Microsoft Launches Virtual Earth 3D

Microsoft on Monday took the wraps off Virtual Earth 3D, a new version of the company’s mapping application that enables users to “fly” through three-dimensional models of cities from directly within their Web browser – complete with virtual billboards.

The idea is that users can type a query into Windows Live Search and click on the “maps” tab to bring up results in a local context, with the ability to view two-dimensional aerial and bird’s-eye imagery, or the new 3D models offered by Virtual Earth.

As part of the change, Windows Live Local is being re-branded Windows Live Search Maps.

The service is poised to compete with Google Earth, a standalone application that complements the search giant’s online mapping service. But Microsoft says its offering takes the concept to another level, by bringing the virtual world closer to the physical world.

Instead of grey scale boxes of buildings like in Google Earth, Virtual Earth 3D uses photographs to create realistic, textured buildings. Microsoft says it developed the cameras it uses to capture the images in house, as well as creating an algorithmic program to build the textured 3D models.

However, because of the level of detail Virtual Earth 3D offers, Microsoft is launching the product with support for only 15 cities. On the list are San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Baltimore, Dallas, Fort Worth, Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, San Jose, Phoenix, and Houston.

Not everything will be real, however. Microsoft is putting virtual billboards into the 3D cities it creates, enabling the company to sell advertising directly in these virtual worlds. For example, a billboard advertises Fox above the AMC Lowes cinema in San Francisco. Microsoft was able to accomplish this through technology it acquired from in-game advertising company Massive last April.

Microsoft says it plans to continually add new cities to the service, as well as expanding Virtual Earth to other countries. Developers will also be given access to the APIs in order to integrate the 3D cities into their applications, although this functionality will require a fee.

Virtual Earth 3D only works in Internet Explorer.

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A better 3D hologram than R2-D2’s


We’ve seen plenty of crappy holograms out there purporting to be 3D displays, but none of them have really stolen our hearts and made us want oneā€¦ until now. Cheoptics360 is a big pyramid that projects 3D images in its center, showing video that looks very real floating in midair. Not to piss on the campfire here or anything, but in the video it looks to me like the video is really 2D and is just viewable from any angle. That’s not quite 3D, where you would see the back of the object if you walked behind it. Not that this whole setup isn’t totally sweet, I’m just sayin’. It’s certainly the best looking air-projected image we’ve seen around these parts, which is good enough in itself for me. Check the video out to judge for yourself after the jump.

Cheoptics360, via Engadget