March 1996

Cyber News and Reviews is a monthly column published for parents, teachers & business owners featuring kids educational software reviews, business software reviews (small business & home business), games and entertainment articles, a free resource since 1995.


Vistapro, a Step Toward Virtual Reality

The future is here. Today, you can travel to Australia, the Grand Canyon, or even Mars without ever leaving your home. You can fly over the island of Australia, glide above the Colorado River following its flow through the Grand Canyon, or even float gracefully above and beyond the craters and canyons of Mars. All this, and more, is made possible by a unique software program called Vistapro 3.0, from an innovative company called Virtual Reality Laboratories, in San Luis Obispo, California. The possibility of flying across the plains of Mars was only a dream dreamt by science fiction writers and readers. But now, with the help NASA's history-making photographic feats of the Viking spacecraft, Mars and the other planets in our solar system, are there for our examination, and even visual manipulation.

If you own an IBM compatible or Macintosh personal computer equipped with a CD-ROM drive, then you too can study the planets, and create realistic three-dimensional color fly-bys over the actual mountains and craters of Mars. Vistapro will even allow you to add trees, lakes and rivers, clouds and starry backgrounds to simulate what it would look like if Mars was a more habitable place. In fact, the famous science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, has used Vistapro to help write one of his recent books, "The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars." He used the software to help visualize what Mars would look like if it was covered with forests, rivers and oceans. And it is rumored that Virtual Reality sent a programmer to his home, on the island of Sri Lanka (an island in the Indian Ocean, near South Africa), to help him out.

Vistapro is easy to use. And immediately after installation, you can jump right in and compose a picture or even create an animation. I was flying above the surface of Mars within the first hour of running the program (the 262 page manual, with tutorial, helped quite a bit). Then I added trees, some clouds and a river, and created a second animation with a new, revitalized, Martian surface. Vistapro supplies over 3000 images you can work with, including Mount St. Helens before and after the eruption, California Crater Lake, the Big Sur area of California, the Matterhorn in Switzerland, Mount Fuji in Japan and Olympus Mons on Mars, to mention a few. And you can even add music files to your creations.

Along with Vistapro, several utility programs are included on the CD-ROM. MakePath Flight Director is a utility used to create better and smoother animations. It's more sophisticated than the animation generator within Vistapro and can used it to emulate the motion of six different vehicles, including a jet plane, glider, dune buggy, motorcycle, helicopter and cruise missile.

Another important utility, called Vistamorph, allows changes, or morphing, to images created with Vistapro. It can smoothly transform one landscape feature into another for special effects. And it also can enhance your animation creations. For example, it can move clouds, grow trees or send the sun across the sky as you are flying through a landscape. It is a very sophisticated addition that compliments the Vistapro and MakePath programs.

The CD-ROM disc version of Vistapro 3.0 for DOS/Windows is available for $69.95. For the Mac, the price is $99.95. For more information, call or write Virtual Reality Laboratories, Inc., 2341 Ganador Court, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401. Phone: 1-800-829-VRLI; (805) 545-8515.