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Microsoft Adds 3D Buildings to Virtual Earth

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, November 06, 2006, at 05:34PM

Downtown LA in Virtual Earth 3D Today Microsoft launched Virtual Earth 3D for 15 cities, one of which is Los Angeles.

The 3D functionality is a Windows and IE-only plugin that adds photorealistic(-ish) 3d models to the map and lets you pan, tilt, etc. If you're on Win/IE, go to one of the links above and click on the 3D tab in the navigation options. That'll give you download instructions for the helper you have to install.

It'll be really interesting to see how Microsoft pulled this off. They've got an amazing coverage of buildings, better than any of the datasets I know of. That makes it seem likely that MS commissioned flights and then developed (or acquired) software to generate 3d models from sets of differently angled aerials.

Update (Tuesday Noon): After the link from Curbed LA I added some more examples of why this is interesting.

Curbed LA linked to this post this morning , and that always makes me feel like I should add a little more to the story.

Same Shot With Textures First of all, Curbed does a very poor job with the screenshot they include on their post. Here's the same view if you wait to let the textures load in -- quite a difference, eh?

Now you see where the "photo-realistic" part comes from. You also see how interesting the building models are.

Same Shot With Textures Take a look at this model of the Caltrans building. I'd compare with Google Earth's 3D models, but Google's Sanborn-licensed data doesn't include either City Hall or Caltrans.

When you get in close the limits of the modeling technique come into view (for instance the awning over the Caltrans courtyard is rendered as a block), but on the whole it does a great job of giving a good impression of the building. You would see the Caltrans building online, or see City Hall online, and instantly recognize it in real life.

Same Shot With Textures One last interesting view, this time of the Talladega Nights ad adorning the north side of the Hotel Figueroa. Just past that you can see a Disneyland 50th anniversary ad where the 76 ball used to sit.

Floating in the sky you can see one of the billboards MS is running. They're very inobtrusive, though a little visually jarring.

It sucks that this is Win/IE only, but it's a fascinating tech demo if nothing else. MS has hugely upped the ante in 3D buildings, not just online but in what's available commercially as well.

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