Product Review: PixMaker Lite (Part 2)
Send In The Clones...
The biggest problem with me testing this program was that my office is such a mess, my wife threatened dire consequences if I showed the inside of our house "around" the Web. So I decided to take some pictures of the cockpit of my boat (a Chapparal 2050 SLC, in case anyone's interested, since I'm going to be selling it), and I figured I'd take advantage of the time paradox inherent in assembling multiple photos. If you have Java installed in your browser, therefore, you are presumably already seeing the result below, so I must point out that I do not actually have four identical cute sons :-)
Now, perhaps this wasn't actually the best possible set of conditions to show off what can be done with this kind of software, but it's a pretty good result considering the inside of the boat is only about 6' wide (that's 2 meters anywhere but here in the U.S.).
The problem here is that, in order to show anything inside the boat at all, I had to use a fairly wide angle lens (the equivalent of a 24 mm. lens on a "regular" camera), and this causes distortion on objects very close to the camera. That's why the Stevens sitting in the front seats look a bit more, er, unusual than the Steven sitting in the cabin and the one on the back seat (both of which were far enough away to avoid the distortion). That's also part of the reason why their heads are missing...aligning everything made some of the vertical information disappear when the stitching took place, since it's kind of difficult to keep a camera completely level when turning it 360 degrees in a boat that's sitting on a tilted trailer.
Under more normal conditions, therefore, all the pictures I took would have simply been automatically "stitched" together by PixMaker Lite pretty much perfectly. Because of the distortion, though, I had to use the manual stitching procedure for best results, which lets you select two images and move one of them (with the mouse or arrow keys...and you can actually bump it a pixel at a time) until it lines up perfectly with the other. You repeat until you get a result that you like.
If this doesn't start giving you lots of ideas, take a look at this example of what can be done in a real estate application (and then read the fine print and realize that you're being shown a house in Singapore). Or visit the Raffles Hotel(also in Singapore, which is where PixAround.com got started).
The coolest thing about this application (as opposed to similar technologies that require VRML or other plugins), is that it doesn't require a lot of support on the viewer's end. Once you've created the rotatable JPG file with PixMaker Lite, it can be "tweaked" in any normal graphics editor like PhotoShop and even optimized for file size, as long as you don't change the proportions. All you have to do is put up a tiny 13 KB Java applet and almost anyone (except perhaps WebTV viewers) can see the image with full control of zoom and rotation.
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This article first appeared in May, 2000.