What a difference a few years can make in the computer graphics industry. One segment in which this couldn’t be more obvious is visual simulation. In 2001, the last time we looked at the VizSim market at large, we found that it had screeched to a halt and was being sustained almost exclusively by traditional science and engineering applications. In contrast, we now see a dynamic business whose growth is being fueled by novel uses in training, education, and entertainment.
In fact, exactly three years ago, when summarizing his annual report titled "The Visual Simulation/Virtual Reality Systems Market," Ben Delaney, president of CyberEdge Information Services, reported that revenues for VizSim technology—defined as "computer systems incorporating real-time, interactive, 3D computer graphics to create a user-responsive environment"—had fallen 17 percent during 2001 to $22 billion (see "Moving to the Mainstream," October 2001, pg. 18).
At that time, research was ranked as the largest application of the technology, while virtual prototyping in manufacturing was proving to be the rising star. Meanwhile, people involved in high-end training and education applications, including virtual military exercises, reported a declining use of the technology. And entertainment users were registering as little more than a blip on the revenue screen, failing to reach even the top 20 market segments using VizSim.
Now each of these trends has been reversed. First, the market has rebounded dramatically. Revenues grew by 40 percent the year before last and by another 10 percent last year to top $42 billion. Moreover, revenues are projected to grow between 10 to 18 percent annually for the next five years, reaching $78 billion by 2008. In terms of applications, while research remains the leader, representing more than one third of the $42 billion market, this segment actually declined by 2.5 percent in the past year. Likewise, manufacturing—ranked second among applications in terms of total spending on VizSim systems just three years ago—reduced expenditures for VizSim by some 60 percent two years ago, and raised that total by only 8 percent last year.
The application that has adopted VizSim technology the fastest in the past couple of years has been the training and education market, which increased spending on the technology by a staggering 822 percent two years ago and another 66 percent last year, with counter-terrorism training and medical/biotech applications leading the way. Also impressive was that last year, the biggest increase in spending for VizSim technology, a jump of nearly 150 percent, came from the entertainment industry, namely from increased uses of interactive 3D graphics for creating video and computer games, location-based entertainment, films, performing arts presentations, set designs, interactive TV, and online worlds.
Why are trainers, educators, and those in the entertainment field adopting VizSim technology at such a rapid rate? The answer is simply that they have discovered what scientists and engineers have known for many years—that that there is no better way to work interactively with large, complex, and dynamic data sets. Now that their projects have reached such large-scale proportions, which at times surpass scientific data sets, these new users are finding that applying advanced visual simulation tools and techniques is the best way to push the state of the art of their work—and gain a competitive edge.