8 November 1999
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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We saw a preview of this tech a little while back, and were most impressed. San Francisco-based application service provider Onflow Corporation demonstrated what it describes as a fast-loading broadcast-quality interactive Web experience for audiences connected at Internet dial-up speeds from 28.8Kbps and higher at last week's Ad Tech ’99 conference in New York.
The Onflow system consists of four components:
The new technology is delivered through a 250K plug-in for Microsoft (MSFT) Internet Explorer, America Online and Netscape (AOL), current on Wintel, and next year on Macintosh.
Onflow can import files from leading graphics programs such as Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator (ADBE), Corel Paint (CORL), and Macromedia Fontographer (MACR). Procedural graphics are generated in real time on the viewer’s computer, with support for Pentium MMX. This permits the Onflow files to be small; for example, a full page of dynamic fireworks, complete with shimmering trails, can be produced with file sizes under 3k.
Free authoring tools will be available online at www.onflow.com/authoring.html
DigitalWebs last week launched a new suite of products called UbrandWare, designed to let businesses become full-service Internet organizations. The suite includes these components:
Sony announced last week a disc-based digital camcorder with video capture and editing capabilities. The MD Discam digital camcorder (DCM-M1) uses MiniDisc (MD) technology to let consumers quickly edit video, not possible with linear tape-based video systems.
The camcorder records up to 20 minutes of video, up to 4,500 still images in MPEG2 file format, and more than four hours (260 minutes) of audio with three digital still images in Interview Mode on each $15 disc. The image quality video delivers more than 400 lines of horizontal resolution (not quite up to DV tape standards).
Advances in interactive functionality will propel television over the personal computer as the premier ubiquitous communications, entertainment and information access device of the future, Leo J. Hindery Jr. said in a keynote address at @d:tech New York last week.
Hindery, formerly president and CEO of AT&T Broadband & Internet Services, described a paradigm shift in which merely watching television will become as past tense as dialing the telephone.
"This shift will create a uniquely TV-centric, Internet-like experience in which the viewer's relationship with the television will move from passive to interactive," he said, and continued, "Interactive television is entirely new and like nothing consumers have ever seen before. It offers an exciting opportunity for advertisers and marketers to approach consumers in their own homes in a way that is effective and persuasive. In turn, the consumer will be able to respond to the advertiser when and to what degree he or she wants. The sky's the limit.''
Hindery spelled out seven critical points that he believes must be addressed to assure that consumers adopt high-speed broadband connections:
Umap is new $30 mapping software that synthesizes results from five leading search engines to present a visual analysis as colored, interactive maps. Clicking on the map's hot spots presents hyperlinked key words and documents with relevant data.
Information is presented on the map as continents, islands and islets. Continents represent omnipresent themes; islands, a group of related documents; islets reveal new pieces of information.
Download a 30-day trial at http://www.umap.com.
Portal Lycos, Inc. and Fast Search & Transfer (FAST), an Internet search technology provider, last week launched Lycos RichMedia Search. Said to provide a targeted search for finding pictures, movies, streams and sounds on the Internet, the service claims a current catalog of more than 17 million files
I don't know much about these guys, except that they throw a great party! After evaluating over 128,000 name submissions from its renaming contest - some submitted from as far away as Croatia, Singapore and Australia - TixToGo announced the company's new name, Acteva, at a grand unveiling bash held at the "Activitron" on Treasure Island in San Francisco.
CEO Lu Cordova explains the meaning of the winning submission and new company name, Acteva (pronounced ak-tee-va): "We are the marketplace for activities, so Acteva was selected because its individual elements reflect our company's core business. The word 'act' conveys the company's focus on activities, while 'e' signifies our e-commerce service, and 'va' connotes our expansion worldwide with the Latin word meaning 'go.'"
David Nader, founder of California start-up LifeTrials.com, received the keys to a new Porsche Boxster at the Treasure Island unveiling party for his submission of www.acteva.com.
