Immersive Technologies

This page is devoted to Immersive Technologies, which includes the photographic technologies (QuickTime VR, IPIX, Reality Studio, etc), 3D technologies (VRML, QuickDraw 3D, etc.) as well as 3D modeling tools.
The individual technologies are listed below.

Photographic Technologies
The immersive technologies listed here all use panoramic photographs to create the illusion of exploring a 3D space. A playback window displays a section of the image, and the user can then click and drag to "look around" the scene. These technologies warp the photograph to maximise the illusion that the user is looking up and down within the real world rather than just scrolling about within a flat panoramic image.
Of these technologies, only IPIX and SmoothMove provides spherical projection (the original image covers the entire Field of View so that the user can look up and see the ceiling.)
This difference not withstanding, most of the differences between these technologies are in various additional features (such as Objects, linking, support available in third party tools, and the functionality of the stitching tools.)

Creating Panoramic images
Most of these technologies require a panoramic image to produce the scene that the user will explore. While they also support partial panoramas (less than 360 degrees around) most of the time a full panorama will be created. There's at least three different ways of creating a panorama;

  • use a fish-eye 180 degree lens and "stitch" the two photographs together
    IPIX uses this technigue
  • use a panoramic camera
    these cameras are expensive and produce unusual negatives that may be difficult to scan
  • use a panoramic lens
    See our
    review of the Be Here Portal 1 lens
  • use a regular camera, wide angle lens and tripod and take multiple pictures
    this requires using a software application to "stitch" the pictures together into a panorama.
    Once you include the cost and time of processing this method can get expensive if you are creating lots of panoramas.
    There are four stitching applications available:
    • Apple's QuickTime VR Authoring Studio
    • Rounadabout's Nodestar
    • Live Pictures PhotoVista
    • Spin Panorama

Other Stitchers
Enroute Imaging's QuickStitch 360 for Mac/Windows, panorama stitching software. QuickStitch 360 automatically combines overlapping photos into panoramic images up to 360 degrees. <>

Panavue's Visual Stitch, for Windows 95/NT. Their stitcher is supposed to be particularly adept with very large images.Demo versions of these programs can be downloaded from their website. <>

Other Tips:
Why limit QuickTime VR (or any immersive technology) to land based subjects? The JASON distance learning project took QTVR photograhers to Bermuda and now you can visit a page which includes tips for taking underwater panoramas.
The project is sponsored by EDS
< journal article "Shooting QTVR">

Want to create a QuickTime VR panoramic scene by painting it rather than using 3D software or shooting a panoramic photo? André Plante has a VR Painting Tutorial and demonstration file at his website. It looks like a lot of work, but some of the techniques might be useful when manipulating existing scenes.
<Web page: "
VR Gallery">



Feb 22, 99

Infinite Pictures and Kaidan have announced the SmoothMove Spherical Photo Solution, a product that allows users to photograph a scene in as few as ten photos and seam them together into a full spherical high-resolution panorama. The SmoothMove Spherical Photo Solution includes the Kaidan QuickPan Spherical Tripod Head and the Infinite Pictures SmoothMove Photo Suite.

Feb 22, 99

VR Toolbox will begin shipping Windows versions of VR ObjectWorx, VR PanoWorx and VR SceneWorx, the second week of March 1999. This spring, the company will offer its yet-to-be-released suite of tools, The VR Worx, for both Macintosh and Windows platforms.

Feb 19, 99

Immersive Media Company and Enroute Imaging have announced a set of products that allow the production of fully immersive spherical video of any location or event. The product includes Immersive Media's RoundAbout Video System DODECA 1000 camera which features an eleven video camera system with video rates of 30 fps and broadcast quality resolution. No pricing was announced.

Feb 19, 99

Enroute Imaging PowerStitch is describes as full-featured panorama software for professionals. PowerStitch features include:

  • Manual or automatic lens parameter settings
  • Auto-correlation or manual (user-assisted) placement
  • Perspective and cylindrical (pan-head) projection
  • Blend-only mode for making collages
  • Low-resolution preview stitching for quick previews
  • Infinite workspace and image zoom
  • Image manipulation tools including undo, crop, resize, brightness, gamma correction, contrast etc

PowerStitch will be available in April 1999 for $399.

Feb 19, 99

Be Here Corporation has started a Certified Media Developer program designed to link web site developers, multimedia producers and photographers with enterprises that wish to incorporate immersive images in their web site.

Feb 16, 99

Virtus OpenSpace 3D is an application and Xtra for Director that adds interactive 3D capabilities to Macromedia Director.
<Multimedia Musings:
3D in Director>

QuickTime VR

Quicktime VR is perhaps the best-known technology. It is widely supported and there are some excellent tools for building panoramas and objects (though the best tools are only available for the Macintosh.)
QuickTime supports both panoramas and object movies.

Michael reviewed Apple's QuickTime VR Authoring Studio for NewMedia May 5, 1998 < review "Live Picture Reality Studio">

Apple's QuickTime web site <>
Download the web viewer, as well as see sample galleries.

Roundabout Logic web site <>
makes the panoramic stitcher tool Nodester and the object builder Widgitizer.

