Elpub buttonVirtual Reality News: 20th December 2001

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Special Annual Review Issue

Season's Greetings

We take this opportunity to wish the 7,000+ readers of VREfresh in 66 countries a very Happy Christmas as well as Peace, Prosperity and Good Heath in the New Year. This is the traditional time of year for reflection and predication so we offer you this snapshot of 2001 along with our good wishes for 2002.

Our Promises & Your Web Site

We would like to remind you of our promises to you.

1. We will not send you non-VREfresh email.
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4. We will promptly and permanently delete your details from our records if you unsubscribe.
5. We will scan VREfresh to protect you from viruses.

Also, we encourage you to use (and tell others) about our web site where you can search for information.

URL: http://www.VREfresh.com

Best News of 2001

Thanks to our partners in the INFORM Project and the European Commission, VREfresh will remain free of charge for at least another twelve months.

VREfresh is published in support of advanced interactive publishing research and development projects run by the European Commission's Information Society DG (D1) under the Information Society Technologies (IST) Programme.

Searching for Good News

Searching for good news in VR/i3D markets, in 2001 we have visited (and mostly published) from Barcelona, Denver, Havana (no signs of VR there), Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Luxembourg, Montreal, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Jose (Costa Rica not California - and no sign of VR there either!), Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and, of course, from London in the United Kingdom.

A promising sign is the big companies investing in the future of VR/i3D by applying for patents. During the year, VREfresh reported on VR/i3D related patents being awarded to Agilent, Apple, Autodesk, Daewoo, General Electric, IBM, Intel, Matsushita, Microsoft, Philips, SAP, SGI, Sony and many others. Adobe ($1.27 billion) and Sanyo ($18.3 billion) both put their names to i3D products. A sure sign of how big companies are taking 3D seriously. In April alone, Macromedia and Intel both publicly endorsed i3D technologies.

Market Barometers

Every student of VR/i3D keeps an eye on SGI. In January 2001 SGI reported quarter ending December 31, 2000 revenue of $487 million, up from $426 million for the comparable quarter. (SGI results for its quarter ended September 28, 2001 showed revenue of $379 million.) SGI results are a key market indicator for VR. Their FY2001 ended June 30 with revenues of $1.9 billion, down from $2.1 billion the previous year. In August SGI announced the sale of its 500th Reality Center. The customer was DaimlerChrysler and brought that company's number of immersive SGI visualization facilities to 53 - more than 10% of the installed base. It may have taken SGI as long as seven years to mark up their 500th sale.

A $2,500 report by Cyber-Edge Information Services valued the "VizSim Industry" at more than $22 billion. Does this suggest SGI has 10% of the VizSim market?

September 11 had a profound effect on the defense sector. In February the US Air Force contracted with Lockheed Martin to upgrade its F-16 simulators. Before year-end we learned a 512-processor SGI Origin 3800 supercomputer at the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center Major Shared Resource Center (ERDC MSRC) is helping the US Army Corps of Engineers better understand the structural effects of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Using this supercomputer, the Corps of Engineers is studying how to make safer, more bomb-resistant buildings. Just prior to the attack, a renovated section of the Pentagon had been fitted with blast-resistant windows designed in part by running blast simulations on the SGI supercomputer. Neither the heat nor the force of the airplane crashing into the Pentagon was able to shatter the new windows, reducing the number of deadly shards of glass.

Who knows what the effect of September 11 will have been on the VR/i3D community. VREfresh can't be measured in terms of sales revenue or number of employees, but we do monitor our statistics. More than 60% of our 7,000 readers are based in the USA so it is reasonable to suppose that most of our web visitors are based in the USA. At the beginning of September 2001 the VREfresh web site averaged more than 4,000 visitors per week: at the beginning of December the average was down more than 50% to just over 1,800 per week. It seems people's minds, especially in the USA, are understandably elsewhere.

Changing Names

In February MUSE Technologies changed its name to Advanced Visual Systems following the "merger" of the two companies three months earlier. The company posted revenues of $6.1 million for the year ended September 30, 2000. In August, MUSE sold its Virtual Presence Ltd subsidiary (which it acquired in November 1999) to Optionmaster Ltd, a vehicle managed by John Hough. The disposal price was not available, but MUSE took a write-down charge of $2.4 million in relation to goodwill.

Also in February Trimension announced it was building nine large-scale Visualization Centers for Shell. In December SEOS Displays Ltd and Trimension Systems Ltd merged to form a new company to be known as SEOS Ltd. Previously the two companies were autonomous entities held by Visualization Group Ltd. A number of well known names were casualties of the "merger."

Another famous name to leave the VR industry in 2001 was Dan Wright. In March Dan Wright led Fakespace Systems in raising $4.2 million to support international growth and r&d programs. A succession of orders from around the world followed: significant wins in the aerospace and defense sector being supplemented with important contracts in the oil and gas industry.

Harry Potter

No review of 2001 would be complete without reference to Harry Potter, the series of books that got the heads of millions of children away from screens and into books. In March Superscape won a contract with LEGO Media to develop "LEGO Creator Harry Potter." (The company has not posted a Press Release since announcing its new Head of Marketing & Strategy on September 18, 2001. Superscape reported sales of £2.84 million ($4.12 million) for the fiscal year ending January 31, 2001. This represented an increase of 32% versus 2000, but 1999 sales were £3.07 million. We look forward to the "Harry Potter" wizardry affecting 2001 sales.

Working Together

TGS and VRCO began a working relationship, foreshadowing a trend for consolidation in the VR/i3D arena. TGS also acquired Eovia Corporation. In the same month 3D Systems and DTM signed to merge. Another example of consolidation is the acquisition of Ferris Production acquisition by GameCom.

