The history of virtual tours

The History of Virtual Tours

The history of virtual tours

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.

360 photography            

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

            Early in history, interactive 360 virtual tours were almost exclusively built using Flash. Adobe Flash was a platform that many websites used to play video. YouTube even used Flash when it launched in 2005. (Fisher). The drawback of Flash is that it required an external plugin so did not work natively in all browsers. It was processing-power intensive so slowed down websites, and it simply did not work on mobile. Virtual tours were a huge hit, with many colleges, hospitals, real estate companies, and other types of businesses using them to market their services or locations. But they were still bulky, difficult to navigate and didn’t work on all browsers and devices. Now we are in the era of the next level of virtual tours. Software allows Virtual Tours to be viewed on virtually all devices and browsers. Not only have camera resolutions improved, and often 360 cameras are employees, but Virtual Tours are now made using HTML5, and they work on virtually all browsers and devices. What is HTML5? It is a new and improved version of HTML. It was designed with objectives such as making code easier to read for screen readers and users. It promotes design responsiveness and consistency across browsers, supports multimedia without the need for Flash and other plugins, and reduces the overlap between HTML, CSS and JavaScript. (Fitzgerald). Another enhancement that evolved at this time was a wider use of HDR photography, allowing of richer and more vibrant virtual tours to be created.

The gyroscope

            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.

Virtualtech Design creates virtual tours of hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living and healthcare facilities of all types.

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