17 July 2000
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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***Spectrum on Hiatus***
We'll be taking a break during the next two weeks, so there will be no Spectrum editions on July 24 or July 31. We'll be back to the regular weekly schedule starting August 7, and hope to have a special report from Siggraph before then.
- David Duberman
Coming this fall for Apple Macintosh computers is the Media 100 i series of professional interactive streaming production solutions. The system's interactive streaming media technology - called EventStream technology -- lets Web designers embed interactive, multidimensional instructions directly into streaming media programs to trigger such capabilities as graphics, Flash animations and Java applications, synchronized with the streaming video on the Web site. Using Media 100 i, Web designers can define hot spots, URL flips and chapter marks, allowing viewers to interact with streaming media programs by clicking on objects to gather information, launch related Web sites from the video, or purchase items in the streaming video.
Beatware, Inc., last week announced the general availability of e-Picture Pro ($199, formerly e-Picture 2.0), an authoring solution for Web animated graphics and video, for Windows and MacOS. Features include:
The company says SVG support will be made available at no cost to e-Picture Pro users when the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) publishes the final format specifications.
Tech Soft America (TSA), developer of the HOOPS 3D Application Framework (HOOPS/3dAF), announces the availability of the HOOPS Internet Tools for the creation of Web-based visualization applications or publishing models to the Web. The HOOPS Internet Tools consist of the HOOPS/Stream and HOOPS/ActiveX Toolkits.
HOOPS/Stream allows developers to create compressed, stream-capable files named HOOPS Stream Files (HSF), enabling the efficient transfer of large models containing 2D, 3D and custom user data. The complementary HOOPS/ActiveX component gives developers a set of base classes for building custom, graphically rich, ActiveX controls.
The HOOPS/Stream is the latest extension to HOOPS/3dAF, which provides an architectural foundation for the development of design, visualization, and engineering applications for Windows, Unix, Linux and the Web.
The HOOPS Internet Tools can be demonstrated using TSA's free ParaHOOPS 3D Part Viewer to publish any Parasolid XT or STL file to the Web with the click of a button. Those files can then be streamed over the Web using TSA's free HOOPS 3D Stream Control. Both the ParaHOOPS 3D Part Viewer and HOOPS 3D Stream Control can be downloaded from http://www.hoops3d.com.
Pinnacle Systems last week began volume shipments of DC2000 and DVD2000, two new editing and authoring solutions for the professional market. Both solutions enable authoring of interactive MotionCDs and single menu DVDs. MotionCDs are CDs with DVD-quality video and DVD-style menus that can be viewed on most Microsoft Windows computers. In addition, the DVD2000 provides the capability to author industry-standard DVDs.
Both products use Pinnacle Systems' proprietary SmartGOP technology to capture, edit and author MPEG-2 IBP streams, the language of DVD. According to Pinnacle, editing MPEG-2 IBP files has long been considered technologically impossible. The company claims DC2000 is the first system on the market that will let users edit IBP MPEG-2 video in real-time with single-frame accuracy. By using direct IBP encoding, these products eliminate the need for the time-consuming step of recompressing video prior to authoring.
The DC/DVD2000 series lets users embed commands into the video streams that can automatically launch specific Web pages, documents, or other applications at predefined points in the video playback or through interactive DVD-style menus. This capability makes MotionCD suitable for corporate training videos, sales videos, and for adding video to distance-learning programs.
DC2000 and DVD2000 ship with Minerva Network's Impression 2.0 software for authoring interactive CD and DVD titles. Features include support for multi-camera angles, motion video menus, and up to 99 titles per DVD with up to 99 chapters in each title.
ActiveSky last week released its Media Player for the Palm OS platform. The new player is said to bring video and animation to users of Palm OS platform-based handheld computers. The company has partnered with several digital media companies to provide content targeted for the Palm OS platform.
Palm handheld users will be able to play video or animation clips on their Palm IIIx, IIIc, V and Vx handhelds (as well as some Handspring and IBM WorkPads). The ActiveSky player is available from the ActiveSky Website as a free download. There will also be a number of clips for users to download.
Polhemus Inc. last week expanded its family of Starhtrak RF real-time motion capture systems with the introduction of two new systems. The company's offerings provide a range of options from an OEM/VAR version on the low end to a new high-end system that captures the interactive movements of two performers with a single system.
The OEM/VAR system lets systems integrators combine their hardware and software applications with Polhemus' Starhtrak to create an integrated motion-capture solution. This version eliminates the need for two workstations--one for 3D content creation and one for motion capture--and makes it possible for the 3D graphics software to integrate with Starhtrak's motion capture software with a single Graphical User Interface (GUI).
On the high end, the next-generation Starhtrak can capture the interactive motion of two performers with a single system in real time. With a single STARHTRAK system, up to 32 receivers can be attached to two performers to track their exact motion (up to 16 per performer).
