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Software Review of:
Virtual Terrain Explorer, Ver 3.1
For Capitol Reef National Park, Utah


Bill Klutz does consulting work, primarily in the areas of Management and Computer Applications/Hardware/Software.

From the June, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Altimap Software has created a series of compact discs for Windows-based personal computers (currently only Windows 9x or 2000 platforms are supported). They have provided the most detailed digital map data available from the USGS (United States Geological Survey) for selected areas, and presented it in an easy-to-use, integrated environment for only $29.95 each. A single area (primarily National Parks at present), plus a portion of the surrounding area, is depicted on each CD. The CD I reviewed contained detailed 10m and 30m resolution digital elevation data for all of the 7.5 minute quads in Capitol Reef National Park, and less detailed (100m) data for the 1x2 degree area surrounding the Park. Each disc can also provide the user with a truly interactive 3D mapping experience.
Note:  Version 3.1 has just been released! The new software is reported to be faster and more stable, with the advent of DirectX v7.

The areas covered or planned are: 
National Parks 

  • Great Smoky Mountains
  • Rocky Mountain
  • Grand Canyon, Glacier
  • Crater lake
  • Yosemite
  • Mount Rainier
  • Olympic
  • Canyonlands
  • Capitol Reef
  • Yellowstone
  • Grand Teton
  • Kings Canyon/Sequoia
  • North Cascades
Other areas: 
  • Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument (includes Mt Adams); 
Coming Soon: 
  • Philmont Scout Ranch (in New Mexico.) 
If interested in this type of software, visit the web site periodically, as they promise to be adding new content frequently. They also solicit comments and/or questions via E-Mail .

VTE (Virtual Terrain Explorer) allows the user to navigate the geographical terrain contained on the disc selected. It is similar to flight simulator programs, in that you can "fly around" over the terrain. The difference is that models of actual terrain are used, and they do not simulate an aircraft. (Bad news for us pilots!) The user can move or rotate in any direction by using selected keyboard keys. The software can display digital line data for roads, streams, lakes, glaciers, and trails. It is reported that no other similar low-cost 3D programs are known which supply the same high-resolution elevation data and USGS 2D topographic maps.

The terrain can be viewed from almost any position or angle, with two levels of 3D data resolution, and several area size options. To aid in navigation, 2D maps from the National Parks Service and the USGS are included on each CD. A database of named features such as mountains, lakes, and streams is also available to help you find places quickly. The user interface includes arrow keys for moving the viewpoint, and a point and click interface for choosing the area to explore. The terrain can be shaded according to altitude, and you can select among several palettes or create your own. The software provides the only mass-market software with the ability to draw USGS topographic maps on the 3D terrain.

Many tools are also included to enhance the utility and realism of the software. For example: distance finding; latitude, longitude, elevation display; lighting angle adjustment; terrain color; and fog effects. You can even click on the 3D landscape to display the name of a terrain feature. Home school or conventional school learners, Hikers, backpackers, pilots, balloonist, etc., plus anyone with a computer who is interested in our National Parks should want one or more of the discs. For the most advanced 3D mapping software available at an affordable price, why shouldn't someone choose Virtual Terrain Explorer?

VTE has many advanced features and display options found only in complex Geographic Information Systems (GIS) programs. For example, you can change the angle of the "sun" to any position, or even automatically calculate the virtual sun angle for a particular date, time, and geographic location. To speed up the frame rate, VTE uses a unique method of selecting the best points to display so that areas farther from the viewer have progressively less resolution, thus reducing the time required to draw a frame.

The interface is a simple point-and-click navigation of 2D USGS topographic maps, with the ability to open the 3D window by clicking on any topo map. If you already know the name of the feature that you're looking for, you can use the name database to quickly find and display it. You can even click on the 3D landscape to get the name and coordinates of a terrain feature or landmark.

Remember, VTE gives you complete control over the colors of the terrain, shading intensity, and light source angle. The ability to display roads, trails, streams, lakes, and glaciers (derived from USGS Digital Line Graph data) is also included. VTE has an automatic mosaicing option which combines the elevation data of 9 maps, allowing you to move seamlessly through an entire National Park area without reloading the 3D window. You can even use a USGS topographic quad map as texture. Some tools for finding distances and geographic position are also included, as well as the ability to track your motion in a 2D window. Some neat special effects like fog, 3D material properties manipulation, the ability to create a .BMP file of any screen, and more are also part of the software package.

Minimum System Requirements: 
Windows 9x or 2000; Pentium compatible processor (333 Mhz); 16 (48) Meg RAM; 20 (50) Meg free on Hard Drive; CD-ROM drive; SVGA graphics capability; Systems with 3-D graphics acceleration capability will perform significantly better. 

Note:  Processor speed and 3 D graphics acceleration capability are the most important factors in determining how fast VTE runs.

Contact Information: 
An address for the company was not provided at the web site or on the software package. A phone number (205-486-4669) was the only contact information listed at the Web site.

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