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
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
||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:
Great Smoky Mountains
Grand Canyon, Glacier
Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument (includes Mt Adams);
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
Philmont Scout Ranch (in New Mexico.)
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
||Processor speed and 3 D graphics acceleration capability
are the most important factors in determining how fast VTE runs.
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.