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VRML 98 Conference Report


From the 16 - 19 February 1998, the seaside resort of Monterey USA hosted the Third Annual Symposium on the Virtual Reality Modelling Language. Sponsored by ACM SIGGRAPH, ACM SIGCOMM and the non-profit VRML Consortium Inc, the four days of the Conference were showcase to workshops, exhibitions, paper and panel sessions, as well as a gallery exhibition and a demo night illustrating new VRML content.

Workshops and Working Groups

The first day began with a series of courses and workshops and a set of meetings for the chartered Working Groups set up under the guidance of the VRML Consortium. Course titles included "Introduction to VRML", "Advanced Animation Techniques" and "Internet Games". The "Advanced Animation Techniques" course demonstrated the use of quaternions in the creation of dual numbers within VRML and how these techniques could be put to use in developing Inverse Kinematic Systems. The "Internet Games" course demonstrated some of the work achieved with VRML and discussed marketing models for future developments. Workshop meetings provided attendees with the opportunity to meet and discuss a particular VRML topic whilst the Working Group meetings provided a chance for Working Group members and interested parties to meet and discuss the progress of research.

There were 17 active Working Groups at the start of the meeting (details on the Website) with two groups becoming defunct (meta forms Working Group and the widgets Working Group) with at least two more being set up at the Conference. The remaining groups all seem highly active and were asked to present to the Conference a quick 1 minute review of their work. A range of these statements are available on the AGOCG VRML/Java3D Information Centre Web pages

The second day again included workshops, "Authoring Compelling and Efficient VRML2.0 Worlds" and "DIS-Java-VRML" (Distributed Interactive Simulation) and Working Group meetings covering all aspects of VRML use and further extension. In addition to these meetings the second day saw host to the VRML Consortium Member Summit and the formally required Annual Meeting.

Annual Meeting of the VRML Consortium

Notable issues within the Meeting were:

A new Board of Directors and a VRML Review Board (VRB) was announced
Details of these can be found on and

The VRB noted the following as the accomplishments of 1997
Setting up the Working Group process, finalising the VRML97 specification and creating the Website.

Re-organisation of the Consortium to allow more decisive action
The Consortium is to introduce another tier of management, the Executive Committee, elected from the Board of Directors to allow faster decision making. In addition, "task groups", an elevated Working Group under more direct Board control, will aim to research and develop VRML issues seen pertinent to its future. Integration of VRML with MPEG-4 and DHTML (dynamic HTML) will be the research areas of the first task groups.

Aim to solve the binary format issue
IBM/Apple/Paragraph have developed a compressed binary format for VRML.

However intellectual property rights issues and a change in the requirements of a specification have meant that the existing proposal may not be suitable. The Consortium is now re-evaluating these requirements and may look towards MPEG-4 as a possible binary format solution.

Consortium priorities for 1998 include:

A new Intellectual Property Right (IPR) policy to be drafted. This follows on from the problems with the binary format issue

The EAI (External Authoring Interface) situation to be sorted out
Currently the EAI is not a standard part of the specification and has some flaws and limitations. Rather than dispose of the technology the view was taken to enhance and improve the EAI model and to attempt to submit it to ISO for standardisation as an annex to the VRML97 specification.

Sun have joined the Consortium
The aim is that Java3d and VRML can work in partnership rather than as competitors. Likely development in this area is for Sun to release a Java3d VRML browser when Java3d is ready for final release as an API. Sun representative, Henry Swoziral, was present at the Conference and presented a talk as part of the formation of a VRML-Java3d Working Group. The talk was the same as that presented at Visualization and Virtual Environments Community Club (VVECC) seminar at UCL earlier this year but with live Java3d demos (rather than video).

Working Group Presentations to Consortium

The Consortium meeting also provided the chance for Working Groups and individuals to promote some of their ideas of which the following took the opportunity (see for more details):

VRML - DHTML Working Group - presented the Consortium with their current proposal. This Working Group has been recently set up and is looking to enable VRML to become more embedded in the workings of HTML in the future. One of the aims is for VRML to break out of the restriction of the VRML browser window.

Universal Media Library Working Group - presented the Consortium with current issues involving their work into providing a reusable set of VRML elements (textures, sounds, geometry etc). The aim is to have this set located on the local hard drive, so download time can be reduced if content creators use these elements as parts of their worlds.

