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Section 2: Virtual Reality: History, Philosophy and Theory#

2.5 Virtual reality formats#

As the number of applications of virtual reality (VR) has grown, there have also been changes in the different formats of VR-type software. Each format has differing approaches to, and varying degrees of, three-dimensionality, immersion and interaction. Whatever the format, as a result of the need to provide clear and fluid imaging that constantly changes as users move within the world, VR requires substantial processing power. Until relatively recently, VR systems were restricted to very expensive graphics workstations. Increasingly though, VR is being exploited on personal computer (PC) platforms as a result of their increasing processing power and improvements in graphics delivery hardware and developments in PC-based VR software packages and formats.

The benefits of these developments can be seen on the Internet where they enable increased activity in three-dimensionality and interactive graphics development. VR presence on the Internet is currently dominated by the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) standard. This language has been developed to provide a multi-platform, universal language for interactive three-dimensional graphics across the Web (Carson et al. 1999; Nadeau 1999). Many applications already exist which utilise the benefits of VR in the VRML format (Earnshaw 1997), but the format has not grown, or been accepted, quite as quickly as originally thought. This is, in part, due to the limiting factors of cross-platform, cross-browser compatibility, and also to less-than-perfect technical and political development. Various bodies have attempted to develop VRML standards, including Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and Apple, but all were rejected in favour of VRML 2 which has since moved onto VRML 97 (see Section 3.7).

VRML is not the only PC-based, web-compliant VR format. For example, Superscape created its own format (SVR) which ran efficiently and effectively, through either Netscape or Internet Explorer, via its own viewer Viscape. A number of SVR models can be found on the Web covering a variety of applications (including entertainment, marketing, training, and data visualisation). However, Superscape no longer retails its VR-authoring software, the company now focuses its business on 3-D applications for wireless devices (Superscape 2002).

The withdrawal of VR products by manufacturers (see Section 3.10), combined with the apparent slow acceptance of VRML as a securely established medium, should perhaps provide something of a warning to all developers of VR models or applications.


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