Distributing CAD models to potential customers or manufacturers has become a highly competitive market. A new solution from Norway, offers a way to distribute photorealistic ‘VR’ sessions of models over the web.
Supplier: 3D to Go
Price: see text
There are a number of real time visualisation systems on the market today which enable the viewing of Architectural or Mechanical models. These could be a simple as sending an executable, like SolidWorks eDrawings or as powerful as building a complete 3D environment in a product like NavisWorks. With the advent of the Internet there have been many other solutions which utilise light-weight formats, Java or other devices to distribute design information but none have really cornered the market yet.
An exciting new venture in this space comes from Norway and is called simply, MyVR, and in the UK the product is sold through a company called 3DtoGo. In short, MyVR provides a series of tools to distribute interactive, real-time, VR sessions of large models over the web. The quality of the rendering is photorealistic and even though the models are streamed over the web, the interactivity is as if you are looking at the model on your hard drive. The concept behind the product is that firms that create 3D models will be able to store especially thinned out versions of these models on a server, which will stream sessions over the web for potential customers to walkthrough, interact and visualise buildings, landscapes or products – before they are built or manufactured. The developers claim that MyVR could even be used for training or as a virtual front end to shopping. While the streaming over the web is played heavily on, the VR environments can also be run from local hard drives, or across a network.
To use the product, one obviously has to have 3D content to start with. 3DtoGo realises that many firms may not have made the switch to developing full 3D models and so offer a service to generate 3D models from 2D plans or drawings. Those companies that are using either Autodesk’s 3D Studio or Viz product will have a head start, as at the moment MyVR works with data created exclusively in those systems, although other key industry applications are currently being considered. Environments created in Max or Viz are the key start point, as MyVR takes the polygon models, textures and lighting from the software.
MyVR is actually made up from a number of modules, each of which have a specific in the process of making, distributing and viewing the models. MyVR Export is the Max/Viz component which takes 3DS files and runs special algorithms to ‘thin out’ the file size. Typically 3DtoGo claims that model size reduces by 50% to 75%. In one of the demo files, an 800MB model shrank to just 131MB. In the general scale of the web, 131MB is still a very large file to stream but this is where 3DtoGo feel its technology has an edge.
Once the MyVR file has been created, it’s loaded onto the MyVR realtime server, ready for distribution. The MyVR Publisher component then allows administrators to allocate rights and settings for access to the models, adding additional control like passwords. Once in the MyVR format, the data is encrypted and cannot be modified by a viewing client, if streamed, it also cannot be stored (stolen) on a PC as it only occupies Video memory on the graphics card.
The final part of the product is a viewing application, which comes in three flavours; a freely downloadable viewer, an Active X component for embedding into company websites and a ‘Pro’ Viewer, which provides the ability to generate walkthrough paths, AVIs and set up cameras (which can also be extracted from Max/Viz).
As you will be able to tell from the images, the quality of the output is pretty good, as good as you’d get within 3D Studio. Loading files from a local hard drive takes only a few seconds, while downloading the initial set-up over the Internet, the initial download is around 4MB, which may take a few minutes over standard broadband. To move about the model you can chose to walk (3 speeds), fly (helicopter) or Fly around at Jet speed! All of which provide smooth graphics, as if it were a game (for those of you that have played Half Life, it’s pretty similar). Clash detection can be switched on, so you can’t pass through walls, or more importantly, when the gravity button is hit, you don’t go through the floor! Fog can be applied to add a little atmosphere, the clouds move and with a good Max model, animations like water movement will be displayed.
Moving about is simple, left mouse button forward, right back and moving the mouse allows you to look around. Scenes can be saved with a number of set camera views, which you can flick through, or go back to should you get lost in your model, which is possible. The product supports paths, so it’s also possible to fly along pre-determined paths, like a road, or a route around a product or house. If models are animated in Max, it’s also possible to have moving mechanisms within an environment.
The only pre-requisite to run a MyVR session is that your PC has an OpenGL capable graphics card, which to be honest has been standard in most machines for a number of years.
With visualisation tools, the proof of the pudding is in the quality of the images. I think you can tell from these screen grabs that the quality is certainly there. Obviously the magazine medium isn’t great at showing moving images, but I was impressed in the frame rate and smoothness of MyVR, as well as its simplicity.
The sales model for the product is a tad more complex. To own the technology outright, costs ú20,000, and this includes the export, server and a ‘Pro’ viewer. Here you can make as many models as you want and host the service on your own server and embed MyVR sessions into your website This obviously limits the product to larger firms. However, MyVR is available as a service from 3DtoGo, with the company hosting the model on its servers and charging a monthly fee for a set number of ‘streams’ (client web sessions). Also, for those that don’t have the in-house 3D capability, the company offers a Max/Viz modelling service. Alternatively, the web portion could be avoided and MyVR environments could be sent to clients on a CD with the viewer.
The end results are very impressive and guaranteed to wow clients. Obviously with the fixed cost or ASP payment model, the value of distributing the model to clients or potential clients has to be weighed up. By paying per stream, you’d really want only qualified customers to view your designs. While if you opted to buy MyVR, the cost of opening up sessions to everyone will be based on what you pay your provider for bytes transmitted. To launch MyVR in the UK, 3DtoGo is offering a month’s free hosting for the first 25 AEC customers that want to evaluate the technology. A demonstration of the streaming technology is available as a download from the company website.