The technology behind Starhtrak is Polhemus' AC electromagnetic design that computes the exact position and orientation of each of its receivers (up to 32 per system) with an update rate of 120Hz per receiver and high relative accuracy. This means characters can touch realistically.
Polhemus says this approach is superior to optical systems, which are dependent on a clear line-of-sight between camera and target. The company claims it is also more robust and reliable than pulsed-DC technology, which is negatively impacted by the earth's magnetic field.
Criterion Software announced last week the availability of RenderVision 1.0, a $995 real-time previewing tool for game artists. A plug-in for 3D modeling programs, RenderVision lets artists visualize artwork on their target development platform (such as a games console), as polygonal playback in real-time and at the touch of a button, without any programmer involvement.
RenderVision is available as a plug-in for 3D Studio MAX 3.1, targeting both PC and PlayStation 2. Maya and SOFTIMAGE 3D plug-ins will be available at the end of Q3/00, along with support for other advanced consoles.
RenderVision 1.0 can playback anything that the modelers can export as geometry - including cameras, lights and animations - generating a polygonal playback on the target platform in real-time.
The resulting preview is interactive, with camera movement and playback speed controlled by the keyboard and/or the controller, enabling artwork to be checked early in the creation process, or as a way of checking how it performs on a target platform. Since the preview is real-time, scenes can also be explored to check finer detail and quality of both models and textures.
Also, artists working on PlayStation 2 will have the ability to run RenderVision in a Metrics mode, to obtain detailed on-screen information about triangle / texture throughput as well as VU1 and DMA utilization.
Information such as total texture size loaded per frame, and number of triangles rendered per frame, will allow artists to check performance levels as they progress. RenderVision fully supports SCEI T-10000 devkits over the network now, and will support the Artist/debug stations within a couple of months.
Virtual Mirror Corporation, a developer of graphic arts software plug-ins, last week released Vector Studio ($129, some available separately), a suite of plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator. The plug-ins are:
Lighting in 3D software is similar to lighting in photography, with the result that the topic often receives short shrift in books about 3D graphics. But there are significant differences, which unsuspecting users can get caught on, or conversely, might not take advantage of because of ignorance. Thus it's a good thing that New Riders is publishing Digital Lighting & Rendering, by Jeremy Birn. This cross-platform book, due out in early August, covers a range of lighting issues important to users of any 3D graphics software.
One of the most crucial is attenuation: In some programs, light sources don't diminish with distance by default, so scenes created by inexperienced users tend to be unrealistically lit. Birn discusses the various alternatives and shows examples of their usage. The book also studies techniques used by pro cinematographers, such as lighting design, and color temperature. Other topics covered include optical/physical principles that can and can't be simulated correctly via software, viewer perception, working with clients, and using multilayer and multipass rendering.
According to a new report from research firm Cahners In-Stat Group, dozens of billion-dollar-per-year companies are racing each other to install and implement major fiber optic and satellite backbones to deliver voice, data and video services. As a result, these firms are looking to utilize backbones necessary to support bandwidth-hogging applications, which, in most cases, are used to deliver video. According to Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst for In-Stat's Multimedia Broadband Service, "Billions of future dollars are at stake, and one of the key questions being asked is: Which backbone infrastructure is better for video, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) or Internet Protocol (IP)?" In-Stat concludes that both ATM and IP each have their appropriate place in the video delivery universe and that there are two items that are most important to a video delivery system: Bandwidth and Quality of Service.
MPEG-2 Transport Streams are the current world standard for delivering "broadcast quality" video and for IP networks, a "memory buffer trick" exists in order to permit IP systems to deliver video by adding latency.
ATM is the technology currently installed for most long distance systems, and is therefore the most readily available method for sending streams of video content around the world. An ATM network provides a pre-defined amount of bandwidth over the entire network and quality of service is reportedly guaranteed.
IP is the technology that permits the Internet to operate by joining together connections from many different kinds of computing systems and is subject to several kinds of reliability problems that are not part of the ATM environment. Internet Protocol networks that connect between two points and do not connect to the Internet will have reliability figures similar to those of ATM and MPEG-2 Transport Stream networks operated by individual network service providers. However, Internet Protocol networks that venture out onto The Internet may become subject to the uncertainties of "life on the Internet." Even IP networks that are operating as Virtual Private Networks, using Secure Socket Link technology, can suffer from latency and delays if the pure volume of traffic on the Internet backbone reaches too high of a peak.
In-Stat has found that:
In-Stat's $1,995 report, Video Over ATM vs. Video Over IP: The Controversy (MB0007VS), provides discussion and conclusions on delivering video programming over either ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) or IP (Internet Protocol) backbones and infrastructures. The report also reviews major IP streaming providers and Broadband players. To purchase this report or for more information, visit http://www.instat.com/catalog/cat-dt.htm#mb0007vs or call Courtney McEuen at 480.609.4533; firstname.lastname@example.org.
