The 3D Internet - will it take off?

A half-dozen companies at Internet World are banking on 3D becoming mainstream. But will Web surfers suffer through the long downloads and plug-ins?
Written by Ben Charny, Contributor

Sony has a 3D dog running around its Web site. FAO Schwartz lets users take apart toys in its 3D playroom. MTV has been letting users make a mockery of Bill Clinton, all in glorious 3D.

The list goes on -- Eddie Bauer, Palm and The Sharper Image all have 3D on their sites as well.

The half-dozen 3D creating companies attending the Fall Internet World show here are certainly banking on it.

With consumer sites now more the norm than the anomaly, hundreds are turning to 3D to stay ahead of the competition, say people like Scott Krinsky, product management director of Viewpoint, a 3D creator.

"They need a market, they need to differentiate," he said.

Greenfield Online agrees. In a study the company conducted on consumer sites, it found that sites using 3D to show products have a lower return rate than those companies with a Web site in two dimensions. (A return rate is the number of items sold by a company, but returned by the consumer.)

There has never been a formal count of sites using 3D. But judging just from the graphics companies attending Internet World, there could be more than 500 Web sites that are leaping off the screen to grab a reader's attention.

But perhaps the biggest thing holding back 3D companies isn't the plug-ins needed to read the sites, nor the glasses that have to be worn to view some of the 3D creations.

Instead, it may the industry's rather two-dimensional view internally.

Some companies produce the images through rendering techniques such as shadowing or changing angles of view. A reader needs to be downloaded.

Then there is stereoscopic 3D, which creates what appears to be blurred images on the screen. But, when a special pair of glasses is worn, the eye is forced to focus at a point a few inches off the screen, creating the three-dimensional effect.

It's not a friendly rivalry. The rendering 3D folks are quick to point out the "hassle factor" of having to wear special glasses to view the image.

But the stereo 3D people believe rendering isn't true 3D, plus it also needs a rendering engine to read. And even after all that, the images stay flat on the page -- more like "2-and-a-halfD," they said.

But companies on both sides of the aisle are popping up all over the place.

Pulse Entertainment is perhaps best known for its "Virtual Bill" Clinton feature on the MTV Web site.

But the company also inked a deal with RealNetworks, which has included a Pulse reader in its Version 8.0, which was released this month.

Pulse's work is featured on the FAO Schwartz Web site. The toy company's officials say the products offered in the "virtual playroom" are some of their best sellers.

Viewpoint, formerly MetaCreations, is powering Sony's 3D version of Aibo, a robotic dog and entertainment system using a rendering technique. The dog chases a ball all over the Sony Web site, frolicking and even barking over the text.

The company, part-owned by Adobe, is also powering 3D images at 91 other sites, including Eddie Bauer, Nike, The Sharper Image, Compaq Computer, Coca Cola, and Marvel Films.

CryOne Networks creates entire 3D worlds, in which up to ten separate users can enter at anyone time.

The company was launched two weeks ago, but its hefty client list includes online gaming sites and Web sites for movies such as "Titanic" that offer a tour of the more infamous rooms in the sunken luxury liner. Santa Monica-based DDD has done CryOne Networks one better by bringing 3D movies "Encounters in the Third Dimension" and "Alien Adventure" to the small screen of a personal computer.

And from Finland comes Cybellus, which was demonstrating some virtual medical training programs in 3D, including using a device to snip arteries.

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