Panoramas vs. 3D (Part 1): Introduction

August 16, 2009

Posted by Mok Oh in 2.5D, 3D, Photography, mirror worlds, panorama.
Tags: , , , , ,

Google Earth St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, NYGoogle Earth St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, NY, at a « bird’s eye » view.

Wade Roush made a great comment in Panoramas vs. Photosynth Part 4, not to forget that there are forces in 3D happening as well.  This blog is inspired by Wade.  Thanks, Wade!

Now, imagine an online web representation of our world in 3D…  You type in to get to a place you are interested in.  You find a map, and you zoom down close to see the street.  Then you click on the “3D” viewing mode.  You zoom in some more.  Then you land on the street…  a photorealistic, real-time 3D street.  You can smoothly walk around, not just in the streets but on the side walk as well.  Hell, you can fly if you wanted to.  You find the store you like, and you navigate inside.  When you do, you are greeted by the store owner avatar saying hello.  And it’s actually a person behind the avatar.  You ask your questions about the store, if they have what you are looking for.  You walk around to browse what they have.  Then you walk out and zoom to your favorite restaurant to see how crowded the place really is currently…  And cut. (Or wake up.)

I think this scenario, or something similar, has a real possibility in the future.  Assuming this can happen, then the question is, how far off are we?   It feels to me at least a decade away.  Most likely more.

Now let’s get back to reality and talk about what we have today.  We have Google Earth and Microsoft Bing that have a 3D representation of our world.  There are wonderful other technologies, like C3 Technologies, but they have not yet proven to be scalable (by “proven,” I mean published and has significant coverage).  It really is amazing to see cities like New York in full 3D glory, BUT from a “bird’s eye” view.  At a thousand feet above ground, these cities look amazingly real.

At a ground level, not so much.  (See below for a comparison.)

St. Patricks Cathedral, New York, NYPhotograph of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, NY
Google Earth St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, NYGoogle Earth St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, NY

So, another relevant question is: What is it going to take to create a believable 3D on the web at the ground level?  I think quite a bit.  (To be discussed in the following blogs.)

At a bird’s eye point of view, the level of detail required to make a person believe what she’s seeing is “real” is much less so than at a ground level.  Up there, the buildings are more or less boxes with photo textures.  (Don’t get me wrong — the feat accomplished by Google Earth and Microsoft Bing are incredible.)  But at a ground level, I would argue that there is an order of magnitude more 3D shit you gotta model to convince people that you are actually at 43rd and 5th in New York City, or Time Square or Champs Elysees.  You have all the street level things that require to be represented realistically — people, cars, trees, news stands, lamp posts, signs, etc.  All these have to be there just like they are in real life to convince folks that they’re really there.

So, for the foreseeable future, we have panoramas and UGC photographs to represent our real world, aka mirror world, a la Google Street View and EveryScape.  These are what I call 2.5D representations, since they are not quite 3D, but more than 2D.

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