Aug 24
MacWeek reports that there is a legal dispute between Roundabout Logic Inc. and VR Toolbox Inc over the distribution of the QuickTime VR authoring tools that are best known as Nodester and Widgetizer. VR Toolbox Inc, which it appears was set up by the original developer of the tools is selling them as VR PanoWorx and VR ObjectWorx.
< news "QTVR vendors in legal battle">

ConVRter Pro a shareware utility that allows you to manipulate certain properties of finished QTVR movies, converts between v1 and v2 QTVR movies, and embeds custom qtvr cursors in your v2 movies now allows the setting of fov, pan and tilt in degrees of angle, as well as other enhancements.

Want to fix a QuickTime VR file without going back to the original source files? PanoTouch, is a tool for editing, adding content to, and retouching QuickTime VR panoramas developed by AdessoSoft. The principals of AdessoSoft are all former QuickTime VR team members and comprise Richard Mander, Bud Smith, John Murata, and Yalin Xiong.

Panotouch is a plug-in for Photoshop that lets you open a QuickTime VR file, select an area of the panorama and it will "dewarp" the image. You can then edit the image and save back out to QuickTime VR.

The tool is available as a pre-release version for $99.

Squamish Media Group has released soundsaVR 1.1, which embeds directional stereo sound in QuickTime VR movies. The new release supports 'Fast Start' streaming and fixes incompatabilities with some types of movies. The limited introductory price is US $70.

Reality Studio

Reality Studio from Live Picture grew out of Real Space, which itself was developed by one of the originators of QuickTime VR. Reality Studio supports photo panoramas and objects, but it also supports VRML (.wrl) files inside panoramas. It's the easiest technology (at the moment) for creating panoramas with sprites within the panorama.

Michael reviewed Reality Studio for NewMedia May 5, 1998 < review "Live Picture Reality Studio">

Live Pictures web site <>
Download the web viewer, as well as see sample galleries.

Live Picture has two lightweight Java viewers that let online user view Reality Studio objects and 360-degree panoramas. The viewers work with any Java-enabled browser, and average 35K in size. They add to the capabilities of Live Picture's existing Java viewer, which allows users to view zoomable 2D images without plug-ins.

Surround Video

Surround Video was developed by Black Diamond consulting, and was originally developed for Microsoft, who then licensed it back to Black Diamond.
Surround Video Freestyle Suite 1.0 was released in July 1998. This featured version 3.0 of Surrond Video, plus new tools for creating object movies and for adding sound to movies.

Surround Video Freestyle Suite 1.0 includes: Surround Video 3.0 Editor, Rotate This! 1.0 and Hear This! 1.0. Rotate This! creates object movies from jpg or bmp images and supports hotspots with text. Objects can be displayed on panoramas or on other objects. Hear This! adds multiple sounds to images and offers individual volume control for each sound.

The authoring tool is Windows only, but browser plugins for Mac and PC are available.

Surround Video Freestyle Suite costs $199.00. A Web Certificate, required for additional domains hosting Surround Video costs $99

Michael reviewed the Surround Video 2.0 for NewMedia May 5, 1998 < review "Black Diamond Surround Video 2.0">

Black Diamond web site <>
Download the web viewer, as well as see sample galleries.


IPIX is unique in that they offer a stitcher that takes two images taken with a 180 degree fish-eye lens and stitches the two halves together to create a single panorama that covers the entire field of view. Their routines for doing this are protected by patent
Of special note, IPIX released (July '98) a Macintosh version of the IPIX authoring tool.
Pros: Only requires two images. You can see the ceiling!
Cons: Licensing is based per image (from $25 per node). Lighting the scenes may be a problem. Lower resolution (though probably not a problem for the web)

IPIX Mac Wizard runs on all PowerPC configurations with a minimum of 64MB of RAM. The Mac Wizard is priced at $349.95

Michael reviewed the IPIX Build Wizard with their digital camera/lens combination for NewMedia May 5, 1998 < review "Interactive Pictures Build Wizard">

IPIX web site <>
Download the web viewer, as well as see sample galleries.


Tools that may be used with more than one technology.

QuickStitch 360 from Enroute Imaging is a panorama stitching application which automatically combines overlapping photos into panoramic images up to 360 degrees. The previous Enroute QuickStitch product stitches a grid of up to 6 x 6 images. Users can output their panoramas to a JPG, BMP or QuickTime VR movie.
QuickStitch 360 for Windows 95/98 and Power Mac for $69.96 SRP, and through OEM bundles with digital cameras (including Ricoh's 4300) and Velbon's VR tripod head. <>

Canadian company Panavue's panoramic stitcher, Visual Stitch ($100US), for Windows 95/NT. Their stitcher is supposed to be particularly adept with very large images.
The company also offers Visual Stitch SC ($40US), which is designed for those who want to scan oversized images with their scanner and then stitch the parts together.
Demo versions of these programs can be downloaded from their website. <>

Kodak , Kaidan and Live Pictures are offering kits featuring combinations of Kodak digital cameras, Kaidan tripod heads, and Live Pictures PhotoVista and Reality Studio.

