Buttery-Smooth Gigapixel Panoramas

For the last few months we’ve been hard at work with the Microsoft Research Image Composite Editor (ICE) team to bring you the power to create and share beautifully stitched, seamless panoramas of almost any size.


ICE to Photosynth

In this release we’ve put two best-of-breed technologies together: ICE’s state-of-the-art automatic image stitcher that makes it easy to create beautifully toned panoramas of more than a billion pixels, and Photosynth’s Seadragon-based display technology that gives you a  buttery-smooth way to explore every corner of these enormous images. Here’s an example. Make sure you hit the “expand” button in the viewer to see it in all it’s glory:



Want a demo? Go experience the best panoramas uploaded so far.

Want to make one yourself? You’ll need to  install Microsoft ICE as well as the latest release of Photosynth. Start here.

Need more info on ICE? Check out their blog post about this release. It goes into lots of great details.

Want to see your panoramas on Bing maps along with the other synths? We’re working on it!

Rail-to-rail viewing

Photosynth should be all about a luscious viewing experience, right? We’ve completely redesigned our viewing page and now the experience stretches the full width of your browser window, whether you’re viewing a panorama or a synth. The page still contains everything it used to, but all the information that used to be squeezed alongside the viewing area is now below it. We think it’s a big improvement.


Zoomed-in highlights

Last April we introduced a  feature allowing the author of a synth to mark certain images as “highlights”, and have these presented to the viewer in a strip of thumbnails running down the right of the display. In this update we’ve generalized that feature so that you can make a highlight of any part of any image.  Check out the two highlights on this synth for example. They each show a full resolution portion of an image.  Here’s how I made them:



A down payment on the future

In February, our architect Blaise Agüera y Arcas presented the Bing Maps vision of spatial exploration and augmented reality at TED2010. If you haven’t watched the video of his talk, you might want to — it’s pretty compelling. While his presentation wasn’t specifically about Photosynth, it’s no secret that the role of Photosynth in Bing Maps is to allow enthusiasts all over the world to capture the places they know and love. If we’re going to “augment” the world, we need to build it first, and that means that we need both sophisticated van-mounted and backpack-mounted cameras as well as the right software tools in the hands of the millions of people who have a part of the world to share. Those software tools are the next generation of Photosynth.


Current generation Photosynths are pretty easy to capture, but we’re the first to admit that they’re not always easy to navigate, and to many people the “layered look” of individual photos stacked and skewed is confusing. We need to do better. We need to be as easy to navigate as Streetside and just as seamless, while preserving the things that make Photosynth unique – namely the ability to see objects from all sides, and to integrate the details with the big picture.


That’s our future, and this release takes one significant step in that direction by integrating panoramas. With this release you can choose different tools to make 3D or seamless panoramas. You want both, and we’re working hard to provide it. Watch this space!


The Photosynth Team.

Comments (13)

  1. Nate Lawrence says:

    So… no word on the velocity cursor? I’m struggling to understand it.

    I’m also wondering when you guys plan to detect panoramas being put into Photosynth and let them know about ICE… or simply integrate ICE into the synther… or detect existing panorama synths and run ICE on Azure or your own Photosynth servers to offer the choice to the end user to toggle between synth view or pano view.

    As for the last suggestion, it would be very interesting to me to have a future viewer that is capable of reading the ICE stitching metadata and performing the deforming + adjusting exposure + the appropriate alpha blending in realtime on the individual photos in a panoramic synth.

    Cheers to the new highlights system! It’s finally what it always should have been. =)

    I’d still be interested in using the new highlighting system as prolifically as a tagging system but be given the choice to only display the most important highlights in the highlight reel – similar to the way that nearby highlights cluster together in overhead view, but able to be manually interacted with to choose the most important highlight in a cluster.

    I also like that we can now play highlight reels in panoramas, but how about in synths?

    Keep up the great work, guys!


  2. Nate Lawrence says:

    Oh! I get it! =)

    When displaying the hand icon, you can click and lead the viewer in the direction that you want to pan like it’s on a rubberband.

    Be sure to add a word about the pano controls in the Photosynth photography guide. It might not hurt to wrap in some of ICE’s shooting tips for panos as well and stress the differences between shooting for panos and shooting for three dimensional synths.

  3. Nate Lawrence says:


    When ICE panos are published to Photosynth do they always output to JPEG tiles at 8 bits per color channel even if I give 16 bit per channel HD Photo/JPEG XR input files to ICE?

  4. David Gedye says:

    Nate —

    Silverlight can’t render JPEG XR yet, so the export to Photosynth process in ICE creates 8-bit JPEG tiles. You’re right that this is a shame — we can’t wait to be able to do the great dynamic tone mapping you see in HDView operating on higher dynamic range data.