March gave us the opportunity to "watch the birth of a six-sided CAVE" at the University of Illinois, a project so brave it deserved to succeed. Tan was the selected contractor. News also came that Tan installed a five-sided CUBE for the University of San Paulo in Brazil. The need for vendors to trade globally was exemplified in European Tan reaching a collaboration agreement with Mechdyne of the USA.

Good News, Bad News

Although we will included bad news for commercially important reasons, we try to emphasize the positive in VREfresh (we want the VR/i3D community to grow), but in July we recorded a scandal at VisuaLABS. The company had claimed to have developed "GroutFree" display technology, but evidently demonstrated a standard 42 inch plasma display at the company's Annual General Meeting. VisuaLABS' former President, Sheldon Zelitt, and his wife were widely reported as having migrated at short notice for a new life in Eastern Europe.

Show Business

It has been gratifying to note the steady increase in the presence of i3D at "mainstream" computer shows, but the days of the traditional exhibition seem to be suspended if not actually over. We saw the number of exhibitors at Comdex Fall, for years the world's biggest computer show, down c20% from 2,400 companies in 2000 and estimates suggest the number of visitors was down 50% to about 100,000. The good news about this was the visitors were there to talk business - not collect literature and freebies!

We look forward to all the VR/i3D events in 2002 - especially Siggraph which will face exceptional challenges in getting delegates to San Antonio, Texas in the month of August.

Perspectives for the Future

History, let alone the history of the computer industry, is littered with quotations that look stupid in retrospect - we love them: "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." Everything that can be invented has been invented." and so on. But who can resist the prediction game?


Although Boeing has laid off, was it, 50,000 employees in the last three months, their figures suggesting there will be 33,000 passenger aircraft by 2020 compared with 14,500 in 2000 have not been revised. That must represent huge opportunity for the VR/i3D industry.


For a sign of the times, the presence of both Mercedes-Benz and Honda at Comdex with exhibits of "on-board technology" is encouraging. Demands for fuel economy and safety will create VR/i3D applications and with GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler combined having only 50% of the new car buyer market, there will be increased opportunities for 3D in sales and marketing.

Process Industries

At the time of writing, oil prices are low and Enron provides a good conversation piece on how bad greed can be. Nevertheless, the "easy" wells, particularly in the North Sea, have been exploited and the more difficult the exploration, the easier it is to justify investing in training and data visualization. Look for more VR in the oil and gas business and more for safety and planning applications in electricity generation and distribution.

Just about any requirement for technology in the energy industries is to be found in pharmaceuticals, food processing and more. Look for process industries investing in VR/i3D.

On the Move

The cost of 3G licenses has been such a burden in some markets that operators are struggling to afford the delivery infrastructure. If consumer prices rise without additional features, the user market will not grow exponentially. Operators will offer 3D on 3G to use the bandwidth and enhance the "must have" factor of future generations of future generation mobile telephony enabled devices: ie including personal digital assistants.

Data is on the move to homes and workplaces and it is getting faster. In South Korea there are 9.2 broadband connections per 100 inhabitants: that is almost four times the ratio in the USA and compares with 0.08 per hundred people in the UK! When data comes faster, users want more than text, more than just graphics, they want motion and an additional dimension - and they want to interact with it.

Staying Still

The costs of failure to construct rise. There is a bricks and mortar boom and civil engineers, architects and construction companies are increasingly competitive. Equally, the costs of construction failure are rising. Build a bridge that wobbles (as in London), or an office tower in the wrong place (as in Toronto), or just make a doorway too small and the costs of putting things right and the damage to a company's reputation is high. Visualization, simulation and communication are all increasingly economically viable.


In the services industries, particularly in banking and investment, being among the quick and the dead are the only two options. The survivors and thrivers get information quickly and interpret it faster than their competitors. A picture to a foreign exchange trader is worth a thousand spreadsheets and the price is trivial in comparison with the cost of failure.

The Next Frontiers?

If there is one component that will drive the wider adoption of VR/i3D technology it is surely in displays. When displays are as big, lightweight, flexible and inexpensive as roll-up screens for 35mm projectors... when projectors with their "bulbs" and calibration requirements are obsolete... when groups can interact with "whiteboard" displays... then we'll break a frontier.

And content. For years we've been saying that user expectations must be managed, but the entertainment industry keeps raising user expectations and the business community must keep up or continue to disappoint. Quality of graphics, color matching, sound... there are plenty of areas in which innovative entrepreneurs will find opportunities to prosper.

Deja Vu

In the late 1960s there were mainframe computers. Even if they were economically viable, cost put them out of the reach of most organizations. We waited 20 years for the business PC and another ten years for it to feature on almost every desk.

VR/i3D today is a bit like the mainframe of 1970. We are seeing some systems that are comparable with the minicomputers of the 1980s, but we have not yet reached the age of the PC. We will and it will come faster than the 40 years it took to move from mainframe to micro. Multi-gigahertz processors, cheap memory, fast and reliable operating systems, higher quality displays at lower prices, more intuitive input/output peripherals, broadband transmission... it is almost all there.

Once Again: Thanks & Good Wishes

As ever, we thank our readers and contributors, but especially our partners in the INFORM Project and at the European Commission for their support in 2001 - and, again, send best wishes in this season of goodwill.

For more extensive information about events relevant to the European VR/i3D community, see the events pages on El.pub: for Europe: base05.htm, for the rest of the world: connone.htm

About VREfresh news
Each edition of virtual reality news is now published on a separate page, ensuring that links (particularly from VREfresh) continue to remain current. To view news from previous issues, please use the navigation buttons below.
Email alerter of news items and associated URLs, send an email with your name, organisation, country (and for the US a zip code) to the Editor via the link above.
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