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BBC Weather goes 3D

Realistic raindrops indoors and out

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The BBC is set to use gaming technology to spice up its weather bulletins. Just in case we poor Brits forget what rain looks like, Auntie Beeb is going to generate rain drops in three dimensions to better illustrate precipitation in its forecasts.

The news organisation said it would use a version of 3D software Weatherscape XT to produce the graphics, which we'll be able to enjoy from our armchairs early next year.

Colin Tregear, project director at the BBC's Weather Centre explained that the idea is to generate weather graphics that actually look like the weather.

It's not just the rain though, delightful as it will be to see it falling as realistically on screen as out the window. The topography of the ground will be more accurate, presenters will have control of the 'camera angle' and clouds will cast shadows on the ground. The BBC says the system will feel "like a 3D flying game".

The system will generate its images from information from the Met Office and will generate the images in real time. The current system takes between three and four hours to generate the graphics for a one minute, thirty-second broadcast.

And so to the kit list (take a deep breath): Each forecaster will have a graphics PC based on a 2.6GHz P4 and NVidia's FX6800 Ultra 256MB graphics card and 1GB of 333Mhz DDR SDRAM.

The weather data will sit on two database servers, which will constantly update the weather graphics servers based in each studio. These are basically (extremely) high end gaming machines, the BBC says. It has them specked up with Dual 3.06GHz Xeon Processors (533MHz FSB / 1MB cache), 2GB of dual channel DDR, 266Mhz ECC SDRAM, the NVidia FX6800 Ultra 256MB graphics card, two 73GB 15,000rpm SCSI hard drives and an Ultra 320/M SCSI controller card.

According to the BBC, much of its computer equipment was rather aging, and due for replacement anyway. It likened its current graphics to SuperNintendo gaming: "When Super Nintendo gaming came out, people thought it was really clever," Tregear said. "If you were to make a game like that now, people would ask why when we have the technology of Xboxes and PlayStations." ®

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