MCAD Tech News #117: QuadriSpace Presenter Pro

17 Mar, 2004 By: Joe Greco

With so many 3D viewers in the MCAD market, I hardly noticed one from QuadriSpace called Presenter Pro that recently came across my desktop. When I took a closer look, I realized it was more than just another viewer—it fits more into the realm of products called 3D publishers.
The main idea of Presenter Pro is to import 3D models and 2D drawings to build interactive manuals, assembly instructions, sales presentations, and more. When combined with other multimedia elements such as photos, graphics, text, and movies, design data can be presented in ways that aren’t possible in a traditional viewer.

When opened, Presenter Pro displays the options of creating a new document, opening an existing one, or reviewing the tutorial. I wanted to see how far I could go on my own, so I started with a blank document. This created a white sheet with a series of icons on the left in an area called the Authoring Panel. These icons aren’t really tools, but rather three classes of objects called Views, Shapes, and Special. When I dragged a view object called MCAD Orbit and dropped it on my blank sheet, a window opened for the import of a 3D model. Presenter Pro currently imports SolidWorks and Inventor files, as well as AutoCAD, DXF, ACIS, and 3D Studio files.

Once a model is imported, you can rotate, pan, and zoom, alhtough the shortcuts Presenter Pro employs are different from what most MCAD applications use. With a little experimentation, I was able to take snapshots of the model in different positions and have the software automatically create the frames in between, resulting in a smooth animation. Model navigation and animation setup is handled in the program’s Live mode, while importing, positioning, and resizing of models, drawings, and images takes place in Edit mode.

Presenter Pro also features its own rendering styles to shade the model view. These include simulations of different materials as well as drawing effects such as pencils and markers. Most are pretty interesting, but some are useless.

In addition to the MCAD Orbit, other view objects can be dragged into the workspace. There is one called AEC Orbit, but I didn’t notice much difference in how models are navigated. Also, the file formats that you can import after dragging this icon into the workspace aren’t related to AEC programs such as Revit or ArchiCAD. The Walkthrough view object does provide a different way to navigate imported objects. A Sectional view object automatically cuts a section of the imported model, though it’s not clear where that section is sliced. A final view object imports 2D drawings created from SolidWorks, Inventor, and AutoCAD. More control here would be nice, such the ability to import only individual views of the 2D drawing.

Another class of objects called Shapes lets you create circles, rectangles,and so on. These can be used as additional graphics, but their main purpose is for buttons. You can use buttons to enhance a presentation by attaching commands to them, such as telling the software to play an animation or advance to the next page. The final class of objects, called Special, is for adding movies, text, and more.

Besides creating animations, you can apply techniques to help others better understand a model. This includes the ability to semidynamically cut cross-sections and temporarily hide components, albeit both chores could be a lot easier. For instance, the sectioning works only off the x, y, or z planes, which aren’t displayed in the preview screen, and a model face can’t be selected as a cut plane. The software uses sliders to move these cutting planes, but the way they relate to the model size makes them a little hard to get used to.

The quickest way to temporarily hide a component is to Shift-click on it, a technique I accidentally discovered when I was looking for a keyboard shortcut to zoom. To show items again, there is a Show All command, but it would be nice to have individual controls available.

A Markup command features a few nice tools, including one that creates a 2D note with an arrow that attaches itself to the model and stays attached to that point no matter which way the model is rotated. It’s easy to add other markups using tools such as translucent circles and rectangles, but what is needed are balloons and more freeform drawing tools.

Once your document is complete, saving it in the QuadiSpace format dramatically reduces the file size. For instance, a Presenter Pro file that contained a simple 60KB SolidWorks model was only 3KB. When I added a second page and imported a 200KB Inventor assembly, the file size increased by only 30KB. This is due to the compression schemes that Presenter Pro uses, which is also the reason why files take a little longer to import than expected. For instance, the 200KB assembly took more than 20 seconds on my 1.8 GHz laptop.

Adding image files starts to dramatically increase the file size. This is understandable to some extent because JPEG files are already compressed, but importing a 290KB JPEG increased the Presenter Pro file size by almost twice that amount. In addition, clicking on a model or image on a Presenter Pro page and hitting delete doesn’t entirely remove it. You have to go to the program’s Overview Tab (like a mini-browser) and remove it there by right-clicking on it and selecting Delete.

QuadriSpace includes a viewer application which is used to open the documents created in Presenter Pro. The viewer offers some nice capabilities, including the ability to interact (pan, rotate, etc) with models and images placed inside the documents, as long as the user who created the Presenter Pro file set it up that way. What seems to be missing is a markup tool that allows the person viewing a presentation to make notes on it.

I was able to get through most of the program without using Help, although sometimes it was tough. Tool tips, better visual cues, and more informative prompts would help a lot.

While I have not yet used similar products from companies like Lattice3D, what I saw from QuadiSpace was fairly impressive. Though the user interface is a bit unpolished and some features are lacking, Presenter Pro can be a great help if used to its full capabilities. At $2,495, it is a bit pricy, especially when you consider that some of what it does can be handled by free or inexpensive tools such as eDrawings, Adobe Acrobat, and products from Autodesk. So if you simply need to present or document a design, Presenter Pro may be overkill. However, those other products don’t offer the powerful tools needed to create something like an interactive instruction guide.