Khronos 3D Viewer Program

I’d like that red chair, please.

Khronos announced their 3D Commerce Viewer Certification Program.

  • 3D viewers are software engines that enable users to display and interact with 3D models.
  • Viewers are used by retailers, social media sites, and brands to create experiences on e-commerce storefronts, search engines, ad platforms, and in native applications.

Khronos says their Viewer Certification Program enables 3D viewers across the industry to demonstrate that they can accurately and consistently display 3D products. That, says the standards organization, clears the way for reliable 3D and AR-powered shopping across multiple platforms and devices. Amazon, Babylon.js, CGTrader, Emersya, Epic Games (Unreal Engine), Facebook (Spark AR), Google (<model-viewer> & Scene Viewer), Samsung (Internet Browser on Android), SketchFab, Unity, and UX3D (Gestaltor) have begun the process of certifying their viewers under this new program.

Previously, when artists and brands created digital products, they had no guarantee that they would appear consistently on different platforms. A 3D asset, such as a piece of furniture, is created independently from the 3D viewer used to build a consumer experience, and which viewer is used can have a major impact on what the consumer sees. Even with identical viewer settings, a chair might have looked very different in an e-commerce product listing versus a digital ad using a different viewer.

In the image above, for example, the same 3D chair displayed in four uncertified viewers. (Source: Wayfair).

The Khronos Group’s 3D Commerce Working Group has been striving to solve this and other problems that have, says the group, been slowing the growth of 3D in retail. The Working Group’s membership includes in-house content creators at major brands like IKEA, Amazon and Wayfair; 3D ecosystem and platform developers like Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Facebook, Samsung and Autodesk; and hardware manufacturers like Sony, Intel, Nvidia, and AMD. They, says Khronos, recognize that the solution is to promote not one particular viewer, but to enable consistent performance across all of them.

Not one viewer but one view (Lisa from Pixels)

“When artists spend time perfecting a model for use in one viewer, it is both frustrating and inefficient to have to go back and edit it to display properly in every different viewer. In order for us to create an ecosystem of shared assets, artists need a common target,” says Ashleigh Miller, 3D program manager for Amazon and co-chair for Khronos Group’s Viewer Certification Task Sub Group. “Developers need to be free to choose the right viewer for their application, but artists should also have an expectation that their work is going to look as it’s supposed to.”

What do we think?

We think the message Khronos is putting out could be is misleading. A consistent 3D viewing experience is most certainly needed, and revenue-generating sites like IKEA and Amazon are classic examples of the need.

The Khronos certification program certifies that one’s viewer is capable of accurately displaying 3D assets used in e-commerce. To become certified, vendors must demonstrate that a 3D asset will look the same in their viewer versus another certified viewer. Potential Certificants use a publicly available test package containing glTF assets to generate test images. The Khronos 3D Commerce Working Group reviews these images, using the Khronos glTF Sample Viewer as a baseline.

Organizations sign a Certification Agreement and pay an annual Certification Program Fee ($1,500 for Khronos members, $2,500 for non-members) to make an unlimited number of submissions.

Successfully reviewed submissions and viewers will be added to a public Certification Registry. Certificants can use the 3D Commerce Certified trademark in association with their certified viewers. The Khronos Group is calling upon viewers and tool vendors across the 3D ecosystem to join the growing list of organizations in the pipeline to be certified.

All of that is great, and certainly needed. But, it suggests the viewers will deliver a consistent image as well as 3D fidelity of the model—it does not. And I don’t think any feed-forward system can, ever. There are too many variables in the pipeline from source to viewer. The only assurance you can get that what you are seeing is a faithful representation of the colors used by its creator is to employ and screen colorimeter that is calibrated to the same tables as the creators. That has been tried. Technicolor and Portrait Displays gave it a go in 2013 and for non-technical reasons failed. And, it did involve a screen colorimeter.

New high-end TVs from Samsung come with a colorimeter, just as high-end AV amps come with a microphone. Such devices are not that expensive, but no supplier wants to add one penny of cost if they don’t have to. Someone playing thousands of dollars for a giant screen wants faithful colors.

Khronos said that the certification program’s intent is to verify that the same model will produce similar results from different viewers. It verifies this by measuring GPU output, which is quantifiable and replicable. The program doesn’t account for any of the host of other factors that inform visual perception though, from hardware color calibration to viewing environment, to subjective perception. Because of the number of factors beyond manufacturer control, the TSG decided early on not to attack this problem at the display level. We’d go even further than “no feed-forward systems” to say that nothing could ever really guarantee that two humans will have the same subjective experience. What we’re hoping to do with this program is ensure that their GPUs’ outputs will be the same regardless of which certified viewer is in use.

Viewer consistency and screen validation are both valid problems, and both need to be solved. The Certification is a big step towards the former. The second is important too, but at least now, 3D had a chance to be as consistent as 2D or video.

Khronos is certifying that the 3D viewer respects the APIs and geometry of modeling software. Whatever RGB values it carries will be faithfully delivered to the user’s screen. But once they are there, there is no way to know how they will show up. Yet the image they choose to make the point does not show any 3D distortions but rather color distortions.

Kronos says the certification goes beyond color and geometry. It is looking at color (as quantified in the GPU output), but also texture, lighting, and material properties. These things are hard to show in a still image, but the point of the chair comparison isn’t just that the chairs are different colors—it’s that the chair looks so different in different viewers on the same screen. The supporters of this new certification program are largely tech companies with consumer companies in the mix. The car companies need to join the club. A rotatable, shiny 3D car model is one of the most sought-after 3D viewer images on the web. After that comes clothes, which bring very special CG demands and physics. But it’s early days, and this is a major first step—a foundational step, it should just be represented with more verisimilitude.

For an example of the viewer, go here.