Review of MapCube Urban Viewer

From: Michael Flaxman
Sent: Sunday, July 27, 2003

I'm currently working on a project to visualize the entire city of Kyoto.  I have two data source which I am comparing: laser scans done by MapCube corp.  (15cm nominal resolution), and a 1:2,500 scale building footprint with attributes database.  MapCube is a Japanese LIDAR data provider.

I am using two different Japan-specific software packages to work with the data: UrbanViewer for 3D interactive playback, and a linked 2D GIS called (confusingly!) "PasCAL 3D." PasCAL is a pretty limited GIS, based on ESRI's MapObjects.  However, it retails for about 1/3 of the cost of ArcView, so it appears to be rather popular here in part for that reason.

The 2D GIS and 3D viewer are very nicely integrated, so that you get a dragable icon on your GIS showing current location as you navigate in either mode.  You can do a selection in either program, and it is mirrored in the other.  As a playback system, it has a good interface.  My favorite little feature is an interface tool which allows you to click somewhere within the 3D scene and smoothly fly up near and start rotating slowly around that object.  The major feature of importance is that the urban viewer maintains constant framerate while paging through very large scenes.

However, I have found in my recent testing that the new dynamic LOD sliders in VTP give nearly the same capability.  I imported my full 3D geometry database for Kyoto (approximately 100,000 buildings, most with complex footprints).  On a 2G single processor Pentium, it took Enviro a couple of minutes to parse through the 200Meg structures file, but once loaded, I could fly around at close to 30fps given a 5km building LOD cutoff.  At any point, I could stop moving and "dial up" the LOD slider to render all buildings in a couple of seconds.

Other than the above-mentioned features, the package is very similar in concept and performance to VTP.  But I guess I should mention the price...about $50k per copy!

There is also another major drawback to the current version of the system - it is a completely closed system, with no input creation tools, and no output except a screen capture or movie.  At the moment, you basically buy the software together with the data as a package deal.  However, the data costs extra.  For the city of Kyoto 3D geometry (no textures!), the data alone was over $100k.  So in that sense, UrbanViewer is basically equivalent to Enviro without VTBuilder, etc.

For those of you who live in Japan, and want an easy-to-use visualization solution "out of the box" - I recommend UrbanViewer.  If you are making decisions about a multimillion dollar project, and can afford it, the system works smoothly and predictably.

For the rest of us, who like to keep control of our own data, and who normally operate and somewhat smaller budgets, this is good incentive to keep plugging away at VTP!