26 June 2000
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Newly available from Visicom Media is the latest version of its $70 HTML Editor, AceHTML 4 Pro (formerly AceExpert).
Expected to ship this summer from Macromedia is Aria Enterprise 5.0 software, offering a scalable solution for Web-site tracking, analysis, and reporting. The new version improves reporting capabilities and provides a relational architecture based on Oracle 8i.
ImaginOn, Inc. says it will, starting in Q3, begin delivering an advanced version of its ImaginAuthor authoring tool to developers producing content for the new PlayStation2 computer entertainment system. The tool is designed to let developers incorporate viewer-directed video branching into game-play sequences.
Further, ImaginOn also announced it is now creating its own PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system content and intends to offer software that combines viewer-directed video branching with on-line Web content in hybrid DVD/ broadband Internet products.
Desktop.com last week introduced Devtop, described as an open, integrated platform for building, deploying, and distributing Web-based applications. It's designed to provide the infrastructure, content, technology, and other resources needed to build Web-based applications. The service includes an Application Programming Interface (API) and corresponding documentation to access databases and servers, 25MB free storage, and content such as news headlines, sports scores, and stock quotes.
Devtop is targeted at independent software developers who build applications for personal use, public use, or under contract, and businesses with specific application needs. In addition, Desktop.com strategic platform partners who seek broad distribution of their applications, technology or content can take advantage of all the benefits of the platform. These partners are able to offer their content on the platform for developers or businesses to use in derivative applications.
Nokia last week announced the newest version of its WAP Toolkit for network operators, application developers and content providers. Nokia WAP Toolkit 2.0 is a free software tool that provides a PC-based environment for developers to write, test and de-bug WAP 1.1 and 1.2 applications.
Components of the Nokia WAP Toolkit 2.0 include:
The company also announced a new version of its WAP Server software, which complies with the WAP 1.1 specification and offers enhanced security features, as well as Nokia Activ, a one-button solution for web sites that provides over-the-air settings.
New from retail-industry Web portal InRetail.com is the availability of 3D imaging for manufacturers selling products through the Internet. InRetail.com will become a distributor of Stuff3D, a 3D Imaging Service provided by Anything3D.com.
"Forrester research indicates 70% of potential Web sales are lost because the buyer does not have enough information," points out Tom Findlay, InRetail.com president and CEO. "With all the new transactional sites launching within the industry, retailers are more confused than ever as to which products are the best for their retail stores. Manufacturers who utilize 3D imaging give their retail buyers the additional information that can initiate a buying decision."
The Stuff 3D image shows the product from all sides, and the viewer can use a mouse to turn the product 360 degrees in either direction. No additional software is needed to view the images, which download in 10 - 15 seconds through a standard 56kbps connection.
Microsoft Corp. last week unveiled the road map for its next generation of software and services, the Microsoft .NET platform. Capitalizing on the explosion of Internet-based computing and communications, Microsoft says .NET (pronounced "dot-net") will provide easier, more personalized and more productive Internet experiences by harnessing constellations of smart devices and Web sites with advanced software through Internet protocols and formats.
The new family of Microsoft .NET products and technologies replaces the previous working title of Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS) and includes software for developers to build next-generation Internet experiences as well as power new smart Internet devices. Microsoft also announced plans for new products built on the .NET platform, including new generations of the Microsoft Windows operating system, Windows DNA servers, Microsoft Office, the MSN network of Internet services and the Visual Studio development system.
According to Microsoft, four key principles will guide the platform:
56 million homes around the world will be watching digital TV by the end of this year, according to the latest forecast from Strategy Analytics. The UK is now the world's most advanced market, with an expected 29% of homes having switched to digital, followed by the US (24%), France (15%) and Spain (15%).
These conclusions are presented in a study entitled "Interactive Digital Television: Worldwide Market Forecasts" and published recently by Strategy Analytics, Inc. within its strategic advisory service, The Interactive Home.
By the end of 1999, 34.4 million homes around the world were watching digital TV, 77% using a direct-to-home satellite service, 21% cable and 2% terrestrial. Competition from satellite operators is now forcing cable operators to rapidly roll out digital services, particularly in the US, and cable is expected to have become the leading provider of digital TV services by 2005, with a 55% global share.