O'Reilly's just-released second edition of "ASP in a Nutshell" offers info developers can use to create effective Active Server Page (ASP) applications. ASP's language independence and simplicity of use have made it one of the leading technologies for developing Web applications. Updated to cover the latest version, ASP 3.0, as included with Windows 2000, "ASP in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition" focuses on how features are used in a real application and highlights little-known or undocumented aspects.
The title begins with overviews of ASP and Microsoft's Internet Information Server 5.0, followed by a complete Object Reference. Each object listing includes descriptions, properties, collections, methods, events, accessory files/required DLLs, and troubleshooting--including real-world uses, tips and tricks, and author experiences. Also included is a Component Reference, covering ActiveX Data Objects, the Ad Rotator, the Browser capabilities component, the File System Object, and more.
Chapter 6, ObjectContext Object, is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/aspnut2/chapter/ch06.html
For more information about the book, including Table of Contents, index, author bio, and samples, see:
Immersion Corp., a developer of digital touch interaction technology, last week announced a strategic partnership with Havok, a physics simulation developer. Immersion's TouchSense technology, based on haptics, the science of human touch, adds the sense of touch to user interactions. Havok's technology, a suite of real-time dynamic interaction software, uses visual simulation of physics to allow simulated environments such as computer games and 3D applications to behave like the real world.
Initially, the two companies will work together to integrate Immersion's TouchSense with two of Havok's products: the Havok Game Programmer's Interface and Max Havok. The combined technologies will reportedly let software developers create 3D entertainment environments that look, interact and feel physically real.
Beyond the gaming market, the two companies are collaborating on future products, licensing strategies, and outreach programs to software developers. Immersion and Havok will collaborate in the medical simulation market to develop support for Immersion's Impulse Engine line of medical interface products.
Microsoft Corp. has increased its presence in online gaming by acquiring Kansas-based NetGames USA, a developer of scoring, matchmaking and other enhancements for retail and Web-based games. The company says the acquisition will enhance the competitiveness of games on its Zone.com (http://www.zone.com/).
Microsoft plans to add technology developed by NetGames to certain retail games currently in development, including "MechWarrior 4: Vengeance," scheduled for release this holiday season. The company will also maintain support for multiplayer games currently utilizing NetGames' technology on Zone.com.
NetGames' ngStats technology enhances score-reporting features for retail games played online. These features include real-time reporting of scores and rankings, expanded tracking of statistics and automated organization of tournaments. In addition, this acquisition brings a team of NetGames developers to Microsoft where they will lead the effort to incorporate the new technologies into Microsoft's PC games, integrate ngStats technology into Microsoft's software development kit (SDK) for PC game developers, and work on evolving technology on a variety of platforms, including the Xbox game console, scheduled for release in fall 2001.
New Activision title X-Men Mutant Academy for PlayStation and Game Boy places players in the role of their favorite mutants and challenges them to harness their rage and utilize their special powers as they train with Professor X to become full-fledged members of the X-Men.
The game features 10 playable characters--including Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit, Beast, Storm, Phoenix, Sabertooth, Mystique, Toad and Magneto--that appear in both their classic comic and movie costumes. Players have four ways to rumble with Academy Training, Arcade Mode, Survival Mode and Versus Mode (classic two-player fighting). In Academy Training, Professor X teaches player how to hone their mutant powers in preparation for the challenges of Arcade and Versus modes. Additionally, Cerebro mode provides fans with loads of X-Men bonus material including "X-MEN" movie clips, behind the scenes movie photos, classic comic book covers and more!
ICO-Teledesic Global Limited, a holding company that controls the satellite assets of telecommunications pioneer Craig McCaw, last week announced investment agreements totaling more than $1 billion from a number of investors, including Eagle River, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, Inc. (CD&R) and Bill Gates.
CD&R, a private equity investor, announced that a fund it manages would invest up to $350 million in the satellite communications venture. CD&R has committed to invest $150 million in ICO-Teledesic Global and has the option to invest up to an additional $200 million in the company at a later date.
Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corporation, has committed to invest $100 million in ICO-Teledesic Global through his private investment vehicle, Cascade Investment LLC. Gates joined McCaw in 1994 as one of Teledesic's two primary founding investors.
ICO-Teledesic Global also has received $500 million from Eagle River Investments LLC, McCaw's private investment company. This $500 million was part of the previously announced $1.2 billion McCaw-led successful financial restructuring of London-based New ICO.
ICO-Teledesic Global used those funds to help secure a controlling interest in New ICO, formerly ICO Global Communications, which emerged from Chapter 11 on May 17.
ICO-Teledesic Global plans to be a global provider of wireless Internet-in-the-Sky satellite communications services, including Internet Protocol-based mobile and fixed broadband services. Building on its core capabilities of mobile voice services, New ICO will also offer the satellite equivalent of third-generation (3G) wireless services, including wireless Internet and other packet-data services. New ICO will begin offering its services worldwide in 2003.
Teledesic will deliver broadband data and services over a global network optimized for the Internet Protocol. Its target service date is late 2004.
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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- David Duberman
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