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Part 5: X3D > WHY X3D?

Chapter 20. WHY X3D?

Topics in This Chapter

  • The motivation behind Extensible 3D (X3D)

  • Barriers to VRML ubiquity

  • A hint of things to come with X3D

As you learned in Parts 1 and 2 of this book, VRML97 defined an international standard for 3D on the Web. Thanks to VRML, 3D worlds of astonishing quality and impact have invaded the Internet over the years (see Chapter 2, "Overview of Web3D," to see just a few of the many ways in which VRML is used today). As a pioneer Web3D technology, VRML was the seed from which a multitude of nonstandard 3D technologies sprung forth. Today, VRML is at the core of the most popular 3D virtual communities on the net. The MPEG-4 group adopted VRML as their way to define 3D geometry, while the Java 3D API not only emulates many VRML nodes and concepts but can utilize VRML files directly through a loader mechanism (see Part 3 of this book for details).

With all of this positive activity surrounding VRML, why would anyone want to cast it aside in favor of a radical new idea like Extensible 3D (X3D)? X3D, after all, is a modern-day replacement for VRML, isn't it? No—not exactly.

Today it's clear that X3D is merely an evolutionary step in the life of VRML. Designed to allow the best capabilities of VRML to be expressed in terms of the red-hot Extensible Markup Language (XML), X3D is being crafted with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. X3D is, for all intents and purposes, the next generation of VRML.

If you've invested time or money in VRML, or are just starting a VRML project, you can rest assured that your investment is safe. So far as anyone is able to predict, X3D isn't a wholesale replacement for VRML; it's an incremental step forward based on the past success and failures of VRML.

Although VRML is considered by many to be the premier 3D technology for the Web, it's certainly not the only game in town. This book, in fact, describes two major technologies that up the ante for Web-based 3D technologies (Java 3D and MPEG-4/BIFS), while other forms of Internet 3D are nipping at its heels from every side (see Appendix F, "Other 3D Technologies for the Web," for details). While some people have been able to make a very decent living building VRML content, it isn't exactly a road to riches. Nor has VRML become the ubiquitous form of Web 3D that early hype promised it would be (see Chapter 1, "Why Bother?" , for details). So what happened? A lot of things, as you'll soon see.


Extensible 3D (X3D) began life as VRML Next Generation (VRML-NG). In time the name VRML-NG was changed to X3D to reflect its close ties to the Extensible Markup Language (XML) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (http://www.w3.org/XML/). X3D allows 3D to be expressed in terms of XML tags. For details see Chapter 22, "Weaving X3D into Web Pages."

X3D is being developed through the Web3D Consortium (the same organization that developed VRML). As an open process, development of X3D is open to all potential contributors. For details visit the Web3D Consortium's X3D Task Group at http://www.web3d.org/x3d. html.



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