Panoramic (photographic) VR: Panoramas, objects, scenes

What is panoramic / photographic VR?

cylinderIn the real world you can stand on a spot and, turning through 360 degrees, look all around you; that is, you can get a panoramic view of your surroundings. Panoramic VR (QTVR and its derivatives) enable designers to produce, from a sequence of overlapping photographs of a scene, a panorama of that scene. A panorama (a cylinder-shaped image around a central view point) can be panned through 360 degrees, and may include ‘hot spots’ that, like links in an HTML document, connect the scene to other panoramas or to embedded media.

In the real world you can also generally observe objects, particularly if you can pick them up and rotate them, from all angles. QuickTime VR, and its derivatives, enables designers to construct, from a matrix of overlapping photographs of an object taken from different perspectives, a manipulable photorealistic image of that object. Objects are in some sense the complement of panoramas: where as the former place the observer at the centre, objects are themselves at the centre of a scene in which the user experience is of 'walking around' the object or, alternatively, of rotating it through 360 degree through any plane.

Why photographic VR?

An obvious advantage of photographic VR over rendered 3D VR is the greater realism of the images: they are richly detailed photographs rather than significantly more low resolution, low detail, rendered images. In that light, photographic VR is ideal for:

  • virtual tours: panoramas of world locations of touristic or cultural interest. E.g., Virtual Paris (CD-ROM); the Lantau Island (Hong Kong) Buddha, virtual Cambodia; etc. Objects of artistic or cultural interest, e.g. fossils, vase, etc
  • education: like the above, but specifically sites of historical, geographical, or cultural interest within a teaching and learning framework. E.g., museums, galleries, historic sites such as Stonehenge, etc
  • architecture and urban planning: buildings, landscapes, objects, and panoramas created with other (graphical or 3D CGI tools, such as Bryce 3D or RayDream) can be converted into QTVR movies to enable “try before you build” walkthroughs.
  • marketing and promotion: e.g., panoramas (such as hotel room interiors) explicitly supporting tourism, football stadia, university campuses, convention centres and exhibition halls, (estate agent) interiors of homes for sale, etc
  • window shopping and virtual shopping: panoramas of shop interiors showing merchandise, objects

I think it worth also citing some reasons given at VirtualParks.org:

  • One of the highest purposes of photographic virtual reality is to enable people who may not otherwise be able to visit wilderness locations due to a physical challenge, to virtually explore nature.
  • Virtual Reality has been demonstrated to reduce the perception of pain in patients undergoing various treatments. What better environment to escape to than to a pristine mountain lake?
  • Photographic panoramas provide an unparalleled documentary archive of a specific place at a particular moment in time. Imagine how valuable it would be if you could pan around the the last Sierra glaciers before they melted, or see a great forest before it was ruined by insect blight or a fire.
  • Reduce unnecessary trips & wasted time -- travellers can check out a location before expending the time, money, and gas to get there.
  • Education - high quality panoramic photography shows a much more complete picture of a place than a single photo. Any organization that wants to show the nature of the land should be looking at using panoramas.
  • Reliving memories - thousands of people have written saying one or more panoramas here reminded them of a special moment they had at that location.
  • Interactive - being able to pan around, move between VRs or link to other content drives interest by providing an exploration experience instead of a passive viewing experience.

Is it truly 3D virtual reality?

No, only pseudo-3D: the user experience is still very much that of viewing two-dimensional photographs, albeit wrapped as panoramas or objects. The representations are 'static': the 'worlds' cannot be explored in the way that 3D scenes may be, since the user view is always firmly fixed to the centre of the 'cylinder'; perspective does not change on zooming in or out; and there can be no movement of foreground objects against the background. Finally, unlike VRML, it can only ever be used in single-user mode. It is now possible, however, to combine photographic VR with VRML to generate 3D scenes with photorealistic backgrounds.