A Solution for 3D Cultural Heritage in PDF

As a coordinator for 3D, I accepted the challenge to find a way to bring 3D to the average Europeana user in a smooth, easy way, without the technical hassle of installing plugins or other stuff, something that works on all platforms. I found a solution in PDF, which has a neat 3D module build in, already for more than 5 years. Everybody has PDF, everybody knows it and uses it.

But it’s more tricky than it seems. PDF is an ISO-standard and fully documented. But it’s also the file format of a successful, evolving authoring environment, so it cannot be frozen. Adobe, the company that created PDF, has solved this in a clever way, they publish all new stuff that they add to the PDF format as “extensions” to the ISO standard. In practice, this results in two unexpected situations.

First of all, there are many third party PDF readers and some third party PDF authoring systems as the format is open and known. But none of them supports 3D, as the effort to integrate 3D is huge while the amount of people using it is small today. So everybody, except Adobe, omits today the 3D functionality.

Secondly, 3D is really growing business, so you would think that Adobe would focus on it. Well, they did, and in a very unexpected way. They have put the 3D authoring software in a new, third party company, Tetra4D ( http://www.tetra4d.com/ ). Practically, this means that from this month onwards you buy a PDF authoring software from Adobe (called Acrobat X) and you buy a plugin from Tetra4D to deal with 3D stuff. This is probably more positive than it seems at first sight. This means that Adobe admits to be not a 3D specialist and leaves the 3D stuff to the specialists to develop and mature. On Nov 18, Tetra4D will reveal all the technical details. And they look to be focused.

So the message of this blog is: let’s hear our voice as a cultural heritage community. If 3D is important to the cultural heritage world, as it is to automobile manufacturing or product design, let’s tell Tetra4D what we need, what our goals are, who the users are. If we would estimate the number of Europeana users that actively will use 3D in the coming years, they could be a much larger group than all product design specialists or car manufacturing specialists together (you would be surprised to see how small such a group in fact is). So if we succeed in making 3D a powerful communication tool in cultural heritage, we could be at a paramount moment in the development of 3D in cultural heritage. So we need all of us to focus on it, and put our best efforts in.

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