TriVista Technologies has released version 2.0 of A Smaller Image for reducing digital images for emailing or publishing on the Web. The $15, Windows-based program's one-screen interface enables reduction of digital images for emailing or publishing on the Web by letting the user choose an output size and the part of a picture to keep.
New features in version 2: add text to images; add colored borders or fade the edges; adjust brightness, contrast and sharpness; clipboard support; persistence in output size.
NewTek will provide free upgrades of LightWave  to customers who purchase LightWave 3D 5.6 from November 8 to the release of LightWave , expected sometime this quarter. The upgrade cost to existing owners of 5.6 will be $495, and full price is $1,995.
LightWave , reportedly the most significant upgrade in the history of the product, adds character animation tools, advanced rendering capabilities, an improved architecture and a refined work environment.
SGI's crown jewel, Alias|Wavefront, last week announced the release of Maya2.5 software, shipping immediately for Microsoft Windows NT and Silicon Graphics IRIX workstations, with prices starting at $2,995. The new release is the latest version of Maya Complete, Maya Unlimited, both with Maya Paint Effects, and the newest addition to the Maya line-up of software solutions -- Maya Builder.
Paint Effects is designed as an artist's tool for the creation and animation of organic and painterly effects. It includes a library of 2D and 3D pressure-sensitive brushes for creating organic forms such as hair, trees, flowers, feathers, fire, lightning and stars. There are also natural artists' media such as airbrushes, chalks, pastels, crayons, watercolors and oil paint.
New game-development features include level of detail support, polygon reduction, and a mouse-based camera walkthrough mode, plus performance and feature enhancements in polygon, NURBS and subdivision surface modeling. An expanded Dynamics ClipFX (procedural effects) library includes Shatter, Lightning, Fireworks, and Surface Flow continues to provide users with sophisticated yet easy to use.
Other features in Maya 2.5 include "multi-threaded interactive photorealistic rendering," streaming SIMD Extensions support on Intel Pentium III Xeon processors, and source code for a lightweight two-bone inverse kinematics solver added to Maya's API.
The new Maya Builder software includes the polygonal modeling and texturing tools found in Maya Complete, Maya Artisan features, Maya's embedded scripting language (MEL), and the full Maya API.
Maya Complete 2.5 (SRP $7,500) includes modeling, rendering, animation, dynamics, Paint Effects and Artisan. Maya Unlimited 2.5 (SRP $16,000) adds Matchmoving, Maya Fur, Maya Cloth, additional batch rendering capability, and advanced modeling tools.
blaxxun interactive, a developer of products and solutions for multimedia communication on the Internet and intranets, last week announced blaxxun Avatar Studio 1.0, multimedia software to create personalized "avatars," or 3D characters that can be used to represent oneself in 3D virtual communities. The consumer software lets the user build a virtual identity in cyberspace through control of facial and body structure. The possibilities for unique avatars are said to be limitless, ranging from bizarre space alien to highly realistic human.
User-selectable details of the avatar's appearance include body height and build, hairstyle, clothing, and more. The human-like avatars can be animated with lifelike gestures and can be given the user's own face by scanning in a photograph. The avatar's appearance can be changed at any time and can be stored in a personal avatar library for future use.
Using the software's graphical interface, the user specifies various characteristics such as the avatar's hair style, hair color, eye color, height and build. Wardrobe choices including clothing, jewelry, bags and shoes are provided. While creating the avatar, the user can view it from all angles by turning a revolving pedestal.
Avatars created with blaxxun Avatar Studio are based on the 3D VRML language standard which allows them to be used in any community that supports this language, such as Cybertown (www.cybertown.com), produced by blaxxun interactive. blaxxun Avatar Studio was developed by CANAL+ and Le Comptoir des Planetes and is distributed by blaxxun.
blaxxun Avatar Studio is available only through blaxxun interactive at www.blaxxun.com. The introductory price is $19.95 until November 30. After November 30, the price for Cybertown members remains $19.95; the price for non-members will be $24.95.
