X3D: Extensible 3D Graphics for Web Authors

Reviewed by Major Keary

Extensible 3D Graphics (X3D) is an XML-based development of the Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML), conceived in 1994 and which became an ISO standard in 1997. The authors of this book are remarkably well qualified and have produced a technically detailed description of X3D that does not assume any special background. As the title indicates it is specifically pitched at producing VR for the Web. In the preface an item, Reader background, says,

"Prior experience in 3D graphics programming or XML authoring is helpful but not required to use this book. The creation of X3D scenes is presented with an emphasis on XML so that content production might appear familiar to Web authors. Many examples are developed as part of the book, and many more are available online."

The idea of virtual reality (VR) goes back a long way; an early example was the Link Trainer, created in 1929 and used extensively for pilot training up to and through World War II, and for some years after. In 1964 I 'flew' one—hooked up to a large plotting table and used for navigational exercises—at the QANTAS pilot training establishment. There are a number of pre-computer examples of simulation, the term used in those days.

The term, virtual reality, was coined in 1987, but did not find its way into general usage until the mid-1990s when it became the 'theme' for computer expos where the public experience usually involved people wearing head-gear that looked like an inverted bed pan. Up until then VR was used primarily for military applications, such as simulators for training pilots to land on aircraft carriers.

X3D: Extensible 3D Graphics for Web Authors provides an historical account of VR as a Web application and which merges into a technical overview of current X3D technology. It has not been written as a formal tertiary-level text, but observes an academic format: there is no hand-holding or glossing over the hard parts. At the same time it provides a sound explanation—supported by didactic code—of how X3D works and its underlying science. The examples in the book use a Java-based scene-graph editor that can be downloaded from a companion website; it "has been tested under Windows, Macintosh, and Linux".

Chapter topics indicate the book's scope:

  • Geometry Nodes Part 1 (primitives)
  • Grouping Nodes
  • Viewing and Navigation
  • Appearance, material, and Textures
  • Geometry Nodes Part 2 (points. lines, and polygons)
  • Event Animation and Interpolation
  • User Interactivity Nodes
  • Event Utilities and Scripting
  • Geometry Nodes Part 3 (geometry 2d nodes)
  • Lighting and Environment Nodes
  • Environment Sensor and Sound Nodes
  • Geometry Nodes Part 4 (triangles and quadrilaterals)
  • Creating Prototype Nodes
  • Metadata and Information Nodes

A very well presented text supported by full colour illustrations and useful tabulated information. It is not simply a list of how-to directions, but provides a remarkable depth of detail written in clear language. This title should be in any library with holdings on 3D graphics and/or virtual reality.

Don Brutzman and Leonard Daly: X3D: Extensible 3D Graphics for Web Authors
ISBN 978-0-12-088500-8
Published by Morgan Kaufmann, an imprint of Elsevier, 441 pp., RRP AU$ 110.00

This title is available from Elsevier Australia Customer Service tel. 1800 263 951, fax 02 9517 2249, or email service@elsevier.com.au


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