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BBC show uses Microsoft tech for 3D imagery

Microsoft's Photosynth technology for stitching 2D images into a 3D realm will illustrate the How We Built Britain Web site.

Ever wonder what the English cathedral on the Isle of Ely looks like but don't have time for a trip to East Anglia? The British Broadcasting Corp. and Microsoft are trying to take you there virtually in a more vivid way than just a bunch of snapshots on a Web site.

The BBC is using Microsoft's Photosynth software to provide 3D tours of famous buildings
The BBC is using Microsoft's Photosynth software to provide 3D tours of famous buildings. Microsoft

The BBC is using Microsoft's Photosynth 3D imaging software to provide views of prominent British buildings in conjunction with a new TV show, How We Built Britain.

Photosynth constructs three-dimensional structures by stitching together multiple two-dimensional images, and users can fly around a virtual world and examine details. The BBC Photosynth incarnation works over the Web as an ActiveX control, but it requires high-powered graphics hardware. (I couldn't immediately get it to work with either Internet Explorer 6.0 or Firefox 2.0, though both are allegedly supported--maybe I'll try the manual installation.)

"By clicking and dragging their mouse, visitors to the site can explore each building, zooming in to see the smallest decorative detail, or zooming out and panning 360 degrees to place the building in a wider context," Microsoft said of the technology.

The Photosynth images will be updated with new photos submitted by the public, Microsoft said. The BBC is using photo-sharing site Flickr for image uploads.

Sites that can be viewed are Ely Cathedral, Burghley House, the Royal Crescent, Bath, the Scottish Parliament buildings and the Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

Microsoft Live Labs architect Blaise Aguera y Arcas demonstrated Photosynth on video at the TED conference in March.