Microsoft buys Simplygon to simplify rendering VR and AR models

Simplygon simplifies 3D models to speed rendering on low-powered hardware

Microsoft is betting that less is more in 3D design, with the acquisition of the Swedish developer of a 3D data optimization system, Simplygon.

Simplygon takes 3D models in a number of formats, and reduces the volume of data used to describe them by taking out some of the detail -- somewhat like reducing the size of a JPEG image file by increasing the level of compression while leaving the resolution unchanged.

That means the models can be rendered more rapidly or using less powerful hardware, something that will help Microsoft with the "3D for everyone" vision it outlined last October at the launch of Windows 10 Creators Update.

The company is pushing hard into the markets for virtual reality, with a US$300 consumer VR headset for PCs due out as early as March, and augmented reality, where it is seeking to build an ecosystem around Hololens, its enterprise-oriented stand-alone AR headset.

3D models, whether for video games, architectural rendering, or viewing in augmented or virtual reality, are typically composed of many adjoining flat surfaces, or polygons. The more polygons that are used, the better the model is able to represent complex curved surfaces -- but the more memory and processing power it takes to render, or draw on the screen.

Simplygon works best with rendering engines that use a similar density of polygons throughout, simplifying the model to describe flatter parts with fewer polygons, while retaining more polygons in more complex areas, so that they don't look blocky.

Using this technique, it says it can reduce the number of polygons used in a model by up to 90 percent, while still retaining the essential details and shape.

For Kudo Tsunoda, corporate vice president for next-gen experiences in Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, the acquisition will make it easier for Windows users to capture, create and share 3D models.

"It builds on and extends our aspirations to empower a new wave of creativity with the Windows 10 Creators Update, Paint 3D and our online creator community at Remix3D.com," he said in a post on Microsoft's blog announcing the deal.

Simplygon was developed by 10-year-old Donya Labs, based in Linköping, Sweden. CEO Matt Connors, founder and CTO Ulrik Lindahl and co-founder Koshi Hamedi will join Microsoft following the acquisition, according to the companies' websites. They did not provide information about the terms of the deal.

The biggest market for Simplygon is in 3D game design, where it was used by the developer of the game Submerge to reduce the size of models designed for PCs and consoles when the game was ported to iOS.

Over the last year, though, the company has begun highlighting its use in applications such as augmented reality (for recreation of historic scenes) and virtual reality. It worked with a team of archeologists to optimize a 3D model so that visitors to a site could view a virtual reconstruction of a 1,400-year-old village, rendered in real time on their phones or tablets.

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