Much like HTML forms a description of a webpage — which can be hosted anywhere on the internet — and is retrieved and rendered locally by a web browser, USD is a protocol for describing complex virtual scenes which can be retrieved and rendered to varying degrees depending upon local hardware capabilities. With a ‘USD browser’ of sorts, Nvidia is suggesting that USD could be the common method by which virtual spaces are defined in a way that’s easy for anyone to decipher and render. “[USD] includes features necessary for scaling to large data sets like lazy loading and efficient retrieval of time-sampled data,” [writes Nvidia’s Rev Lebaredian and Michael Kass]. “It is tremendously extensible, allowing users to customize data schemas, input and output formats, and methods for finding assets. In short, USD covers the very broad range of requirements that Pixar found necessary to make its feature films.”
Indeed, CGI pioneer Pixar created USD to make collaboration on complex 3D animation projects easier. The company open-sourced the protocol back in 2015. USD is more than just a file format for 3D geometry. Not only can USD describe a complex scene with various objects, textures, and lighting, it can also include references to assets hosted elsewhere, property inheritance, and layering functionality which allows non-destructive editing of a single scene with efficient asset re-use. While Nvidia thinks USD is the right starting point for an interoperable platform, the company also acknowledges that “USD will need to evolve to meet the needs of the metaverse.” On that front the company laid out a fairly extensive roadmap of features that it’s working on for USD to successfully serve as the foundation of the metaverse. The newly formed Metaverse Standards Forum, of which Nvidia and thousands of other companies are members, has also pointed to USD as a promising foundation for interoperable virtual spaces and experiences.
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