back to article Microsoft demos mind-bending photo app

If you haven't seen the demo, see it now. In March, at the annual Technology, Education, Design (TED) conference in Monterrey, California, Microsoft Live Labs took the wraps off a mind-bending digital photo app called Seadragon, and you can now stream a video of this not-to-be-missed demo from the TED website. Coupled with …


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  1. Jason Togneri

    Compelling? Remotely?

    "It allows for virtual tourism, the ability to explore Notre Dame or The Louvre or the Great Wall of China in a very compelling way - remotely."

    To me, the most compelling way to see the Great Wall of China is to hop on a plane and take a long holiday. Maybe stop by Hong Kong and pick up some cheap tech. What's the point of seeing it from my livingroom? I can already do that via Google Image Search - fine, not so 3D, but it's the same thing. You're either there or you're not. There's no such thing as "virtual tourism" until you have robots with cameras that you can link to a VR suite and control, and even then I'm not sure it counts as "tourism". This is impressive, and yet at the same time, silly.

  2. Chris Matchett

    The viewer is excellent

    I'd imagine it would take a lot of work to set-up the environments - all those photos but the viewer is excellent. It does seem to be that fast and here's the amazing bit - it's Firefox aware! No "please use our browser" but "let's load the control as an extension in Firefox".


  3. Eric O'Brien

    Very cool, but not really from MS

    This is indeed very cool.

    However, the technology (and technologists) appear to simply have been purchased by Microsoft. Buying someone else's innovation does not make the purchaser, themselves, innovative.

    Other problem: the technology demo, at least, requires a minimum of Windows XP and (I think) IE 7. Oh: AND a really gnarly video card/GPU thingy. It won't work on my two year old vanilla Dell system.

    My Macintosh is probably fast enough and the video card in it is probably up to snuff, but THIS computer won't work because... it's a Macintosh!

    I don't too much mind the need for a powerful video processor... gee there are lots of things zipping around the screen in that demo! But the requirement of a Windows OS, running Internet Explorer suggests to me that development efforts are SEVERELY short-sighted.

    What proprietary, closed, Windows OS/IE-embedded technologies are being relied on here? If you BEGIN building such awesome thing by relying on "special" features of Windows and the MS Browser, ever moving beyond that is going to be very difficult.

  4. John Stag

    Why does "Microsoft" get the credit

    Microsoft bought the technology but they're being treated as the innovators...?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have you not seen the Nintendo Wii?

    Have you not seen the Nintendo Wii photo browser?

    It's photos rendered in GPU sprites too.

  6. Nick Toumpelis


    Looks a lot like Core Animation to me...

  7. SpitefulGOD


    @Eric O'Brien lol, Microsoft rule, you have a Mac and have the cheek to talk about proprietary kit ???????? I really don't get the logic there, you could have updated your PC twice over for the price of your precious Mac, and if apple weren't such usless t*ts you could have installed their OS on non Apple gear.

    @Chris Matchett - "I'd imagine it would take a lot of work to set-up the environments" - the enviroments are set up automatically me thinks from plucked images, I guess that's were the coolness lies, I remember seeing the demo a few months back one of the images had stephen hawkins on it being his funky self.

  8. Gary Hockin

    MS vs MAC = yawn

    This development is truly astounding and I think a lot of people are getting bogged down in the usual slating of Microsoft rather than seeing the massive innovation that has happened here. Imagine being able to harness this technology yourself to give people virtual tours of your construction project, or taking thousands of photographs of an African village to encourage people to donate to charity. There are ALWAYS going to be occasions when people want to allow someone to visit a location, but for one reason or another the person cannot attend in person.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Excellent demo, pathetic comments

    Wow that is some sexy software they're developing. What a pity that all you saddoes can think about is to take an opportunity to bash microsoft. Life's too short, just face it - this is cool. Very cool.

  10. Andy

    It's not "the web at large"

    ... only that part of it that runs XP and Vista. Okay, that would be "most of the web at large", but, still...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alternative Ulster

    "To me, the most compelling way to see the Great Wall of China is to hop on a plane and take a long holiday."

