Shockwave Player Goes 3D

The movie A Perfect Storm features 200-foot waves created with 3D graphics software. Imagine those waves streamed over the Internet to your PC.

Thanks to new software from Intel Corp., you might not have to dream much longer. On Tuesday, Macromedia Inc. and Intel announced an update to Macromedia's Shockwave player--the free browser plug-in used to view Shockwave content--that incorporates Intel Graphics Technology.

Developed at Intel Architecture Labs, IGT is optimized for 56k modems. It uses the power of the high-speed processors in today's PCs to render 3D forms. Intel hopes to entice developers by distributing playback capabilities in the pervasive Shockwave player. The partners hope developers will take the bait and promote the technology to developers before the Shockwave update becomes available later this year.

Examples of 3D used effectively on the Web include The Sharper Image and Lands' End, says Miriam Geller, senior product manager for Macromedia Shockwave player. But 3D hasn't taken off because the technology has no clear content development path, and people don't take full advantage of faster modems and processor speeds, she adds.

Automatic Update in 3D

If you have the Shockwave Player, you'll get an update notification. Accept it, and you're ready for 3D.

The Shockwave Player, which is on an estimated 130 million systems, offers a quick way to distribute Intel's 3D playback software, Geller says. Intel and Macromedia hope that the player's ubiquity will speed development of 3D content based around the graphics platform.

At the heart of Intel's adaptive 3D software are several core technologies that maximize the speed of home PCs in order to work around the barriers of today's networks.

Multiresolution mesh enables content to adjust to bandwidth fluctuations and processor speeds, says Bryan Pebler, an Intel marketing manager. In order to have a running dinosaur stream at 30 frames per second on different systems, the software adjusts the resolution depending on processor speed, he says.

Another core technology, subdivision surfaces, saves bandwidth by sending a low-resolution model that the CPU can render in high resolution, Pebler says.

Bones-based animation works like a symbols library in a graphics program.

Instead of sending every frame of 3D animation, you send one 3D model and then just the basic skeleton, Pebler says. "The computer animates around the bone structure filling in the details."

Other technologies like motion blending and cartoon rendering offer additional effects to make 3D sail smoothly across a narrow pipe.

Today, 3D graphics are used most frequently for entertainment and games, as well as for testing cars and training airline pilots, Geller says. Because of bandwidth issues, Internet gaming has been the place where the most action is for 3D imaging.

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