Terrestrial services, however, continue to face a difficult future.
According to Strategy Analytics, limited capacity puts these operators in a weak position relative to cable and satellite, and technical difficulties with digital terrestrial television, particularly in the US, are stalling market growth.
During 1999, consumers installed over 17 million digital set-top boxes in order to access the new services. This year's global set-top box sales are forecast to reach 28 million units, and by 2005 annual sales are expected to have reached nearly 92 million units.
The leading digital TV operators, such as TPS in France, Open in the UK and Teledanmark in Denmark, are now offering interactive and online services such as e-mail, home shopping and banking, and games, providing new competition for PC-based Internet Service Providers.
"Millions of consumers around the world are demonstrating their readiness to pay more for better television," says David Mercer, Senior Analyst with Strategy Analytics. "Service providers can now reap the benefits of the interactive capabilities of digital television by launching e-commerce and advanced interactive services."
Montreal-based Reflex Systems will release a beta version of Drama, its software designed to accelerate and refine production of realistic human models, at Siggraph 2000. In development for four years, the product combines ideas from biomechanics, symbolic programming and 3D graphics used in the entertainment industry. Based on Windows NT, it is a full stand-alone integrated system incorporating the following key features:
When we asked about compatibility with other 3D packages, we received this reply:
Drama has to work as a standalone because we had to use a lot of exotic technology to make it possible to have several human beings in a scene with their full internal musculo-skeleton. Plus, we're working on a … skin, cloth and hair renderer, which must be tightly integrated with the geometry generator to work efficiently. We will really push for people to do all their human modeling, rendering and animation inside the environment and composite with background elements later: it is a lot more efficient than using polygons or NURBS as in other systems.
Those who will want to use it simply as a modeler can:
1) Output the skin (in splines or polygons), but they lose the muscle/fat deformation.
2) Output the skin geometry at every frame and reload in other app as morph target.
Drama is scheduled to ship in December 2000 with an estimated MSRP of $25,000. The package comes with online documentation and a library of building block clothing, apparels, as well as a motion capture interface.
NewTek announced last week that each purchase of LightWave  includes, free of charge, the Motion Designer 2 soft-body dynamics engine. NewTek recently acquired the technology from Daisuke Ino. As development continues on LightWave  the Motion Designer engine will be further integrated directly into the LightWave system.
The software reportedly lets animators simulate cloth and hair as well as rubber, flesh and other flexible surfaces. Along with the simulation of the material, Motion Designer can also apply gravity, wind and turbulence to the objects.
Features of Motion Designer 2 for LightWave  include the following:
In the latest Hypercosm press release of the week, the company announced it has opened a new Website--WayCoolLearning.com--a hands-on online resource offering more than 30 educational 3D simulations.
Among the subjects covered are mechanics and electromagnetism, presented as a subset of work Hypercosm's Professional Services group performed for the National Science Center at Fort Discovery in Augusta, Georgia. The site also offers a collection of space-related rich media, which is also found on the NY Times website.
Fakespace Systems Inc., a specialist in immersive visualization systems, last week announced the commercial availability of the Passive Stereo WorkWall, a high-brightness flat-wall display system for viewing large-scale computer-generated models and visual simulations. The 6-ft. x 7-1/2-ft. rear-projected display uses solid-state projection technology to make computer-generated visualizations appear to exist with true depth when viewed with Fakespace Systems' lightweight polarized glasses.
Fakespace Systems' family of WorkWall displays is designed to facilitate individual and collaborative group work with virtual models, prototypes, and simulations for applications in product design, engineering, military planning, geological exploration, medicine and scientific research. The Passive Stereo WorkWall uses two solid state digital projectors, which provide a slightly different image for each eye, to create a realistic three-dimensional effect. Other models of the WorkWall (ranging in scale up to 20-ft. wide) use CRT projectors, which require more complex stereo shutter glasses, a light-controlled environment, and regular projector alignment maintenance.
