Sunday, July 02, 2006

When Will 3D Cyberspace Be Ready?

I've been constantly pondering on the question of how a commonly usable 3D cyberspace might be created on the current Internet. There are of course many technical and social issues involved, but a pretty basic question is: can it be done at all?

My answer to that question now, is more towards the 'yes' (of course, how else will I make meaning out from my current existence. ;) Just a matter of to which degree. To answer this question in a more objective way, we will need to look at three basic factors: 1) can 3D graphics support the cyberspace we want to make? 2) is the processing power enough? And 3) do we have the sufficient bandwidth?

Considering the myriad of 3D games on the market today, the answer is definitely 'yes' to the first two questions. And consider the success of MMOG, the answer to 3) is also partially 'yes'. I put it as 'partial' because MMOG is not yet universally usable by the majority of computer users.

So what needs to be done to make 3D worlds more ubiquitous? It's fairly safe to say that, as long as all the 3D contents are on a user's computer, engaging 3D worlds can be generated without much problem, so the main issue really is, whether the 3D contents can be delivered to users computers, in real-time.

I have the following predication, about when 3D cyberspace will become common: it's when the amount of data necessary to generate an interactive scene at a given moment can be downloaded with a given bandwidth on the common user's computer.

To put that in perspective, a friend who's making game told me that, a simple 3D scene might require about 5MB of content to render, yet, most user's broadband is probably still in the 256kbps (32KB / sec) or less range. SecondLife (a social MMOG based on 3D streaming) currently uses only around 70-80 kbps on average, and 100kbps maximal for bandwidth, according to its CEO Philip Rosedale. Obviously we probably wouldn't need all 5MB all at once, but given a maximum of 100kbps of bandwidth, you still need around 400 seconds (that is, more than 5 minute) to download a 5MB content. But say for example, we would like to enter a new virtual world within 10 seconds, that makes our bandwidth requirement to be 4000kbps or 4Mbps. So in this secnario, the predication would be that when over 4Mbps of bandwidth becomes common, the infrastructure will then be ready for universal 3D cybersapce.

The average bandwidth in South Korea, last time I checked was mostly between 2-8 Mbps. So perhaps we aren't really that far off.