E-on Software has just released Vue d'Esprit 3 Mover, the latest version of its 3D scenery generator. Vue 3 introduces full animation capability, improved atmospheres, new vegetations and further support of other 3D applications such as LightWave, 3D Studio. The rendering engine has been optimized, reportedly resulting in a 33% average improvement in rendering speed (mainly with complex vegetation and polygon meshes).
Puffin Designs announced last week the availability of the Windows version of Composite Wizard, its $695 plug-in for Adobe After Effects. The product lets artists fix ragged edges, correct poor matte extractions and improper focal depth cues, and balance color schemes.
Matte extraction from blue or green-screen footage typically results in a flawed composite. This is especially true when using a simple keyer on poorly lit footage. Puffin claims Composite Wizard's 20 different filters can improve the matte by fixing tattered, aliased, colored, or fringed edges. Composite Wizard also contains "EZ" versions of Deluxe Edge Finder, Edge Blur, Matte Feather and Spill Killer to make matte fixing easy for the novice.
Scheduled to be available in late Q4 '99, with initial pricing at $850 for a 64MB version, is ELSA, Inc.'s GLoria II 2D/3D graphics accelerator. Features include a 350 MHz RAMDAC, optimized drivers, and the new Quadro GPU. The latter reportedly enables up to 17 million triangles per second and a peak texture fill rate of 540 million pixels per second, plus enhanced support for anti-aliased points and lines. Also, two-sided lighting, full transform, front buffer 3D clipping and shared back-buffer support for 3D modeling, design and drafting.
Contact ELSA at 800-272-3572 or visit www.elsa.com.
Dosch Design, third-party texture, 3D model, and plug-in developer, has released three new products for Cinema 4D users:
Following its acquisition of Hercules Computer Technology on October 28, Canada-based Guillemot announced its new Hercules division, which will produce all future graphics cards. The first product to come out under the new brand is the Hercules 3D Prophet DDR-DVI.
The US$320 card will feature the new GeForce 256 DDR chipset and a DVI-OUT connection for flat panel monitors, digital CRTs and LCD projectors. Other features include 32MB of DDR RAM, up to 1600 x 1200 resolution at 32 bits, and hardware-accelerated DVD-Video playback.
Texas Instruments last week introduced its digital speaker technology said to let consumers experience CD-like sound quality from personal computer speakers and communication headsets. With the introduction of its first four devices, TI says it can provide speaker manufacturers and PC original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with a complete digital speaker solution that addresses all audio subsystem needs. The company claims its digital signal processor (DSP) technology lets audio speakers produce a crisper, clearer and richer sound than analog speakers.
Belgium-based Wilco Publishing contributes the newest flight-sim category this month with Hangsim, a $39 PC-based title for piloting hang gliders, paragliders, microlites and sailplanes. The 3D title combines eight configurable gliders, real-world terrain, and flight dynamics that lift and toss the player's craft in response to the movement of air produced by the topography below (barf bags not included).
The title’s proprietary engine replicates the effects of the wind blowing from a given angle or a blast of air passing quickly over uneven ground, and dynamically creates the sounds to match. The sound effects change in pitch and volume as wind gusts hit the player's wings, when caught in an updraft or when hitting the dead “shadow” of a ridge.
2000, the new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, perhaps the most popular recreational/non-game software ever, is now available in U.S. retail outlets, with worldwide availability planned for later next month.
New features in Flight Simulator 2000 include:
XML, the newest markup language, is touted as a tool for electronic commerce and information management. O'Reilly & Associates' latest release in the Pocket Reference series, the "XML Pocket Reference", is both an introduction to XML terminology and syntax, and a quick reference to XML instructions, attributes, entities, and data types. It also covers XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language), used to ensure XML documents have a consistent look and feel across platforms.