The Passive Stereo WorkWall provides native 1280 x 1024 pixel resolution and greater than 1000 ANSI lumens per eye, (a typical CRT projector provides 250 ANSI lumens). This reportedly ensures crisp, bright images that are easily viewed in ambient room light or daylight environments. The screen is mounted 17-in. above floor level to accommodate both standing and seated users, and is slightly angled to minimize reflections from overhead room lighting.
Pricing starts at $117,000 U.S. Optional peripherals include head-tracking and motion-tracking systems, room-control systems, audio systems and a variety of devices for navigating through and manipulating virtual models and environments.
Autodesk last week released 3D Studio VIZ Internet Extension (3vX), a $30 product extension that incorporates Autodesk's i-drop Web publishing framework. Through i-drop and Autodesk's Web-enabled desktop applications, customers can drag and drop content directly from a Web browser into an Autodesk application.
With the 3vX extension's improved i-drop framework, content providers can provide flexible "packages" of related components on a single download, target custom design content to 3D Studio VIZ customers, and exploit new Web graphics approaches such as streaming media, to enhance the appeal of their intelligent Web sites.
New features incorporated within the 3vX Extension include:
Media Lab's $250 PhotoWebber software will begin shipping on CD June 30. The $200 download version is now available from the Media Lab online store. A downloadable, trial version will also be available at the Web site on later this summer.
The product produces interactive Web pages with links, buttons and rollovers. It automatically converts layered Photoshop files into a folder of graphics files in .gif, .jpg or .png format along with the HTML code to display them.
Coming soon from UK developer Geo-Metricks are 3D Studio Max-format (.3ds) low-polygon models. Features include:
Typical polycount : 1,000 to 2,500 triangulated polygons
1. Humans Pack 2 - 12 TX Avatars - Multi-Cultural
2. Humans Pack 1 - 24 Interchangeable 3D avatars
3. Cyber Gothics - 10 weird elongated 3D avatars
4. Cyber Punks - 14 night time futuristic street people
5. 101 Interiors - Modern furniture - 20 different styles
6. 101 Space - spaceships, structures, space stations, satellites etc.
7. 101 Historical Structures - castles, temples, ruins etc.
8. 101 Trees - Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter - 2D Tree collection
Caligari Corporation this week ships iSpace, a 3D Web graphics and animation authoring package. Web designers can create pages in iSpace from scratch, or import HTML pages into iSpace and enhance their layout with included libraries of 3D page style templates and graphical elements such as buttons, animations, lights, and 3D text.
CMP Media, Inc. announced last week that it will cease publication of 3D magazine and merge the print publication's content with its online media site, 3Dgate.com (http://www.3Dgate.com). Additionally, the 3D Conference and Expo will be integrated with the company's digital video event, DV Expo, which is slated for October 2-6, 2000, at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California.
"Over the last year, 3D technology has been increasingly adopted by the vertical markets it serves, such as digital video production, game development, and computer-aided design," said Johanna Kleppe, vice president, Creative Technologies Group at CMP. "As 3D technology migrates seamlessly into these industries, the best way to serve our customers is through our current integrated media offerings that target these fast-growing markets." This specifically includes the DV Group (Digital Video magazine, DV Web Video magazine, DV Expo, and DV.com), the Game Media Group (Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developer Conference), and the CAD Media Group (Cadence magazine and cadenceweb.com). For additional information on these media groups, visit http://www.DV.com, http://www.cmpgame.com, http://www.cadenceweb.com.
Microsoft Corp. last week acquired Chicago-based Bungie Software Products Corp., an independent developer of computer and video games. As a result of this acquisition, Microsoft gains exclusive publishing and distribution rights to certain Bungie-developed titles, including the sci-fi action title Halo. Take-Two Interactive Software, current distributor of Bungie-developed titles, acquired all right, title and interest to other Bungie game properties, including the Myth game franchise and the upcoming action game Oni, and sold its 19.9 percent equity interest in Bungie to Microsoft.
Bungie's development staff will become an independent development studio within the Microsoft Game Division. Microsoft expects the Bungie team to play a key role in the development of content for the Xbox platform.
