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Transforming Technologies for Mobile 3D Computing

VRML and X3D are the foundation technologies upon which all other Web3D Consortium technologies build, enhance, or are related to. Although VRML was never created with today's mobile devices in mind, some companies have managed to develop mobile players for the technology nonetheless. Cortona by ParallelGraphics, for example, is a popular VRML content player available for Windows, Macintosh, and Pocket PC platforms. Until recently ParallelGraphics also provided a free cross-platform Java applet called Cortona Jet that enabled a small but functional subset of VRML content to be displayed on any device that is equipped with a Java-enabled Web browser.

Although VRML is a monolithic 3D standard that wasn't created in the era of mobile devices, its official successor is a different story altogether: X3D was designed to enable new opportunities in the creation and deployment of state-of-the-art 3D graphics on small, lightweight clients, and also to enable the integration of high-performance 3D into broadcast and embedded devices. To this end X3D addresses a number of long-standing issues with VRML while pushing the envelope for 3D both on and off of the Web. In particular, X3D was created to deliver "3D anywhere" by employing an advanced component-based architecture that can scale across a wide range of devices and platforms.

The Web3D Consortium started development of X3D in the late 1990s under the tentative name "VRML Next-generation (VRML NG)" specifically to advance the state of the VRML standard previously ratified by ISO in 1997 as International Standard ISO/IEC 14772-1:1997. VRML NG was later renamed "X3D" thanks to significant new extensibility capabilities and support for Extensible Markup Language (XML) encoding.

Earlier this year X3D was approved by ISO as International Standard ISO/IEC 19775. Not only is X3D the official successor to VRML, it is now a recognized global standard for 3D that companies can implement today. Mobile technology developers, in particular, will find X3D's Core profile, Interactive profile, Interchange profile, and MPEG-4 interactive profile particularly valuable since they are designed specifically for implementation using a "low-footprint engine".

Like the VRML standard that it supercedes, X3D is an open, royalty-free standard with a corresponding Open Source implementation provided free of charge by the Web3D Consortium. The Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) has already accepted X3D for the baseline 3D capabilities of MPEG-4. As a result of a cooperative joint development between the Web3D Consortium and MPEG though the Web3D-MPEG Working Group that I chair, X3D's MPEG-4 interactive profile is now a part of the ISO/IEC 14496 MPEG-4 specification that will formally become an International Standard in January 2005 (additional mobile 3D technologies that will compliment X3D are also being defined for MPEG-4 by MPEG). In addition to collaborating with MPEG, the Web3D Consortium continues to work closely with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and other standards organizations in anticipation of further adoption of X3D across the industry.

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