Interoperability/ Conformance Working Group - presented the Consortium with their current work in supplying a Web resource at NIST to support conformance testing, and providing reports back to the community at large.

David Frerichs (Cosmo Software Inc) illustrated the importance of tailoring content to a specific delivery mechanism.

Tony Parisi (Intervista) described the marketing strategy of the Consortium over 1997 and focused on the successful SIGGRAPH 97 event where he claimed VRML was taken seriously. Discussion revolved around strategies for marketing in 1998 (another SIGGRAPH event for instance).

Paper and Panel Sessions

Days three and four contained the paper and panel sessions in which technical papers were presented to the Conference (there were 17 in all including topics from "High Performance", "Programming Interfaces" and "Browser Technology"). Panel sessions involved short presentations and question and answers sessions between the audience and panel members.


Attendees at the Conference were predominantly based in the West Coast of the USA, the rest being mainly made up from the rest of the USA, Germany, Japan, UK, Austria and a group from Israel. The paper session reflected this mix with 8 papers from the USA, 7 from Europe ( 4 German, 2 UK, 1 Austria) and 2 from Japan.

A small UK contingent were present at the Conference with myself, members of the Philips research department showing VRML output as part of a set top box system with MPEG2 support, a team from Superscape VR plc demonstrating their new VRML97 compliant browser and presenting a paper ("Towards More realistic Sound") and Tim Regan from BT Labs, presenting a paper ("Taking Living Worlds into Peoples' Living Rooms"). All of the UK contingent were also members of the VRML Consortium.

Exhibition and Gallery

Open throughout the Conference were the exhibition and gallery hall where companies were able to demonstrate their technologies. Most of the large VRML players (Cosmo Software, Sony, Intervista, Ligos and Platinum) were there demonstrating predominantly browser technologies and editing suites. The gallery exhibition played host to some of the most innovative VRML created over the last year all of which were entered into the Monterey Bay Duck Awards. The VRML/Java3D Information Centre item refers to the eventual award winners and provides a link to their work.


Cosmo Software had the largest presence at the Conference and provided a free trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a buffet dinner, a demonstration (and free copy) of the forthcoming Cosmo Worlds PC VRML editing package, a look at some of the most amazing sealife found on the West Coast and a well needed break.

Sony and Microsoft hosted the annual VRML Dinner/Demo-Sig night where for 5 minutes each, brave individuals faced the Conference crowd and demonstrated their VRML 'wares'. Tools were provided to the audiences to signal appreciation or derision and to ensure strict time keeping should a participant overrun their time. Some very interesting examples of work were demonstrated at the event, especially Cosmo Software's new Cosmoplayer 2.1 browser technology running on the Mac and PC platforms and implementing such things as BSP trees, Direct 3d support and Active X EAI controls.

The Conference had a PC oriented feel with nearly all live demonstrations utilising PC hardware. Cosmo Software demonstrated some work on a Silicon Graphics O2 machine and hardware available in the gallery was of Silicon Graphics origin but use of UNIX platforms seemed few and far between. However, Miscrosoft received a rather hostile welcome from the attendees at the dinner event.


Finally the Conference was deemed a success allowing those active members of the VRML community (the 'big names' from the WWW-VRML mailing list) to meet the rest of the community at large. It was a useful exercise in putting names to faces. There was an overwhelming desire to keep pushing VRML forward at the Conference demonstrated by the large attendance and the interest in the Working Groups. The community seems very company driven however, with the VRML Consortium membership reading like a telephone directory of computing companies in the west coast area. Within this climate, research efforts seem to originate from research departments of large companies (Bell Labs, Cosmo Software for example) rather than research institutions and Universities.

Next Year

Next year, VRML 99 (the 4th Symposium) is for the first time being held in Europe at the Heinz Nixdorf Museums forum (, Paderborn, Germany. The organisers of this event are C-LAB (, a joint venture between Siemens Nixdorf Informations systems ( and the University of Paderborn (

A call for participation has been sent out and further details are available on the Conference Web site All papers, panels sessions and workshops/courses from VRML98 are available from the Conference Web site:

Stuart Lovegrove
School of Computer Studies
University of Leeds