History of Virtual Tours
The first version of virtual tours in history were essentially slideshows. They allowed a person to, step by step, view a series of slides, or photos in a way that allowed them to feel like they were touring a property or destination. These could be photos in brochures or online on company and property websites. They were obviously limited in the way a photograph is – there was no 360° aspect, no interactivity (except allowing a person to move from slide to slide), and no additional features.
Video Tours – a historical virtual tour
Shortly thereafter, virtual tours in the next step of history were made using video. A person with a camera, either professional or amateur, would walk around a location or destination and take a video, and provide narration of what the user will be looking at. They were more dynamic than picture slideshows, but very limited in multimedia (hotspots are not possible) and limited in interactivity. All a person can do is forward and rewind. It is a linear activity and does not allow a user to choose what they see next, or at least not easily. The user is in effect at the mercy of the videographer’s choices when they recorded the virtual tour.
Eventually, over history, 360° photography began to be utilized in the creation of virtual tours. 360 degree panoramas were made using a fisheye lens to capture specific areas of a sphere and those photos were then “stitched” together to create one large panorama that includes a full 360 degree, floor to ceiling view. Software then projected the image onto a flat screen to allow a user to explore the sphere as they wished – up, down, and side to side. Google was a pioneer of this early type of virtual tour. However, they were often pixelated, low resolution and did not include any extra multimedia such as hotspots or audio voiceovers. However, we crossed the line into interactivity.
Interactivity over the history of virtual tours
Virtual tours on mobile devices often have an added perk, new to the history of virtual tours. They use the phone’s internal gyroscope to allow for enhanced interactivity. Just tilting your phone can cause the tour to scroll right or left, or up or down. You can navigate the tour without clicking anything. This opened the door to virtual tours being usable on VR headsets now as well. Many people find VR headsets bulky and not necessary for a virtual tour, although they do have a “wow” factor.