  5. Sam says:

    Got to check out if the stitching engine is improved. The oldICE had a few problems stitching panos of mine (taken from a tripod using a nodal ninja).

  6. Marwan says:

    1) When are you guys going to make the "fullscreen" buttom in regular synths really work as people would expected it to work? It works just great in panos! It’s really annoying to always have to press F11 for the full screen experience."

    2) in Bing Maps there’s not a even a fullscreen buttom. WHY ON EARTH…????

    3) Still dreaming of the day when ICE, Synther, WLPG come together into one product line and photosynth becomes a part of Windows Live SkyDrive where all geotagged publicly shared photo/vid content becomes searchable on Bing Maps.

    Great news anyway 🙂

  7. Mark says:

    Hi Marwan,

     for 1 & 2 the reason for not having true fullscreen is that in full screen mode Silverlight (the platform we use to build the phototsynth viewer) does not allow users full access to the keyboard (for security reasons, imagine if a webpage could show a fullscreen app that looks just like your OS login screen and fool you into giving up your username and password) so we have to use full screen mode in the browser for now.


  8. Nate Lawrence says:


    Actually… the difference in fullscreen functionality is not between panoramas and synths, but rather the embedded synth viewer vs. the view page viewer.

    In other words, if you’re using embed.aspx, rather than view.aspx, fullscreen does exactly what your are describing… in Silverlight.

    Silverlight version 4 that will be coming out in a couple of months has a mode where keyboard access can be given by a user of a Silverlight application, but frustratingly this is only when you install the application to run outside of your web browser. In Photosynth’s case, the viewer pretty much depends on the HTML around it to navigate to other synths, comment, favorite, etc. so I sadly don’t expect to see the Photosynth team enable the Photosynth viewer app to be installed to desktop.

  9. jonathan says:

    The keyboard access through fullscreen is not just a Silverlight issue. Flash does this as well. It’s for security reasons. It would be too easy for someone to make an app that takes a screenshot of your desktop, goes into full screen and then asks for your password or other personal information.

    That said, we are likely going to switch to real fullscreen for our viewer. The keyboard shortcuts aren’t that important.

  10. Marwan says:

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for your replies!

    I’m aware that keyboard access through fullscreen is restricted for security. However, you can still use the arrows, spacebar and some other special keys. In other words, you can still move left/right, step forward and backward etc. – unfortunatly you can’t zoom in/out with the keyboard, but really, why not use the mouse? IMO, the mouse provides even a richer experience to users. It allows you to zoom to point, choose photos with different perspectives, and in case you just wanna move left and right, you can still use the on-screen navigation buttoms. I believe most users would be better off with a real fullscreen experience with limited keyboard shortcuts, than with a trimmed view fullscreen with a fully functional keyboard shortcuts.

    PS. the viewer showing the featured synth/pano on photosynth.net does indeed support real fullscreen (not only in the browser)

  11. Nate Lawrence says:

    Yep. The featured synth or panorama on the front page is just a vanilla *embedded* synth.

    Try visiting the panorama’s normal page to see the difference.

    In any case, Jonathan says that the difference won’t remain much longer.

    To their credit, the viewer team has made significant strides in their Silverlight development since the first Silverlight 2 viewer.

    When we were first adjusting to some of its differences to the D3D viewer ( http://photosynth.net/discussion.aspx?cat=ceca0f30-0f7c-4468-811a-32b623ea8563&dis=f8ba0ebe-751e-427c-9942-e4e2c1406465 ) I pointed out that the scrollwheel didn’t work while using the Silverlight Photosynth viewer in fullscreen but it’s been working like a champ for some time now.

    The pointclouds in the Silverlight viewer have a long way to go but they too have seen significant improvement since their Silverlight 2 iteration. Hopefully they’ll get a tiny bit faster with the Silverlight 4 Photosynth viewer since more of the Deep Zoom load can be moved off of the CPU and back onto our video cards, leaving a bit more CPU power to handle the pointclouds with. It still won’t be back to D3D speeds as Silverlight has no support for hardware accelerated particle display and isn’t likely to have support for such a niche graphical effect any time soon, but hopefully there will be some improvement.

  12. aspoerri says:

    Great to see the ability to view gigapixel displays in Photosynth.

    The whereRU project – http://whereru.rutgers.edu – has been using both Photosynths and Gigapans to provide an visually immersive experience of Rutgers University.

    When will Photosynth Panoramas be viewable in Bing Maps?

  13. David Gedye says:

    Re "When will ICE panos be available on Bing Maps" We’re underway with this work now, and are confident that we can release it by early summer 2010.  Can’t give you a precise date, but certainly before July 4th.