    Fortunately I have a flat in Hong Kong, but the plebs generally don't have the time or money to hop on a plane to China. I feel for the poor people, I really do.

  12. Andrew


    love the ad he zooms into

    the ultimate car - aston martin, and its a beamer in pic, bloody sponsers :p

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Compelling? Remotely?

    "To me, the most compelling way to see the Great Wall of China is to hop on a plane and take a long holiday. Maybe stop by Hong Kong and pick up some cheap tech. What's the point of seeing it from my livingroom?"

    Maybe because not everyone can afford to go there or they may have young children perhaps?

    It's bloody obvious that being there is, of course better, than viewing it on a computer.

  14. Andy

    BBC Trials

    The BBC are currently trialing this on the programms "your britain in pictures" It's very impressive!

  15. Andy

    Yeah, Yeah, Bah and indeed Poo!

    I've got one of those 360 xbox things, that can stream 'all of my photos'

    from a Media Edition PC.... works a treat for about 4 photos then the xbox

    complains that the PC has been turned off or something... So yeah, I'm

    all for making the minute or so that the technology hangs together as

    pleasureable for the end user. Rotating and Zooming menus, great.

    While we're on the subject, I want my mobile phone with a hi-def screen/

    camera/torch/music player/animated menus cos that makes me happy

    when there's no reception. And another thing! I want my apple mac to

    store my 'mp3' in a format that doesn't work on anything other that apple

    kit. I want my 360 xbox to only stream video that is created on a windows

    PC with some esoteric MS codec, cos afterall MPEG is so last century. I

    also want my SONY dvd camcorder to record on mini disks that don't fit

    in a MAC, but do fit in a PC, and also for them NOT to record in DVD

    format, I want them to record in SONY's own proprietary format, which can

    only be extracted from the camera with SONY's 'picture tools' and stores

    it in a MPEG file which isn't MPEG compilant and doesn't play on my MAC!



    bah! and Poo!


  16. James Pickett


    "based on technology Microsoft acquired last year"

    'Look at what I just made' is not quite the same as 'look at what the company I just bought made', is it? Freedom to innovate? If only!

  17. Stu


    Now this would be cool used with that (not so) new multi-touch technology in the news recently - multi-fingered gestures control your motion around the 3D space.

    Tried out the live labs demo - its rather disturbing though if you click to a location without a photo and the camera ends up flying straight through some building photos to a different location, its psychologically more real because they're photos! Feels like youre flying thru stone.

    Perhaps they need to introduce hidden 'camera' removal and let the cam only move through space that is open - You could make the camera swoop around the virtual environment in a cool way, missing solid structures.

    Oh and for those MS v Apple dicks - get a life.

  18. Iain Cartledge

    Technology Demos

    A tech demo is not intended to be representative of the final product, it's only there to show off the underlying technology (usually with greatly reduced functionality), hence the name. This is why the specs of the demo are so limited. The base tech is amazing, now that that is established they can concentrate on making it multi-platform compatible, and sorting out some sliding scale of detail for different specs.

    However it is true, you should have spent the money you bought the Mac with on upgrading your PC. Not only would you have twice as much kit for your cash, you'd be helping the environment and wouldn't have to buy a new one in a few years time.

  19. Connor Garvey


    When do we reach the point at which the tinfoil hat brigade starts crying about Microsoft's invasion of privacy? If Google's one-time shot taken during a random drive-by of a location is too revealing, what about providing hundreds of photos of the same location? I'm sure you'll find plenty of shots of Notre Dame in which people in the foreground or background are in compromising positions.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No problems here...

    "Other problem: the technology demo, at least, requires a minimum of Windows XP and (I think) IE 7. Oh: AND a really gnarly video card/GPU thingy. It won't work on my two year old vanilla Dell system."

    Works perfectly on my 5 year old home built PC, with only 256MB of RAM, XP and Firefox 2 (No IE7 in sight for my computer). Not even slow, like most things, it's quite speedy - not sure what you've done wrong but it works fine!

    It's very impressive. I saw the video a week or so ago and tried out the demo straight away - I believe it stitches all the photos together automatically, so not a large setup as someone suggested. He said he just got it to scrape all the notre dame images from flickr and that was it.

