Today we have so many choices for how we are going to share photos on the web, not only a variety of web sites but also many different display technologies. I took the opportunity to try a few of the new Microsoft products out: DeepZoom using Silverlight2, Photosynth, HDView and of course Windows Live Photo Gallery to stitch a panorama. Finally I’ve added a little YouTube video of the event itself.
While in New Zealand for TechEd we took a few extra days to travel down to Rotorua to see the thermal parks. One of the highlights was the Lady Knox Geyser that is triggered off at 10:15am daily, firing super heated water 20m into the air. All the tourists were taking their happy snaps, there were at least 10 people with DSLRs including myself.
Recently I was browsing some panoramas from the web using the Flash based Zoomify and frankly that experience is rather poor in contrast. DeepZoom is actually the MultiScaleImage control for Silverlight2 and breaks high resolution images, this one is 12,127 x 3,163px, into tile sets using an external tool. In fact all the display technologies including zoomify do this. This allows each technology to limit the bandwidth required to be sent to the browser.
The most common complaint I hear about DeepZoom is that it is a CPU hog. I think of it as a future technology for good hardware, the experience on my dual core laptop with a broadband connection is super smooth and very enjoyable. In comparison I find Zoomify clunky, it was great in its day but now needs some work.
You can use the DeepZoom Composer tool to create the tile set and it even creates a simple Silverlight viewer or use the Plug-in for Photoshop to do the same. Here I used the Photoshop plugin (click on image to see the result):
The basic viewer allows you to scroll the mouse wheel to zoom in and out on your cursor position. The “butter smooth” animation masks the tiles being downloaded to provide the incredible detail on demand. No more waiting for the large image to load and no more limitations on photo size.
When I first saw this video from TED I was blown away. I’ve used programs that create 3D models from still photos before and they require much time consuming manual tweaking and trial and error. Photosynth combines the DeepZoom technology with a pseudo 3D point cloud and aligned images. The free tool finds similarities in you photos and aligns them into a basic model. You can explore just the point cloud by press the “p” key to toggle through different modes.
Rather then looking at 37 photos of the same object on a flat webpage, the Photosynth view allows you to navigate between images in a pseudo 3D environment. In this case the Geyser was detected as an object and a “halo” navigation lets you explore from many angles calculated from the photos supplied. (click on the image to explore the photosynth):
Photosynth was only recently released and falls into the Software+Service model from Microsoft. Your Synths are hosted free of charge by Microsoft with each user getting a generous 20GB of storage initially. Currently it is completely automated and a little hit or miss. The aim is to get your photo set to be 100% synthy meaning that all your photo have been matched together.
The concept that blew me away from the TED presentation was the aggregation of many peoples content. It is very early days for Photosynth but the ability to geo-tag your synth, set copyright and the announcement of the Photosynth team moving in with the Virtual Earth group makes it easy to speculate about what we may see next :)
HDView has been around for sometime, I like many made the mistake of thinking it was simply a prerelease of the DeepZoom technology and would become part of Silverlight. How wrong I was! HDView is 3D accelerated and has many awesome features beyond just smooth zooming and browser delivery.
I like the curved effect as you zoom into a panorama, it makes the shot much more realistic and the panning feels much more like rotating around the scene like you are actually there.
HDView also supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) Images. Essentially it can provide an adaptive brightness based on the part of the scene you are looking at. It allows panoramas for example to have very dark elements, maybe something in shadow or inside, as well as bright element such as the sky or reflection of the sun. The effect created by the viewer is similar to when you first walk outside from a dark room, you are blinded and then adjust. I first experienced this in Half-Life2 the game from Valve, now you can bring this to your photos.
It is worth a separate post and indeed this sample is not HDR but you simple put your DSLR into bracketing mode taking 3 photos at different exposure levels and then combine these into a HDR image.
For ease of upload and super fast render times in the browser YouTube is still the winner for online video. If your interested in the action itself and to compare the still photo technology to that of video have a look:
YouTube now supports a higher resolution of video. This video was taken on a Panasonic camcorder recording directly to a SD card and edited without conversion in Windows Movie Maker in Vista.
Future thoughts – can we combine these into a single viewer experience?
So what is my favourite? None, I like all of them in their own way. Deep Zoom is super smooth and only requires the Silverlight runtime which will be as common as Flash in no time. Photosynth is super cool and does give a great 3D effect, the upload experience needs improvement but for version 1 it is great. HDview has a clear advantage using 3D features and acceleration. For navigating the panorama the curved effect in HDView is far superior then a flat view and gives a sense of being there. And finally video, although not as easy to make beautiful, still adds some significant value with motion and sound. In a recent interview the Photosynth team said video was an obvious feature.
What is truly missing is the ability to showcase all these technologies on a single site. Each technology allows you to embed the object into your HTML page, clearly aimed at your blog, but I don’t recommend more then one of these heavy object per page. What I would love to see is a new browser interface for images and videos that supports all these new formats. CoolIris, formally PicLense, is a great example of escaping from HTML to provide a richer experience for browsing photos and videos, the YouTube search/browse experience from CoolIris is simply amazing.
I would love to see a rich application that allows the viewing of DeepZoom, Photosynth and HDView seamlessly. To go a step further since I geo-tagged my images with their exact location on the Earth, how about a Virtual Earth 3D view that seamlessly integrates these also and provide the navigation between images by location?
If you want to visit the Geyser it is located at the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland south of Rotorua in New Zealand.
See a few more panoramas and photos from our trip here.