Expected to be available the week of July 3 at SRP $50 is Activision's real-time strategy game Dark Reign 2. Features include 3D terrain, new strategic options and battlefield controls, squad-level RTS enhancements and superior multiplayer features.Gamers can deploy their forces in the strategic view and then zoom in to watch the carnage. The 3D battlefield provides and day and night missions.
Players can choose to play as either the ragtag Sprawlers or the elite Jovian Detention Authority. Multiplayer modes include cooperative team play, King of the Hill, Capture the Flag and alliance forming.
Midway Games last week shipped Rampage Through Time for the PlayStation game console. While in hot pursuit of the evil time-traveling Doctor Scum, players get a chance to take on the role of eight monsters to engage in chaos as they demolish cities throughout time. This PlayStation version also allows for three-player simultaneous action. Players must accumulate power-ups in the form of bombs and, as monsters, destroy all objects in their way. Other features include separate building “smash rounds,” mini-games and boss levels to play.
Loki Software and CogniToy will team up to bring MindRover: The Europa Project to Linux gamers by early fall 2000. The 3D strategy/programming game enables players to create autonomous robotic vehicles and let them compete them in races, battles and sports. Starting with an empty vehicle, gamers add components such as sensors, weapons and engines. Players wire the components together and set their properties using a visual programming system before entering the vehicles in the 3D competitions. Gamers can also share their custom robots over email or through Website competitions.
Just out from Activision is Covert Ops: Nuclear Dawn for the PlayStation game console. The military-based real-time action-adventure game takes place on a new high-speed military train that has been hijacked as it leaves St. Petersburg bound for Paris. Players assume the role of a NATO soldier who must rescue an ambassador and his family from a group of terrorists and defuse multiple nuclear weapons before the train reaches Paris.
Produced by Sugar and Rockets, the game features a story that unfolds and changes based on players' actions. As the train travels through 30 cities in 12 different countries, players are challenged to master new skills as they jump, roll, sneak, climb and shoot their way inside and outside more than 18 multi-level train cars.
Additionally, the game features 10 military weapons, multiple puzzles, three mini-games tied to the storyline, seven different endings plus a bonus mode and over 50 minutes of cinematics.
Microsoft's official Web site for Age of Empires II: The Conquerors Expansion is now live at http://www.microsoft.com/games/conquerors/. Slated for release in September, the expansion for Age of Empires II adds five new civilizations, including the Huns, Aztec, Mayan, Korean and Spanish.
The official Conquerors site offers a detailed features list outlining new additions to game play, such as ship formations, ram garrisoning, farm queuing and smart villagers. The site also features a selection of in-game screenshots, AVI, historical background information for each of the five new civilizations, and details on each of the four new campaigns.
Leo Hourvitz, a computer graphics and animation pioneer, has been appointed vice president of creative content technology at Pulse Entertainment.
Hourvitz will be responsible for driving Pulse Entertainment's initiatives to integrate its proprietary technology in the production of creative content for the Web, evangelizing the opportunities for 3D developers to enliven streaming rich media and 3D animation using Pulse's suite of products. Mr. Hourvitz will also oversee the validation of new technology, ensuring application functionality in real-life production environments.
Hourvitz previously spent six years at Pixar Animation Studios, where he worked on Pixar's films and interactive products. He was supervising technical director on Geri's Game, Pixar's Oscar-winning 1997 short film, producer of the Toy Story Animated StoryBook CD-ROM, and a technical director on Pixar's film projects including A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2.
Prior to Pixar, Hourvitz was director of systems and technology at Broderbund Software and director of media software for NeXT Computer, Inc. He is also currently serving as the director for communications of ACM SIGGRAPH.
The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) will present two Privacy Forums on June 29 in New York City at the Hotel Inter-Continental and July 12 in San Francisco at the Nikko Hotel. The seminars are free for IAB members and are open to non-members at a cost of $125 per person.
Designed as a discussion on privacy issues, the seminars will review the new IAB privacy guidelines, present an overview of privacy issues from industry experts, and guide attendees through the steps necessary to develop and implement a privacy assurance program in accordance with the IAB guidelines. The IAB has established these guidelines to provide its member organizations, and the industry at large, with a tool by which they can establish privacy policies to ensure that the privacy of consumers is protected.
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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