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3-D has come a long way since the days of goofy red-and-blue glasses. You can now buy special computer displays that show 3-D images, and the technology is making inroads on the internet. But is web 3-D ready for its close-up? Tony Parisi, president of Media Machines and the developer of early web 3-D technology VRML, thinks so.
What exactly is web 3-D? Parisi, 42, describes it as real-time 3-D graphics that are delivered over a web connection. That's pretty straightforward. Online gaming is usually the first thing that comes to mind, but the potential uses for the technology go far beyond shoot-'em-ups. "This technology is used for visualization across the board," says Parisi. That could include an interactive tour through the human body, a virtual tour of a building, or a product catalog that lets customers look at every angle of a piece of equipment and even virtually place it in their office environment to see how it fits before buying. The potential e-commerce applications could be especially intriguing for entrepreneurs in general.
Web 3-D has been tried before. Proprietary formats have come and gone, but Parisi sees a future for the current incarnations of open standards like X3D and VRML. "There's more sizzle to it; the graphics do more and look better," he says. The times have also changed, making web 3-D's prospects a lot stronger than in the past. "The base platform is capable now. The network infrastructure is capable now. Broadband is a huge enabler for this. The world is pretty much ready for this," Parisi says.
The next step is widening the deployment of the technology. Early adopters are already using web 3-D, and Parisi estimates more widespread adoption within five years. If the technology catches on with consumers and businesses, it could become as widespread as Flash. Entrepreneurs who work in engineering, tourism, architecture and other highly visual fields may want to look into the possibilities of web 3-D. To see examples of web 3-D at work, visit Media Machines. For the latest news and developments, visit the Web3D Consortium.