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Shopping On The Net Will Never Be The Same Again

Sandra Prior
Aug 5, 2008
Shopping is a time consuming chore for some; for others, it's more a way of life. But one thing you don't normally consider is how you actually do it. For instance, before you buy an item of clothing, you'll pick it up, turn it around and flip it over to see what's on the back.

You can't do any of these things at online fashion stores just yet. But you probably won't have to wait too long, because Enliven Marketing Technologies has come up with a wondrous Web plug-in that may have finally conquered the third dimension in cyberspace. You're probably thinking that 3D on the Web is nothing new, what with the numerous VRML plug-ins already out there. While these render virtual worlds complete with people, towns and sounds, Enliven presents you with just one virtual object. The neat part is that it brings this object to you in the blink of a virtual eye.

As long as your modem can crank itself up to 33Kbps, the bare bones of a 3D Enliven model will appear very quickly when you visit a Web page. It then gradually becomes more detailed before your very eyes, like Captain Kirk and crew beaming down to the surface of an alien world. If you have broadband you won't know the difference between reality and the Virtual world.

The name of the plug-in explains what's going on. These models are streamed to your PC over the Internet in a similar way to RealAudio files - the shape is sent first, with details such as lighting effects and shadows following later when traffic on the Internet permits. The main thing is that you see the object in seconds. The rest is window dressing, albeit window dressing that doesn't take very long to put up. In fact, Enliven so impressed Microsoft that it has bought the technology to use in Windows.

As soon as you see an Enliven object, you can play around with it. That doesn't just mean rotating it, because you can also imitate a drunken cameraman by panning around and zooming away to your heart's content.

As a means of delivering 3D models Enliven is especially well suited to objects that already exist in virtual form, such as computer game characters. You'll be able to see weapons, vehicles, and characters that could give Lara Croft a run for her virtual money. Of course, PC games are a minefield in as much as you need a certain speed of computer to play a particular title. Fortunately, you don't need the equivalent of HAL on your desktop to view Enliven objects, although the amount of detail adjusts itself according to the power of your PC.

If you have a Pentium III or greater with a reasonable amount of RAM, you'll see deluxe models with textures and a frame rate that permits them to rotate smoothly when you turn the animation on. On lesser PCs, and there are not many around, the 3D models might be more basic and move more jerkily, but they're still pretty neat.

Remember staring at molecular diagrams in school text books and trying to work out how strong bonds linked carbon atom to carbon atom, and how the ankle bone was connected to the thigh bone? Hang on, that was biology.

Anyway, Enliven is ideal for making things you can't see that much easier to visualize. For example, the Planetary Biology page already has Enliven 3D models of all the planets of the solar system.

Museums on the Web will never be the same again, but you won't find us down at the local Web museum... we'll be too busy Windows shopping.
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