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Creating VRML Cave Images

This page contains detailed information about creating cave images, using VRML, trouble shooting and problem solving.
I.  What Happened To XWEB? If you have used Compass in the past, you probably know that you could use XWeb to display 3D cave images on the internet. Unfortunately, a couple years ago, Microsoft found a security problem in XWeb and decided not to support it any longer.
II. Why VRML? In many ways, VRML is a better option that XWeb. First, it can be used on virtually any browser and virtually any computer. There are VRML plug-ins available for PCs, Macintoshes, Unix and Linux machines. It also simplier and easier to use.
III. Trouble Shooting. Here is information about solving problems you may have displaying VRML images:

1. Plug-Ins.  Before you can view VRML images, you must have a VRML viewer installed in your browser. There are versions available for virtually any computer, operating system or browser including PCs, Macintoshes, and Linux based computers. Here are some links to browsers for various computers:

2. Settings. Most plug-ins have settings that allow you to control the VRML image appearance. Normally, you access these setting by right clicking on the VRML image. By adjusting the settings, you can often improve the quality of the image. For example, with  the Cortona plug-in, switching to the "R98 Renderer" can improve the quality of transparency in an image. 

3. Image Size. The cave images can be fairly large. If you have a slow internet connection, it can several minutes for the image to load. Like wise, be aware that if post large images on the internet, it may be difficult for people with slower connections or slower computer to view the cave.

4. XP Service Pack-2. The latest software update for XP, Service Pack-2, automatically disables all ActiveX controls in Internet Explorer. Since the VRML plug-in is an ActiveX control, Explorer may give an error message if you try to display a VRML file. In my experience, this will only happen if you try to view the image on your own computer. Normally, no error appears if you are viewing the image on the internet.

If the browser does give error when displaying a VRML vision, you simply click on the error message bar and select the "Allow Blocked Content" option. You can also completely disable ActiveX blocking, but for safety reasons, Microsoft advices against it.

IV. Performance. When your browser displays these cave images, it must process a lot of information. For example, in order to draw the image of Fulford Cave, it must draw, shade, light and shadow 5,000 polygon surfaces. For this reason, faster computers are generally better. This is particular true of very large caves. With caves such as Wind Cave or Lechuguilla were the passage lengths approach 100 miles (160km), only the fastest computers will give satisfactory performance. For this reason, you should choose your subjects carefully. You also have to consider that very large caves on a web page may take several minutes to download with a dialup modem.
V. Posting Your Own VRML Images. It is very easy to post your own VRML images on the net. First, you must generate your own VRML Cave image. You can do this using several programs including CaveX and the standard Compass Cave Viewer, which are available at the main COMPASS web page. Once you have created the VRML file, you just upload it to your web page area and then insert the following block of code into your HTML file:

<EMBED SRC="secret.wrl"

Entering The Code. To use this code, enter it exactly as written into the HTML for your web page, substituting the name of your VRML file for "secret.wrl". The code must be entered into the raw HTML form, which means that you cannot just drop it into the web page editor display. You must use the "View HTML" or "View Source" option in your web editor.

More Information. For more detailed information about using VRML in web pages, click here.

VI. Using Your Browser As A Viewer: Once you have installed a VRML plug-in in your browser, you can use it to view any VRML file, including files that are not posted on the internet. You just click on the file and your browser will display the image. Note, if you are using Windows XP Service Pack-2, you may experience the error message described in section III. 4. above.
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