The decision is expected to help pave the way for development of 3D Web content using Java.
"This is a big step forward for the creation of 3D content on the Internet," said VRML Consortium president Neil Trevett.
Trevett said that until now, Java's API and the consortium's standard have been erroneously perceived as competing technologies.
"There has been a lot of confusion in the market because of the idea that the two technologies compete, and that one is going to win and one is going to lose," he said. "The fact that Sun is joining the consortium demonstrates that the two technologies are not competing but cooperating."
As of now, there is no way for programmers to write 3D programs in Java. The Java 3D API, part of the Java Development Kit 1.2, is due later this year.
Sun's entry into the consortium is a comparatively late one. The 60-member group includes representatives from the software industry's biggest names as well as companies that focus on VRML. Members include Netscape Communications, Silicon Graphics, Sony, Apple Computer, Oracle, Black Sun Interactive, Microsoft, IBM, and Brown University.
"Sun has been talking with the VRML Consortium and the VRML community for a long time," said Henry Sowizral, chief architect for Java 3D at Sun. "The consortium has settled down, and the standard solidified at end of '97, so it seemed like a good time to join."
Sun is developing a VRML browser on top of the Java 3D API, Sowizral noted.
Java's API and the consortium's standard take two different approaches to 3D development. The API is designed for developers programming with 3D, while the standard is a file format for designers authoring content.
While expressing optimism that Sun's entry would bode well for 3D on the Web, Trevett noted that the company and the consortium had not even begun the process of making their technologies more compatible.
"It's not known yet if either of the standards will need to change, because they work pretty well already," he said. "My own opinion is that there will be things both sides can do to increase the seamlessness of going from one to the other, and to make content easier to develop."