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IPIX gets the big picture

Interactive Pictures readies a package of hardware and software that will let photographers create complete panoramic images in minutes.

Taking a virtual tour through a photo-realistic house will get a bit easier today.

Interactive Pictures plans to introduce a package of hardware and software that will let photographers create "immersive" photographs--complete panoramic images--in a few minutes, executives said. The $14,995 package, called IPIX Digital Camera System, includes a digital camera, a "fish-eye" lens, and special Windows 95 photography software for producing images.

Formerly known as OmniView, Interactive Pictures is taking on Apple Computer's QuickTime Virtual Reality, a similar image format that provides users with a 360-degree panoramic view. But company executives say their technology is superior because it lets users pan up and down--to the ceiling of a church or the floor of a kitchen, for example--giving users a wider scope than Apple's technology provides.

"This is the only solution where you get the whole picture," said chief executive James Phillips. "You can see the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel."

Although its picture format has been around for more than a year, Interactive Pictures has closely guarded its technology, requiring photographers to send their images to the company for processing. Now, Phillips said, the company is giving photographers and designers control over their images through equipment and software that lets them assemble IPIX panoramas themselves.

The company offers a viewer that operates as a browser plug-in so that users can pan around images on a Web site. Interactive Pictures also offers a standalone viewer program for CD-ROMs.

Part of its new digital camera package is a special rotator attachment for a camera tripod that lets photographers snap the two wide-angle pictures necessary to stitch together a panorama. In addition to the expense of the package, Web sites or CD-ROM developers who publish an IPIX photo must pay the company a one-time fee of $50 per image.