Chromeffects- Look Ma It's So Shiny

Dateline: 8/19/98

We've heard of this thing called CHROME for a few months and had a few hints in the press of what it was. Finally at SIGGRAPH 98 the wraps came off for the public and Chromeffects, the real name, was unveiled. Chromeffects represents the first significant attempt an unifying the 2D world of web pages with 3D graphics.

The requirements are somewhat ridiculous at first glance, a 300 MHz CPU, 3D AGP graphics accelerator, and it will only be available for Windows 98 or Windows NT version 5. Not exactly a low or even medium capability type of system. Of course given the pace of hardware changes these will be low end systems in 2 years. Chromeffects seems to be positioned as the type of functionality on which content developers will develop applications compelling enough to draw the user base into the more upgrades. From a long term strategic point of view, it seems quite smart to create such a technology. Unfortunately this approach is somewhat the opposite of a drive towards ubiquity and availability for the less than privileged users and won't win any friends from the large community of 3D web developers. It is a shame that the vast majority of  existing users will be excluded from what will surely be terrific applications, unless they invest in newer hardware.

From a technical point of view Chromeffects is really going in an interesting direction. It relies on XML to bridge the gap between 3D graphics and Web pages. First a little background on XML.

The eXtensible Markup Language (XML) is a "lite" version of SGML. SGML the Standard Generalized Markup Language is the father of both HTML and XML. A good overview of SGML is available on the Web from a previous publication of mine. The power of XML, is that it can be used to define other languages, other sets of tags. Then given the definition of new tag sets, applications such as Web browsers or graphical interpreters, can use those tags to perform new operations. HTML is one particular set of tags that can be expressed in XML. The portion of SGML that defines these tag sets is called a Document Type Definition (DTD).  XML is being developed and used by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) for the development of many new aspects of the Web.

There are of course a bunch of companies doing stuff with Chromeffects. For example,  MetaCreations streaming technology will enable content to be displayed while the downloads are happening, and   Zapa Digital Arts has some very cool cartoon like 3D characters that can spice up your Web pages.  Other companies appear to be mostly vaporware, but probably not for too long.
While Chromeffects is good at creating eye candy types of graphics that do things such as placing a bouncing ball on a web page or other logo types of graphics on page, it's real innovation is the ability to seamlessly and with high quality render text onto 3D graphical surfaces. Entire web pages can be placed onto the surface of a cube for example and the cube can be rotated revealing more web pages. While high quality text placed onto 3D graphical surfaces has been demonstrated using VRML, the Chomeffects text is real HTML text that can have links and is rendered with in a variety of fonts.

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