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GBIC >> 3D Graphics >> Pure Java
3D on the Web - Pure Java Applets
While there is a lot of buzz about the new Java3D API, applets based on pure Java continue to dominate the 3D applet scene. Most users have a copy of Java, but do not have Java3D on their machine and are not willing to take the time to download the very installation files. Given the ongoing disagreemnents between Microsoft and Sun, it appears unlikely that Java3D will ever be included in the Windows distribution CDs. While this all shakes out - there's always Pure Java!

Pure Java Applets Sample Images


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Pure Java Applets

I've read that there are "hundreds" of 3D applets on the web. I guess it depends on what you include in the definition of "3D applets", but by my count there are well under fifty Pure Java, general purpose, 3D object viewing applets available for download and use by webmasters.

With these applets, all you have to do is direct your browser to the URL where the applet is used. As part of displaying the page, your browser will download the Java applet and use it within the HTML page to display the site 3D content. Files required by the applet will also be downloaded automatically - including 3D object files.

Some 3D engines simply read a data file and display the objects found within the file. Other engines are written to display a specific 3D scene and require that the applet be recompiled if the scene changes.

Both applets and data files range very widely in size. Applets and data files can each be as much over 200K bytes in size - large enough only an inquisitive site visitor will take the time to wait for the download. There are alos several solutions whose combined applet-data file sizes are well under 100K.

You'll have to decide what makes sense for your site. If your visitor is from a company with a T3 connection, the file size is not so critical and even a 500K download might be considered acceptable. If your typical visitor is dialing in over a modem, then small file sizes are very critical and a 50K download is considered fairly large.

Another differentiating criteria for Java 3D engines is the way in which the image is created. Some applets require that an image be created on a custom application, then stored on the server for retrieval by site visitors. Other applets create the 3D object files real-time, either by calling a CGI script to create the image or by creating the image with the applet itself. Generally, most applets work by reading a pre-generated file and displaying an image according to the instructions in the 3D object file.

All of the applets listed below are written in pure Java. They do not use the recently released Java3D. Applets in green are not free. Applets in yellow are free. Generally, the best free applets are placed at the top and the best commercial ones are at the bottom - but the placement is not very accurate and the assessment is a subjective one, so please check them out for yourself. Those applets marked "free*" are free only for non-commercial applications and may include an advertising banner in the display.

The rating that I've assigned tries to take into account how useful the code/applets will be to webmasters. Good image quality and small download size are important, as are feature breadth and number of file formats supported. The bad thing about most of the commercial applets is that you are required to use the vendor's file editor to create the image, typically a proprietary or non-standard format. As I learn more about each applet I'm sure I'll move their ratings around. If you have any suggestions or think I've missed the mark, let me know and I'll take a closer look!

#RatingNameAuthorCostSource CodeFile FormatsComments
1 3-D Java Viewer Eric Harlow free yes JC VRML good quality, no colors
2 3D Mesh Viewer Re_Invigorate free no not disclosed called open source, but author has no download links
3 3D Objects Viewer Thomas Dunn free yes JC   smooth, gray-scale object viewer
4 3D Renderer Ken Perlin free* yes JC not disclosed Really wide range of applications, with demos by author
5 3D SOM Canon free no proprietary (uses images to build model) have to use Canon editor to create the models, can export 3DS, VRML, Shockwave 3D, Mascot Capsule
6 3D Structure Viewer Vau free no C not disclosed excellent looking tube structures. author has no download links for viewer or source code
7 3D Lite Dan Meany free yes JC 3ds looks good but not much documentation, just the applet itself and a single example
8 ADG Albatross $150 or free* no proprietary Quality is excellent but must use their file creation software
9 Anfy 3D Player Fabio Ciucci $20 per domain or free*b no undisclosed looks good but very limited site information
10 Browser 3D Andre Cioroianu free yes JC undisclosed limited features, but GUI works smoothly
11 BSC3DView Byte-Sized Computing $25 no binary STL specifically for viewing STL files, limited features
12 Convex Hull 3D Tim Lambert free yes JC undisclosed works smoothly, but features focussed on display of specific mathematical algorithms
13 Dynamic-3D 3D-Online $895/site per year or free*b no Shout3D, VRML97 used to be Eyematic, owners of Shout3D
14 gbViewer Gary Beene free yes JC STL, TOV general purpose file viewer
15 Hotmedia IBM $95 (as part of HomePage Builder) no proprietary excellent image but limited access to formats/software
16 idx3dIII Peter Walser free* yes JC 3DS many features, very good image quality. 2000.
17 Java 3D Viewer Paul Flavin free no C obj, nff, off 2002 update. no download links for viewer or source code
18 JavaView Konrad Polthier free no C jvx, obj, byu, stl, wrl, dxf, fe, off includes Mathematica and Maple integration
19 Jazz3D SyGem $250 ($35 lite version for non-commercial) no (negotiable fee) 3DS, ASC, GEM, GEO, LWO, NFF, OBJ, PLG, VRML multiple image formats ... good image quality
20 jGL Robin Chen free yes JC OOGF 3D graphics library for Java, 2003 update
21 JGV Daeron Meyer free* yes JC OOGL 1998
22 LiveGraphics3D Martin Kraus free* no C Mathematica output not a general purpose file viewer
23 Obj3D Enscath Boldizsar free yes JC modified 3DS wide range of features
24 Polyhedra Applet Evgeny Demidov free yes JC VRML basic object viewer, no color
25 ROffView Ryan Holmes free yes J(C++)C OFF pretty limited features, although web site is a bit vague
26 Rotate Daniel Abplanalp free yes JC undisclosed basic feature set but no GUI
27 Scene 3D Jon Voiculescu free yes JC not disclosed includes raytracing
28 Sun Java SDK Sun free yes JC obj sample wireframe and molecule viewers
29 Sumea::engine Sumea undisclosed no undisclosed looks excellent, but very little info on web site
30 ThreeD Applet Dave Marshall free yes JC obj very limited but useful for code review
31 TOV Chunyen Liu $40 per site source code extra cost proprietary limited features but works well within those bounds


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Pure Java Applets - Sample Images

Most of the applets can be viewed in functional mode at their respective websites. But to give you the flavor of each, here's a sample image from each of the applets.

1 3-D Java Viewer Eric Harlow
2 3D Mesh Viewer Re_Invigorate
3 3D Objects Viewer Thomas Dunn
4 3D Renderer Ken Perlin
5 3D SOM Canon
6 3D Structure Viewer Vau
7 3D Lite Dan Meany
8 ADG Albatross
9 Anfy 3D Player Fabio Ciucci
10 Browser 3D Andre Cioroianu
11 BSC3DView Byte-Sized Computing
12 Convex Hull 3D Tim Lambert
13 Dynamic-3D 3D-Online
14 gbViewer Gary Beene
15 Hotmedia IBM
16 idx3dIII Peter Walser
17 Java 3D Viewer Paul Flavin
18 JavaView Konrad Polthier
19 Jazz3D SyGem
20 jGL Robin Chen
21 JGV (Java Geometry Viewer) Daeron Meyer
22 LiveGraphics3D Martin Kraus
23 Obj3D Enscath Boldizsar
24 Polyhedra Applet Evgeny Demidov
25 ROffView Ryan Holmes
26 Rotate Daniel Abplanalp
27 Scene 3D Jon Voiculescu
28 Sumea::engine Sumea
29 ThreeD Applet Dave Marshall
30 TOV Chunyen Liu