3D Visualization -- Could It Be Today’s Betamax vs. VHS (X vs. Adobe)?

As a strong proponent of 3D Visualization tools (High End tools such as; UGS’s JT, PTC’s ProductView, Dassault’s 3D XML, Lattice’s XVL, Right Hemisphere, Actify and others) for years, I have began struggle with which format is the best or best utilized (or will be).

But wait, how is the best format for 3D visualization established? After all what does “the best” mean to you? Has it all changed with another player in the mix called Adobe with their 3D PDF?

Before we begin to discuss the questions above let’s take a quick look at what happened in the Betamax vs. VHS. Here is a fairly good excerpt from an article on Mediacollege.com (full article at: http://www.mediacollege.com/video/format/compare/betamax-vhs.html).

“Sony's Betamax video standard was introduced in 1975, followed a year later by JVC's VHS. For around a decade the two standards battled for dominance, with VHS eventually emerging as the winner.

The victory was not due to any technical superiority (Betamax is arguably a better format), but to several factors. Exactly how and why VHS won the war has been the subject of intense debate. The commonly-held belief is that the technically superior Betamax was beaten by VHS through slick marketing. In fact the truth is more complex and there were a number of reasons for the outcome.

Sony's founder, Akio Morita, claimed that licensing problems between Sony and other companies slowed the growth of Betamax and allowed VHS to become established. However most commentators have played down this issue and cited other reasons as being more important.

It is certainly true that VHS machines were initially much simpler and cheaper to manufacture, which would obviously be an attraction to companies deciding which standard to back. It has also been reported that Sony inadvertently gave its competitors a helping hand by revealing key aspects of Betamax technology which were then incorporated into VHS.

In any case, manufacturers divided themselves into two camps: On the Betamax side were Sony, Toshiba, Sanyo, NEC, Aiwa, and Pioneer. On the VHS side were JVC, Matsushita (Panasonic), Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Sharp, and Akai.

For consumers, the most immediately obvious difference between the two formats was the recording length. Standard Betamax tapes lasted 60 minutes — not long enough to record a movie. Conversely, the 3-hour VHS tapes were perfect for recording television programmes and movies. Sony did adapt and offer various solutions for longer recording, but it was too late. The issue of recording time is often cited as the most defining factor in the war. …”

As with Betamax vs. VHS the fight over visualization formats may not be won based on technical superiority. For example, the functionality for high end visualization tools such as the ones I mention earlier is amazing. Items like measurement, markup, and product structure are all terrific in their own right. However, it seems as if this functionality has been limited to the engineering world with only minor in roads into all other aspects of business. Especially, if you compare this to the in roads that Adobe has had with its PDF format. Just ask yourself where you haven’t seen PDF’s in any aspect of a business.

Marketing of visualization tools is a part of the picture but as with Betamax vs. VHS it most likely will not be the critical factor. After all anyone in the business knows that slick marketing only goes so far. The more important factors include; accessibility/licensing, cost and of course acceptance to change.

While I must give credit to UGS for it JT open initiative, it maybe similar to Sony’s licensing issues with Betamax? Too little to late? After all it was not until after Adobe announced it public availability of Adobe 3D did companies such as UGS and Dassault kick off increased marketing. See: UGS' 3D JT Data Format Publishing Strategy Draws Strong Support ( http://www10.mcadcafe.com/nbc/articles/view_article.php?section=CorpNews&articleid=244892) and Dassault Systemes Announces Adoption Of 3D XML Technology Into Virtools Solutions ( http://www10.mcadcafe.com/nbc/articles/view_article.php?section=CorpNews&articleid=252099)

What does this mean? Hopefully 3D visualization will reach far beyond engineering departments. I used to have a quote hanging in my office from Edward McCracken former chairman of SGI. The quote was “If a picture contains a thousand words than a 3D model contains a thousand pictures”. I think that quote helps people better understand the value of 3D visualization.

From a consumer viewpoint, Adobe’s entrance into the 3D visualization market is a welcome one. At a published price of $995 and a very high usage/acceptance rate in business (the whole value chain) Adobe 3D PDF may be today’s VHS for 3D visualization. However, the other vendors will not stand still. As a result consumers will eventually have a format that is common and shared, no mater if it is the Betamax’s or VHS for 3D visualization.