  • Interactive Imaging Solution for the DC220 Pro Edition Camera $525 (camera sold separately)
    Includes custom molded panoramic tripod head and a trial version of Reality Studio and a new version of PhotoVista.
  • Interactive Imaging Solution for the DC260 Pro Edition Camera $525 (camera sold separately)
    Same as above with tripod head for DC260.
  • Interactive Imaging SLR Solution $1,195
    will feature the Kaidan QuickPan Magnum QPX-2B panoramic tripod head for Kodak single lens reflex cameras, including the DCS 315, DCS 4XX and 5XX series. Includes PhotoVista and a full version of Reality Studio.
  • Interactive Imaging Studio (Pricing of this kit has yet to be announced.)
    features a new Kaidan motorized turntable.

<> <> <>

Videobrush panoramic software application VideoBrush Panorama is the only application available (that we know of) that can take a video panoramic sequence and stitch together the frames to create a panorama. It can create QuickTime VR as well as Infinite Pictures SmoothMove (.pan) and Live Picture Realspace (.ivr) files. Panorama 2.0 costs $59.99. You can doanload a demo from their website.

CycloVision's ParaShot, is a one-shot 360° digital imaging attachment. The ParaShot looks cool! Similar to the Be Here Portal 1 lens, (which we recently played with) but at a tenth the price. The Parashot incorporates 360° imaging optics and unwrapping software, that is compatible with Agfa's Photo Genie. Like the Portal 1, the ParaShot captures a donut shaped image (ParaFrame), which is then unwrapped using the ParaViewer software. With the ParaViewer software, users can navigate the 360° image with pan, tilt and zoom capabilities on the Web or within new media applications with the click of a mouse.

The ParaShot has a list price of $995. Example images can be found at CycloVisions' website.
<Our review of the
Be Here Portal 1 lens>

Be Here Corporation has introduced the Be Here Portal S1 Plus, a second-generation version of their 360-degree lens system that is suitable for stopping action in environments with motion. The Portal S1 Plus costs $4,995 and is Nikon and Canon EOS mount-compatible and offers a lighter weight design for improved ease-of-use and mobility.

Be Here's Portal S1 Plus features an improved optical design over the original Portal S1, resulting in improved image quality and a higher speed f/8 lens. The Portal S1 Plus is capable of operating with a camera at shutter speeds up to 1/500th of a second - a speed suitable for stopping action in environments with motion.
<Review of
Be Here S1 lens>


Tips for creating photographic immersive environments.

If you're looking for a digital camera the Nikon CoolPix 900 has been receiving some very positive reviews.
Of particular interest for those producing sequences of images for stitching into panoramas, the 900 includes an exposure lock which will look the exposure setting used for the first image in a sequence and use it for the rest.
NOTE: Some people actually question the effectiveness of using exposure locking with a digital camera. They argue that because of the narrow exposure lattitude of digital cameras you are better off exposing each image in a sequence at the optimal setting for the camera, then fix any problems in a paint program or a stitching tool.

Why limit QuickTime VR (or any immersive technology) to land based subjects? The JASON distance learning project took QTVR photograhers to Bermuda and now you can visit a page which includes tips for taking underwater panoramas.
The project is sponsored by EDS
< journal article "Shooting QTVR">

3D Technologies
The most significant advantage of technologies that allow users to explore 3D models rather than panoramic photographs is that the user can explore all angles of the model; with the photographic technologies the user is much more limited to viewing a scene from specific locations.
This may or may not be a problem depending upon the experience you are trying to provide the user. While 3D technologies hold much promise, even with todays computers, creating a fluid and realistic scene requires lots of processing power (and if the experience is on the web, the files can become quite large; particularly as you add texture files to improve the quality of the scenes.)
VRML has received a lot of press because it is an "open" standard, but there are some proprietary technologies; including MetaStream and SuperScape.


VRML (no one is sure how to pronounce it) received a lot of press when it was first released as an open standard for 3D worlds. A lot of tools have been released that support it, and most 3D programs now will at least export to a VRML file.
It's primary use has been on the web, and there are plug-ins available for Macintosh and Windows. Even so, adoption of the standard by the general public hasn't been as fast as most expected (partly because you need memory and speed for good performance, and there is little compelling content.)

At the end of 1998 SGI, who was the initial imputus behind VRML sold Cosmo Software to Platinum. The unit continues to offer the Cosmo Software, but it's unclear what Platinum plans to do with the products (they already purchase another VRML browser plug-in InterVista.)

VRML Repository <>
Perhaps the ultimate collection of information about VRML

WorldView VRML Browser plugin <>
They offer a browser for both Macs and PCs.

Cosmo Software <>
Has perhaps the best viewer plugin Cosmo Player, as well as an editing environment called Cosmo Worlds. Company Status unclear (see above)

Spazz3D is a VRML authoring tool that is currently in beta. It provides tools for building 3-D scenes, animating the geometry and defining rules of interactivity which can trigger lights, sounds, and animations.

The program can output animations in GIF and AVI files as well as save the worlds in the VRML 2 file format. An integrated FTP utility uploads VRML world files, and all their dependencies to a web site. You can download it at the website.

last updated: 2/22/99

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