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The Khronos Group, an open consortium of companies creating graphics and compute interoperability standards, has unveiled a way to certify 3D-animation viewers created by different companies for online shopping.
Before your eyes glaze over, this kind of technology is a stepping stone for the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
3D Commerce Viewer
The group is releasing the 3D Commerce Viewer Certification Program. 3D viewers are software engines that enable users to display and interact with 3D models.
The viewers are used by retailers, social media sites, and brands to create experiences on ecommerce storefronts, search engines, ad platforms, and in native applications. And so they enable online shopping in a very big way, said Shrenik Sadalgi, 3D Commerce Working Group chair and director of research and development for Wayfair Next at Wayfair, in an interview with GamesBeat.
The Viewer Certification Program enables 3D viewers across the industry to demonstrate that they can accurately and consistently display 3D products, clearing the way for reliable 3D and AR-powered shopping across multiple platforms and devices.
If you think about it, everybody wants to comparison-shop when they go online, but you have to be certain that you’re comparing the same things, said Neil Trevett, president of the Khronos Group, in an interview with GamesBeat.
“We can make it very targeted and suitable for real-time transmission into web browsers and native apps,” said Trevett. “And 3D commerce is one of the beachhead applications that really needs this kind of 3D everywhere.”
Amazon, Babylon.js, CGTrader, Emersya, Epic Games (Unreal Engine), Facebook (Spark AR), Google (<model-viewer> & Scene Viewer), Samsung (Internet Browser on Android), SketchFab, Unity, and UX3D (Gestaltor) have begun the process of certifying their viewers under this new program. All of these companies have a vested interest in seeing online commerce blossom, and they all have their eyes on the metaverse as well. All told, there are more than 150 companies in the Khronos Group.
Previously, when artists and brands created digital products, they had no guarantee that they would appear consistently on different platforms. A 3D asset, such as a piece of furniture, is created independently from the 3D viewer used to build a consumer experience, and which viewer is used can have a major impact on what the consumer sees. Even with identical viewer settings, a chair might look very different in an ecommerce product listing versus a digital ad that uses a different viewer.
“Commerce seems to be the first vertical that has taken off,” Sadalgi said. “With AR and VR, the commerce use case seems to be a pretty powerful one. And that is driving some of this.”
Aside from online shopping, there are also standards developing for things like animating avatars, or 3D characters, that can be used across multiple applications.
The group has rallied around glTF (or GL Transmission Format), a royalty-free specification for the efficient transmission and loading of 3D scenes and models by engines and applications. glTF minimizes the size of 3D assets and reduces the runtime processing needed to unpack and use them. glTF defines an extensible publishing format that streamlines authoring workflows and interactive services by enabling the interoperable use of 3D content across the industry.
“Over the last few years, glTF has become this lingua franca for 3D to be used everywhere,” Trevett said. “That’s why it has ended up as a Khronos specification, so it’s not controlled by any one company. It’s an open standard under multi-company governance and it is royalty free, just like any other Khronos standard. And that’s why it’s proven to be a valuable building block.”
It’s been a 10-year journey to get here, and gITF does for 3D viewing what JPEG did as a format for viewing photos, Trevett said.
“We had the idea for glTF almost 10 years ago. Version one came out in 2015,” he said. “2.0 came out in 2017. The 3D Commerce Working Group was founded in 2019. And now it’s 2021.”
The Khronos Group’s 3D Commerce Working Group has been striving to solve this and other problems that slow the growth of 3D in retail. The Working Group’s diverse membership includes in-house content creators at major brands like IKEA, Amazon, and Wayfair; 3D ecosystem and platform developers like Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Facebook, Samsung, and Autodesk; and hardware manufacturers like Sony, Intel, Nvidia, and Advanced Micro Devices. They recognize that the solution is to promote not one particular viewer, but to enable consistent performance across all of them.
“glTF has been a really interesting format for us because it has helped us take our products to end consumers in a very accessible way,” said Sadalgi. “With so many different platforms, glTF has been our go-to format for us to publish content.”
The moment an asset leaves the boundaries of a controlled first-party ecosystem — say, by going from a View-In-Room experience on a known OS on a known set of devices, to running in a 3D product ad on an unfamiliar OS on an unfamiliar device — you have little control over how it looks, Trevett said. He said that 3D virtual products are beginning to accompany every product listing, together with the traditional 2D images. It’s imperative to give content creators an assurance of viewing accuracy inside the 3D Commerce certified ecosystem, enabling consumers to experience a product in a consistent manner, Trevett said.
“If a consumer is searching for a red couch on Google, they start seeing search results,” Sadalgi said. “They see multiple couches from different retailers. When you see these red couches on a platform like Google, it’s displaying on a device that you have no control over. As a retailer, when I built this red couch, and I gave it to Google, I have no control over how Google is going to show it to an end customer. And so just like every retailer, we want to all agree on how it should look and be rendered.”
The certification process
The Khronos 3D Commerce Viewer Certification Program is open to any organization that wishes to certify that its viewers can accurately display 3D assets used in ecommerce. In order to become certified, vendors must demonstrate that a 3D asset will look the same in their viewer versus another certified viewer. Potential Certificants use a publicly available test package containing glTF assets to generate test images. The Khronos 3D Commerce Working Group reviews these images, using the Khronos glTF Sample Viewer as a baseline. Organizations sign a certification agreement and pay an annual fee ($1,500 for Khronos members, $2,500 for non-members) to make an unlimited number of submissions.
Successfully reviewed submissions and viewers will be added to a public Certification Registry. Certificants can use the 3D Commerce Certified trademark in association with their certified viewers. The Khronos Group is calling upon viewer and tool vendors across the 3D ecosystem to join the growing list of organizations in the pipeline to be certified. The group has statements of support from Autodesk, CGTrader, Emersya, Epic Games, Facebook, Invrsion, Microsoft, Samsung, Shopify, SuperDNA 3D, Unity, UX3D, Wayfair, and Vntana.
The whole effort is reminiscent of the task Nvidia faced in creating the Omniverse, a simulated testing ground that the company bills as a metaverse for engineers. Trevett said that Omniverse is working on glTF import/export, and so a collaborative design environment in Omniverse would be a great way to design 3D products. He said that, in general, the glTF ecosystem is working to be aligned with authoring formats such as USD and MaterialX for a seamless design to deployment workflow. USD is a Pixar-created open standard for the interchange 3D assets.
Trevett noted that USD is targeted at very different parts of the overall problem than glTF.
“They’re both file formats, but they’re targeted at very different problems in the space, and they are very complementary,” Trevett said.
As for the metaverse, Trevett said, “It’s going to be many different things to many different people, and it’s not going to be Ready Player One.”
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