XML (the Extensible Markup Language) provides a more structured--and therefore more powerful--medium than HTML, allowing Webmasters to define new document types and style sheets as needed. Although the generic tags of HTML are sufficient for everyday text, XML provides a way to add rich, well-defined markup to electronic documents.
For more information about the book, see http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/xmlpr/index.html
For more information about XML, see http://xml.com/
Promoting broadcast-quality, interactive video communications based on MPEG-2 is behind the formation of the Interactive MPEG-2 Forum, a cooperative organization of 12 vendors of MPEG-2 products and a university. Announced at last week's TeleconWest Convention in Anaheim, Calif., the forum's initial mission is to facilitate the interoperability of products using the MPEG-2 compression standards. The group will publish interoperability recommendations for interactive MPEG-2 applications by mid-year 2000.
Interactive broadband MPEG-2 systems are reportedly enjoying increased acceptance today in applications such as distance learning, telemedicine, telejustice, and general conferencing.
In addition to the University of Akron, the charter members of the IM2 Forum include BroadBand Networks Corp., Crestron, FVC.COM, General DataComm, Inc., IBM, InnovaCom Inc., Litton Network Access Systems, Lucent Digital Video, Minerva Systems, Inc., Synergy by Panja, Starvision Multimedia Corp., and Tektronix, Inc.
Membership is open to additional vendors participating in the interactive MPEG-2 marketplace. For membership information, contact Tom Bennett at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beatnik, Inc., Thomas Dolby's Web-audio tech/content firm, last week signed a definitive agreement to merge with Mixman Technologies, Inc., a provider of PC- and Mac-based consumer music-creation products.
Mixman's consumer software is designed for creating, recording, and remixing multi-track music, while Beatnik's authoring tools let designers incorporate music and sound into Web pages. The Beatnik engine for digital audio playback is licensed for use in TV set-top boxes, Internet appliances, Web browsers and Java Sound.
According to a recent report by Jupiter Communications, 80 percent of business executives interviewed cited that audio will become a standard feature on the Internet within the next two years. The report recommends Web sites immediately adapt audio to deliver a passive experience for utility, guidance, cueing and branding, as well as develop interactive audio content to serve as an active pull for consumers to experience music, information and narrative audio.
In the new Beatnik organization, Mixman co-founders Eric Almgren and Josh Gabriel will become Beatnik's senior vice president of sales and label relations, and chief product officer, both reporting to Beatnik CEO Lorraine Hariton. Beatnik and Mixman will retain all employees of both companies.
Electronic Arts announced last week it has made a minority investment in Bottle Rocket, a New York-based independent developer and distributor of online interactive entertainment. Also announced was a three-year development agreement between the two companies. A series of online sports trivia game shows will be the first entertainment content to be developed under the agreement and will become a part of EASPORTS.com. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Bottle Rocket, founded in 1996 by Greg Easley and Kelly Moulton, is a 35-person studio that designs and develops multiplayer trivia, prediction, and simulation games in which fans compete on behalf of themselves and their favorite professional and college sports teams. Most recently, Bottle Rocket designed custom games and entertainment products for the NHL, MTV, HBO, MLB and The Sporting News.
Electronic Arts’ (EA) investment in Bottle Rocket follows EA’s acquisition of Carlsbad, Calif.-based PlayNation last month and is part of the company’s strategy to create new online entertainment experiences and extend its brands and franchise properties on the Internet.
Just out from Psygnosis is WWII tank sim Panzer Elite, developed by Wings Simulation of Germany. The 3D game includes an "instant action" feature, as well as single scenarios and several linked campaigns. Players can drive 22 tanks on either the American or German side, and the 80 scenarios are based on actual tank battles waged between late 1942 and 1944. Scalable realism settings let the player adjust the difficulty level on a per-campaign basis. The game also supports LAN and modem play for up to eight players, as well as force feedback.
