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3.1 Standard virtual reality systems

Virtual archaeology has been dogged by the lack of adoption of standard systems. Virtual reality worlds either cannot transfer from one system to another, or at best do so only in a very inefficient and inaccurate fashion. This problem has been exacerbated by the involvement of commercial organisations using archaeological projects to showcase new technology and in doing so transcending contemporary standards. We feel that any systems adopted should at least meet the following criteria:

  1. open published standards
  2. extensible
  3. a wide range of development tools available
  4. data interoperability with GIS and CAD systems.

The only candidate to meet all of these conditions remaining at this time is VRML97 — an approved international standard (ISO/IEC 14772).

A wide range of development tools are available for VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language), not only world building applications but also smaller utilities to facilitate the importation, optimisation and exportation of data, often lacking in other systems. VRML does not cover all possible uses of virtual reality within archaeology, in particular panoramic viewing systems offer the opportunity to represent spatial interpretation via a distributed media whilst utilising minimal bandwidth (see Cummings 2000; Edmonds and McElearney 1999; Gidlow 2001; Jeffrey 2000; Larkman 2000). In this field there is no clear leader. At the time of writing, Apple Quick-time has the bulk of the users, Live Picture the technical superiority (but is not currently available), and iPIX the patent on 360° viewing about all axes. Visualisation rather than real time virtual reality are possible in panoramic viewers. The tool sets of both viewers and VRML are particularly suitable for Hyper Real models. Combined and linked technologies further increase the options. Where photorealistic representations are required the tools available in the standard CAD package AutoCAD may suffice, providing stimulation of human visual perception via physically accurate illumination models is not required. Where even greater detail or control is required this can be interfaced with 3D Studio Viz — an architectural variant of the 3DS Max modelling package, or 3DS Max direct, or indeed with rendering solutions such as Radiance, particle tracing or LightScape.

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