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4. Where from here?

The issues raised above have been addressed to some extent by the publication of the AHDS Guide to Good Practice on Creating and Using Virtual Reality. Whilst clearly providing a useful initial starting point for investigations into the development of VR models within archaeology, a publication of this nature is too wide in its scope to provide more than a first step in the process.

The X3D standard is the next generation successor to VRML97 (see Ryan 2001). It is an extensible system based on XML. Profiles already exist for VRML97 and Geo VRML within X3D and further profiles could add, for instance, archaeological enhancements. X3D itself can be implemented as a profile within MPEG4, enabling a wide range of delivery platforms from a single code base; an interactive 3D model within a film on a portable DVD player for instance. Like all new technologies in virtual reality this development should be treated with some caution until it becomes established, de facto standards being the ones that matter most. Ryan's suggested Virtual Archaeology Metadata Profile and Schema is one prominent move in this direction (Ryan 2001). With extensive documentation and standardisation using such approaches the rapid proliferation of advanced modelling and coding developments specific to archaeological practice would be greatly enhanced, providing a wider arena within which to formulate and debate our archaeological questions of space and perception.11 Other technologies are arriving all the time, with Web 3D being one example. Unfortunately, most of these are neither extensible nor sufficiently scalable to produce worlds of the complexity required for archaeology, and the availability of development tools is usually limited. Similarly, game engines provide only a limited, if exciting, option.

One final area that may deserve further research is the use of collaborative environments in VR. In an ongoing project we hope to provide a VR interface to the site data and hence allow the various specialists involved to interact with the material. One could take this further by suggesting that multi-user virtual reality environments might be of some use on such projects. Still, in this and other areas we must return to the reality of virtual archaeology, namely, that it has certainly been hampered by the vast over-expectation of its potential. Much of the literature from the early virtual reality conferences describes breakthroughs still consigned to science fiction but, given these constraints, can it offer us any more than other conventional approaches? Will, as we have begun to see with the media's employment of visualising techniques, our novel methodologies prove of less power, utility and influence than the expert drawings or paintings of the illustrator? Perhaps by pooling knowledge more efficiently this and other issues might be addressed.

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