  21. This post has been deleted by its author

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Implementation IS Innovation

    The best idea(s), in the world are worthless without successful implementation. Implementation is not just technical excellence it is a successful sales and marketing program that gets the products out to the people. Regardless of what some Reg hacks thing; implementation IS innovation.

    Millions of good ideas happen everyday but without implementation they are meaningless. Yeah MS for continuing to put more innovative products in the hands of the average user.

  23. Simon McMullan

    Genius spotted in the crowd in Venice

    Awesome demo - beats the hell out of explorer.

    I was flying around the demo and spotted Stephen Hawking in the Piazza San Marco, which was a bit weird to say the least. Having an espresso with a blurry waiter, it would appear.

    Link to the pic

  24. Don

    A big yawn

    Just like google street view - except you gotta download and install software before photosynth will run and when you do, you only get half a dozen locations.

    What are we supposed to be excited about? Apple did the 360 degree thing with quicktime about 15 years ago. So Microsoft took more photos to increase the resolution - big deal.

  25. Macka

    The ultimate thing to do with your holiday snaps

    What I find quite exciting about this is the possibility that I could go on holiday somewhere, take a load of snaps, upload them to the net and then marry them up with every other photo ever taken (on the net) of the same locations. I could then view those locations in loads more detail than I've managed to capture, and very likely see things that I missed on my trip.

    I'm genuinely impressed. I just hope that the technology doesn't get locked into one single company and we all get to benefit from this years from now whatever OS we choose to run.

  26. Tom Hawkins

    And the big deal is?

    So it looks like a moderately whizzy application for looking at pictures in sort of 3d. Am I missing something?

    "He even rotates this massive collection - yes, the entire collection - as if it were a single photograph."

    I'd have thought this was pretty trivial to implement if you'd had the chance to do the extensive pre-processing of that 'gigabyte after gigabyte' of data, as they clearly have done. Did anyone even edit this Microsoft press release before publishing it? I'll decide whether it bends my mind, thank you very much.

  27. buckminster

    YA glossy graphical UI

    I guess I just don't get it.

    It seems this spiffy photo browser UI provides a direct manipulation model that may be suitable for a new user but if personal productivity is important, it will be a hinderance for experienced people. Keep in mind that the "What you see is what you get" UI design approach is really "What you see is ALL you get". A glossy UI like the one used for photosynth may reduce the learning curve but it could really suck when you need to get things done as fast as possible.

    Now I'm not exactly new to this sort of thing. As a software developer I've used almost all the various windowing systems and window managers that have been released since the early 1980's beginning with an Apollo workstation and later on a Sun-2. I designed graphical interfaces for EDA tools and other CAD programs for a decade.

    Just my $0.0002 worth....


  28. Law

    omg - grow up!!

    I wish people would stop saying "oh god - how would I use it" or "yet another useless product".....

    This is about innovation... it's a cool demo of something we can hope to use to share photos and relive possible past experiences with in the future - we also don't have anything like it (commecially) at the moment.

    I bet the same people who complained today were like "if I need to make a phone call I will goto a phonebox" when mobiles came in, or "a camera with no film - whats the point in that?!" when the first digicams came in. Just because it doesn't fit into your little bubble now, doesn't mean it needs trashing.

    I work in the imaging field, and I can say that what they are doing is pretty awsome... so awsome I'm suprised M$ had the good sense to buy the company who were making it... I would have thought a flikr or picasa clone would have been cheaper!! :p I could almost see the guys pain when he said "I never thought I would see myself working for Microsoft"... he knows it's the end of his freedom to innovate outside the box!

  29. Chet Dowling

    Even in Texas it's impressive.

    With the exception of MS Bob, I've never seen the Geeks that make up our company's development team really impressed by anything until they viewed the Seadragon demo this morning. It has created quite a stir, a kind of geek frenzy, with everyone here... except, of course, our accountants.


    ‘Microsoft demos mind-bending photo app’

    "In March, at the annual Technology, Education, Design (TED) conference in Monterrey, California,...".

    Interesting article!

    But...Monterrey is in Mexico, Monterey is in California.

    Just Google to get it right.


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