness you can save at any point, although each save game is 1.5MB; you can save up to four of these monsters) leads to the correct strategy. In this case, it's ... but I won't spoil the fun for you.
Suffice it to say, if you've ever enjoyed an action adventure, and have a PS2, you should get Drakan. I liked it better even than GTA3!
EA Ships Sims Vacation Expansion Pack
Just out from EA is The Sims Vacation Expansion Pack, a new add-on disk to the top-selling PC game The Sims. Both luxurious and rustic accommodations are available at the new, customizable destination. The vacation island offers a snowy alpine setting, a boardwalk boasting beach resort and a forest campground.
Activities include volleyball, snowboarding, archery, fishing, and hunting for hidden treasure, plus new social interactions and over 125 new objects will have Sim vacationers entertained from dusk until dawn.
The vacation director and the wacky resort staff are on-call day and night to see to the Sims' every need. A troupe of costumed performers is also on hand to entertain the kids. Keeping those kids happy is crucial because errant children can bring a premature end to the Sims' island stay.
Souvenirs of all types can be bought, caught, won and collected. Sims can dig up a buried treasure chest, win a stuffed penguin at a carnival game, collect arrowheads and lava idols or catch an aggravating case of Montezuma's revenge. The Sims are sure to have the time of their lives with The Sims Vacation.
Activision Releases Bloody Roar for Gamecube, Hawk 3 for PC
Activision says its new Bloody Roar: Primal Fury is the first fighting game available for the Nintendo GameCube. The Bloody Roar series is distinguished by characters that have the ability to transform from humans into Hyper-beast life-forms with special attack moves.
Bloody Roar: Primal Fury for GameCube takes advantage of the hardware's next-generation graphics capabilities with fighting action (running at 60 FPS), detailed animations, attack moves, special effects and dynamic lighting. Choosing from one of 16 characters, gamers can morph mid-fight from humans into beasts such as leopards, chameleons, tigers and wolves.
Players face off against opponents in 10 interactive areas complete with multiple levels and destructible walls and floors. The game features seven gameplay modes, including five single-player modes and two two-player head-to-head tournaments.
Also just out from Activision is the PC version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, the sequel to the best-selling sports game of 2000. Featuring eight large levels containing people, traffic, and other interactive elements, the game offers richer graphics and special effects optimized for modern PC video cards. Smoother animations and improved tricks capture the style of skateboarding pros. The game lets players perform tricks and combos in such popular skate locations as Los Angeles, Canada and Tokyo.
Sony Announces EverQuest: The Planes of Power
Coming this fall from Sony Online Entertainment is EverQuest: The Planes of Power, the next installment in the EverQuest series. The new expansion pack promises to take players on an adventure through the Planes of Power, home of the Gods of Norrath. Features include: * 18 new zones
* hundreds of new items and monsters
* new quests and challenges
* two planar cities that provide a hub for travel and player interaction * central storyline links the content from every zone into one quest * characters gain more power
Spectrum is an independent news service published every Monday for the interactive media professional community by Motion Blur Media. Spectrum covers the tools and technologies used to create interactive multimedia applications and infrastructure for business, education, and entertainment; and the interactive media industry scene. We love to receive interactive media and online development tools and CD-ROMs for review.
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