If you like cute l'il dragons and 3D platform games, you'll be happy to know about Sony Computer Entertainment America's newest PlayStation title, Spyro (2): Ripto's Rage!. Developed by Insomniac Games, the new title pits Spyro the Dragon against dinosaur-riding troublemaker Ripto, who makes life miserable with his magic spells. Spyro's journeys take players through a series of challenging new adventures covering 30 fantastical 3D worlds, each with its own theme.
To complete each challenge, the purple dragon boasts new moves including swim, climb, headbash, supershot, pick up and spit rocks, superfly, supercharge and more. Primary, secondary and bonus tasks include puzzles, mini-games and hidden areas, vary from somewhat simple to extremely complex, and include speed, dexterity and puzzle challenges. Beginning players can choose to play through the game completing only the primary tasks, while advanced gamers can opt to take on the secondary and bonus tasks, earning special Orb rewards. Although these Orb challenges are not necessary to progress to the next level, they are essential for full completion of the game and the final "surprise" reward.
Newly available from VtechSoft are three QuizzShow kids' trivia games: Monster Mania, Alien Escape, and Pirate Island. Designed for 4th - 6th graders, each of the titles includes:
The Total Annihilation: Kingdoms demo is now available for download from the Cavedog Entertainment Website. The 45 MB demo includes four new missions; one for each of the four races in the game, including Zhon, Taros, Veruna, and Aramon. Skirmish mode is also enabled, allowing players to get a feel for a full-scale battle in the land of Darien.
Owners of the full product can also find the first four free download units: the Taros Rictus, a fire-breathing skeleton; the Zhon Spirit Wolf, a fast wolf that can resurrect; the Aramon Flying Mage Builder, a Pegasus that can build in difficult to reach locations; and the Veruna Lighthouse, a defensive structure that stuns approaching opponents.
Also available is the Total Annihilation: Kingdoms 2.0 update, which increases game speed, decreases the memory footprint, and adds new gameplay features and unit enhancements.
Take-Two Interactive Software division Rockstar Games last week shipped Earthworm Jim 3D, a platform adventure for the Nintendo 64 based on the popular SNES series. Developed by Vis Interactive, Earthworm Jim 3D takes gamers on an adventure through Earthworm Jim's demented mind in a battle for his sanity against arch-enemies Psy-Crow, Fatty Roswell, Professor Monkey-for-a-Head, Bob The Goldfish as well as the usual cast of evil cows, chickens, and zombies.
Spanning 4 sections of Jim's brain and 15 levels to conquer in a battle for Earthworm Jim's sanity, players must try to rescue Jim's consciousness from a coma in which he has lost all his marbles as all of his evil rivals try to take advantage of the situation.
The virtual critters are pouring out of Mindscape Entertainment, which last week launched Creatures 3 into outer space. The $40 title, a product of the Creature Labs division of CyberLife Technology, Ltd., takes place on a vast, organic spaceship with five environments that together are twice the size of the world in Creatures 2.
Each of the five environments includes its own evolving ecosystem, creating an endless variety of adventures for users and their Norns. Technological advances have also added realistic forces and elements such as gravity, friction and aerodynamics.
As in previous versions of Creatures, the game allows players to create and manipulate artificial organisms - Norns, Grendels and Ettins - that behave as if they are alive. There are also new dangers such as Grendels that hunt and steal from Norns, Ettins that hoard life-enhancing machines, and piranhas.
"Connecting agents" help Norns explore and defend themselves. Players can use them to plug an array of interlocking gadgets together and combine their functions. For example, users can make a machine that, on detecting a Grendel, fires a tomato gun. Another machine when put together becomes a vehicle with remote cameras that can be controlled and used to scout dangerous areas.
Electronic Arts last week published Bullfrog Productions' SimTheme Park, a new simulation game in the tradition of SimCity and the original Theme Park. Players can create and run amusement parks from four different themes; Space Zone, The Lost Kingdom, Land of Wonders and Halloween. They can build roller coasters and log flumes with a track-building interface, and construct go-kart and water-rapids with crossovers, jumps, tunnels and more. They can then jump into and ride their creations in 3D.