Finally, I would suggest that the winner will be the one that is low cost, common, shared and accepted throughout all business aspects. But, time will tell who that will really be.

Thank you,
Tim Mclellan
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  • Norm Crawford April 14, 2006
    Reviewed by 'Norm Crawford'
    Interesting thoughts with regard to the Beta vs VHS scenario. But, for many who are not familiar with 3D viewing of CAD models and assemblies, I think it will be good to include some basic, what I call, requirements to gain real value from 3D visualization. First of all, the viewer and cad system need to have related capabilities so that eliminating the 2D drawing process can be achieved for truly leaning out the part and assembly definition. Therefore, the most significant requirement is the ability to place 3D annotation on the model in the CAD system and then being able to view the information in the viewer. Second, most viewers do no measured true 3D data. Again, in order to lean out the part definition process, it is key to not have to include all dimensions for features that are already defined (redundancies) by virtue of the model. But for manufacturing purposes, the viewer measurement must me as accurate as measuring the CAD model within CAD. Again, there are not a lot of viewers with that capability. Then there is considering other downstream process. For example, tolerance analysis. Is the file format used in the viewer also useful in a 3D tolerance analysis application? And, when using such an application, is the interface essentially the same as the basic viewer? In other words, having common look and feel across the functional groups through out the product lifecycle. The bottom line is what "system" will really achieve a leaner product development cycle and really be able to help improve quality while reducing costs. It won't be a stand alone viewer anytime soon.

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  • Re: 3D Visualization -- Could It Be Today’s Betama July 12, 2006
    Reviewed by 'Steve G'
    I have done a comparison between Acrobat 3D and Solidworks eDrawings. I must say I like eDrawings alot better. And I am a Pro/ENGINEER user. Much more simple than Acrobat 3D to figure out. All the controls are right there and straight forward in eDrawings. I have some users I work with I have asked to evaluate the files. One was another veteran CAD user and said he had some difficulties trying to do certain functions.

    One example is you have to set up the explode view in Acrobat in a seperate module. Granted it comes with Acrobat 3D, but still much more difficult to create than in eDrawings. I never did figure out how to create one in the 30 trial period.

    In eDrawings you have one button to create a cross-section and you can drag and drop the plane where ever you wanted. A little more involved in Acrobat.

    As far as measuring goes, again, much easier in eDrawings. In Acrobat, you had to bring up this dialog box each time you wanted to add, delete or modify. eDrawings had the icon right there for you to use.

    The best parts of eDrawings is you don't need to install ANYTHING for a non-eDrawings user to view a model and there is a free version. You can create an executable that includes its own viewer. If someone is worried about the file getting striped out of an email, just rename the file extension and have the person rename it back. With Acrobat, it had to be a certain version for an Adobe Reader user.

    IMO, a better way to go is with eDrawings. Acrobat 3D: $995. eDrawings: $500 for the full vesion.



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  • Interesting April 01, 2006
    Reviewed by 'Panda'
    Comparing 3d visualization and VHS x Betamax is interesting ( for those old enough ...), but there is big difference, 3d viewers are free software, you dont have to decide for a standard and then buy an expensive hardware piece. For the end consumer, the one that views the 3d stuff, it is much easier to change when something better shows up.

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  • Hovakhshatar July 25, 2006
    Reviewed by 'Hovakhshatar'
    I think Mr Mclellan offers an interesting comparions here. There is one missing point though. The Adobe solution is compared simply to 3D viewers. If you look at the usage of PDF as means of communication, the Adobe solution is much broader than simply another 3D viewer. Here you have the ability to combine 3D object with other elements of a document for a much broader reach.
    3D visualization has a great deal of value and is certainly a needed element in the design and manufacturing process today. However, viewers tend to be just what they say they are. A means of viewing CAD files without the original CAD application with some additional (and variable depending on the viewer) functionality that allows for degree of analysis.
    Being able to combine 3D CAD objects with other elemnts of information and allow anyone with Adobe reader to use and interact with it puts 3D visualization on a completely new track for a very large audience.

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