Thursday, May 21, 2009

Photosynth – big promise or just a fancy photo viewer?

When I fist saw videos demonstrating Photosynth concept it was one of those “jaw dropping” moments. The whole idea of using publicly available photos to create 3D representation of the world (ie. actual shapes and dimensions of buildings and structures derived from photos!!) and allowing seamless browsing through thousands of computer stitched images in that 3D environment seemed revolutionary. However, the end result is somewhat disappointing. Current version of Photosynth for public perusal is just like a fancy photo viewer for small collections of images uploaded by users. Not to mention that you need to install Microsoft’s Silverlight to use it (great stuff but it doesn’t work in all browsers).

You can still see one of those original videos here. They are as impressive today as they were a few years back. In my opinion, Microsoft is yet to deliver on the main premise outlined in the early days. It is not that the challenge is too big. I think that Microsoft suddenly realised how valuable tool it has and possibly doesn't want to share it for free anymore…

Microsoft “can’t do it yet” but others have already figured out how to capture 3D point clouds from Photosynth and export to 3D applications. This video describes the whole process. Just imagine the flow of royalties form licensing that capability and it becomes clear why Microsoft may be reluctant to enable this functionality for all to use. And where would that leave those who spent many thousands on creating 3D models of cities for sale – same could be achieved by anyone just with “a few” postcards of cityscape :-).

I must admit that I was looking into the whole 3D challenge myself but have given up after viewing original Photosynth videos. How can an amateur compete with that! As to the current Photosynth capability, I don’t know, maybe the expectation was set too high. Maybe Google’s Street View took some shine away from it. Maybe with such gadgets the novelty factor wears out pretty quickly. One thing is certain that the race for live 3D representation of the real world is still on!