Players must also keep their visitors happy by researching better rides, adding decorations, hiring and firing staff, setting admission prices, configuring rides, and adjusting the merchandise and concessions if they want to, while staying on budget.
Coming this month from Activision is Vigilante 8: Second Offense, the sequel to the auto-combat title, for PlayStation, N64 and Dreamcast. The game includes destructible environments, and over-the-top characters, while upping the ante with a vehicle-upgrade system, new propulsion mechanics, special attack moves, and more multiplayer options.
A free trial version of "Pandora's Box," Microsoft's puzzle game from the creator of Tetris, is available for download. Web users can register to win a trip to one of the seven cities featured in the game that takes puzzle fans on a journey to the ends of the Earth.
The grand prize in the Piece Together the Mystery of "Pandora's Box" Sweepstakes is an eight-day, seven-night trip for two to the winner's choice of one of the following locations: Honolulu; London; Nairobi, Kenya; Santa Fe, NM; Shanghai, China; Vancouver, British Columbia; or Athens, Greece. The winner will be drawn at random from entries received before Dec. 31, 1999.
"Pandora's Box" takes players on a worldwide adventure as they strive to reconstruct the mythical Pandora's box, whose pieces have been scattered around the world by seven fabled tricksters. Only by solving a series of puzzles are players able to find the missing pieces.
Consumers have purchased one million PlayStations since the console's price was reduced to $99 two months ago, bringing the total installed base to more than 21 million units in North America. Sony expects overall retail sales of PlayStation branded products--hardware, software and peripheral units--to top $1 billion for the 1999 holiday selling season.
Strong sales of the lower-priced console have also driven consumer demand of software for the system. Since August 16, when the company announced the console's lower price and the addition of new titles to its "Greatest Hits" library, more than six million software units have been sold. The "Greatest Hits" line-up is a series of PlayStation games priced at $20 and up.
Bellevue, Wash.-based Teledesic LLC, which is building a satellite communications network to deliver global, broadband "Internet-in-the-sky" services, announced last week that it has received a $121 million investment arranged by the Abu Dhabi Investment Company (ADIC).
ADIC raised the private equity investment, which closed in the second quarter of 1999, from a combination of institutions and high-net-worth individuals from Gulf Cooperation Council member countries. The investment is part of the more than $1.5 billion that Teledesic has raised to date.
Tech moguls Craig McCaw and Bill Gates are Teledesic's two primary founding investors. Other investors include Motorola, Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and The Boeing Company.
Online advertising revenues grew to $934.4 million in the second quarter of 1999, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau's (IAB) Internet Ad Revenue Report. Conducted independently by the New Media Group of PricewaterhouseCoopers for the IAB, the second quarter and first six-month results of 1999 are more than double the same periods for 1998. Hybrid pricing schemes continue to account for over half of the revenues reported.
The categories that led online spending during the second quarter were consumer-related (29%), computing (22%), financial services (20%), business services (9%), and telecom (6%). The report also found that the overwhelming number of revenue transactions, (93%) continue to be cash-based with barter/trade and packaged deals accounting for 6% and 1% of total revenues respectively. Banner advertisements continue to be reported as the predominant type of advertising, up slightly this quarter and accounting for 59%, with sponsorships (28%), interstitials (4%), email (1%), with all others at 8%. When looking at pricing models, hybrid pricing accounted for 52% of 1999 first quarter revenues, with CPMs or impression-based deals at 41% and performance-based deals at 7% of revenues.
Apple's first QuickTime Live! conference takes place Nov. 8 - 11 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Highlights of the conference include:
The Product Showcase is open free to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday, November 11.
To register to attend QuickTime Live!, visit http://www.apple.com/quicktimelive/ or call +1 408-354-2500.
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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