What is the matrix? by t-mix

Virtual tours are on the verge of becoming just that; more virtual.

Up until this point, they have been well, frankly, disapointing. Greater adoption of video by real estate marketers could help this situation in the short term (see Inman Connect Highlights Real Estate 2.0), but thankfully there is some cause for optimism in the long term as well.

Google’s Street View (see Google Maps Hits the Streets) is just the tip of the iceberg as more and more technologies are deployed to bring ground-level context to individual locations.

EveryScape is another company that hopes to “bridge the gap between the physical world and the virtual one”. It allow you to navigate a two-dimensional image as if it were real. Essentially, it’s a 360 virtual tour, with depth.

Playing around with their demo and it’s pretty easy to see that someone could build a pretty cool virtual tour product on top of this. The ability to create tours or let users “drive” manually is a pretty slick feature.

But that’s not even half as cool as what’s being cooked up in Redmond.

Context and quality have been the critical factors in undermining most web based virtual tours today. Figuring out where in what relationships exist between photos (which hallways link to which rooms etc.) is very hard to accomplish in the current web environment.

Photosynth is another emerging technology (based out of graduate research done at the University of Washington and now being incubated at Microsoft labs), which first came to light late last year.

Photosynth allows you to “stitch” together photos in 3D space and assign relationships between them. The effect is you can navigate through a series of 2D images and get a sense of how they relate to one another. It’s pretty amazing stuff – you can see a demo on the Microsoft Labs site.

The blog istartedsomething says:

imagine a real-estate house tour with Photosynth. It would be light years ahead of slide-shows or even more complicated Quicktime VR presentations.

Quality is far more difficult problem. The need for fast load times have, to date, necessitated low quality or low resolution images on the Internet – unfortunately, this does no justice to the presentation of real estate properties.

Another Microsoft project called Seadragon aims to make the resolution and corresponding size of image irrelevant, so that images can be browsed smoothly in any environment.

A presentation at the recent TED conference demonstrates these two technologies can work together. Check it out, it isn’t hard to imagine how these could be the next generation of virtual tours.

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