Mapwing is not panorama software. The two virtual reality systems are fundamentally different in the way each represents a point in space. Panoramas try to capture a perfect 360º image. The most common method for doing this uses a specialized tripod, a camera with a wide angle lens, and stitching software. The camera is mounted on the tripod and an image is taken. The tripod head is then panned a specific number of degrees depending upon the angle of the camera’s lens and another shot is taken. This process is repeated until a 360º field of view has been captured. Next, the images are imported into a stitching program which blends the separate images into a single, panoramic image. Finally, the photographer must choose a method for displaying the panorama. Usually, this is either QuickTime VR
or a Java-based applet
. These applications can be embedded into web pages and read the panoramic image for display. The user can navigate the panorama by dragging his mouse left or right. This pans the image in the viewing window.
Panoramas are nice because they provide a complete 360º view of a location. However, they are expensive to create, requiring a serious photographer to invest thousands of dollars into specialized tripods, lenses, and stitching software. They require many steps to build and a moderate level of technical prowess. Furthermore, panoramas are not virtual tours. While they provide a complete view of a location, they do little to convey a sense of three-dimensional, spatial movement. To do this, a photographer must purchase more software
to connect the panoramas, create maps, and blend the different media together. Simply put, quality panoramas are neither easy to create nor cheaply produced.
After examining the disadvantages of panoramas, Redbug began working on Mapwing
. As I said earlier, Mapwing is not panorama software. The Mapwing system uses four photographs to represent a point in space. These can be thought of as north, east, south, and west views. These views can be taken with any camera and with or without a tripod. That said, the views will look better if shot with a wider lens. Users without wide lenses can take a few steps back before taking each picture to artificially widen the field of view. Finished pictures are brought into Mapwing Creator Pro
and dropped into the appropriate image wells. Mapwing does not require stitching. The finished point can be viewed in Mapwing Viewer
or Mapwing Flash Viewer
. The user clicks on the edges of the viewing area to turn around the point.
The Mapwing system has one main disadvantage. It doesn’t always provide a perfect 360º view. However, this trade off comes with several distinct advantages. First, Mapwing is compatible with any digital camera and lens. It does not require specialized tripods or other equipment. Second, Mapwing images do not require stitching. This eliminates the need for a stitching program and the time spent making a panorama. Third, Mapwing provides a built-in method for connecting points, adding hotspots and comments, and placing a map background. These advantages make Mapwing easier to use and more cost effective than the panorama workflow. Mapwing also makes it possible to create large scale virtual tours that convey a strong sense of space.
In general, Mapwing’s harshest critics are photographers heavily invested in panorama technology. I often refer to this as the “elitist” mentality. These individuals feel threatened by that which is less expensive and better geared toward consumers. For example, when video first appeared, the film community was quick to criticize its poor image quality. Although this was true, video never sought to fulfill the same role as film. Its goal was to place the power of moving images into the hands of consumers. Thirty years later, film use is waning as video technologies have matured and gained widespread acceptance. While I hope to see panoramas continue to play a role in the virtual reality community, I suspect they will eventually be supplanted by more accessible technologies.
Other critics insist that panoramas are better virtual reality than Mapwing tours. Arguments like these are common when a new media form is introduced. Just look at painting and photography. While photography is normally thought of as more realistic, there do exist lifelike paintings. By there same token, artistic photography is quite common too. Critics of the Mapwing style should remember Myst
. Myst is one of the most popular computer games of all time. Why is that? Besides the challenging puzzles, Myst immerses users in a virtual world, built in a style similar to a Mapwing tour. In fact, Exile
, a sequel to Myst, utilized panoramas. Though, it is interesting to note that Exile never achieved the popularity of its predecessor. So, might the quality of a virtual reality experience hinge on something deeper than the medium it is created with? Certainly. It hinges on the ability of the experience to captivate a person’s imagination. That’s what Mapwing is all about.