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How To Create a Virtual Tour
What is a virtual tour Image Capture
The first step required to create a virtual tour is to capture the virtual tour images.  Virtual tour images are created by capturing a 360 degree image from the center point of view of the scene.  This is done by placing a specially equipped digital or film camera on a panoramic tripod head at the center point of the scene and rotating the camera as the image is captured.  Proper exposure compensation and other considerations are critical during this step in order to assure a high quality outcome.  Special attention should be given to areas of high contrast such as views through windows from interior spaces to exteriors.  These views are especially prone to washed out highlights and excessively dark shadows.  Expert camera exposure control is required for quality results.  Prices for hardware and software for image capture range from approximately $1,500.00 for a basic Ipix system to over $28,000.00 for a Panoscan system.
How do you view a virtual tour Post Capture Image Processing and Retouching
The second step required to create a virtual tour is to process and retouch your captured images.  This involves either; the stitching together, and retouching of separate images captured in sequence with a still camera, or retouching of a single image captured with a system such as the Panoscan.  It is important to note that regardless of the type of system used, image processing and retouching will be required to deliver a quality virtual tour image.  In fact, most of the time required to produce your virtual tour images will be spent in the image processing and retouching step.

Stitching software is available from a variety of vendors.  A popular system for real estate virtual tours is the Ipix system.  The Ipix system stitches together two 180 degree fisheye images captured with a digital camera.  The images are rounded at the corners due to the wide angle of the fisheye lens.  The Ipix software stitches and stretches the two 180 degree images into a spherical shape to provide what is described as a 360 by 360 virtual tour view.  There are a variety of digital cameras available with different configurations of the Ipix system.  The advantage of the Ipix system is low cost to purchase the system.  The disadvantages of the system are often poor image quality due to exposure compensation problems, and image distortion caused by the stretching of the two fisheye images to simulate the original rectilinear shape of many virtual tour scenes.

The Panoscan system is an automated high end image capture system which uses proprietary hardware and software.  The system produces a single virtual tour image in a variety of resolutions without the need for post capture image stitching.  This creates a  significant time savings for high volume applications.  The system captures a single virtual tour image by taking a continuous series of vertical image readings as the camera spins on a motorized tripod head.  The finished image is saved to disk as a 360 degree scene.  Post capture image processing and retouching are required for optimum quality results.  The nature of the Panoscan image capture method makes it intolerant of movement within the virtual tour scene.  This may create an issue in any virtual tour scenes which include people or other moving components of the scene.  The advantages of the Panoscan system are it's automated image capture, and time savings created by eliminating the need for post capture image stitching.  The disadvantages of the system are high cost to purchase the system and it's intolerance of movement within a virtual tour scene.
How is a virtual tour created Preparation For Web  or CD-ROM Deployment
The final step required to create a virtual tour is to prepare the virtual tour for deployment on the Web or CD-ROM.  Virtual tours can be deployed using plug-in or Java technologies.  A plug-in is a  helper application which works within a Web browser, or as a stand alone application.  Plug-ins are usually available free of charge as downloads on the Web.  The advantage of plug-ins is that they extend and improve a browser's capability by enabling the browser to play a wider and more robust selection of Web media.  Java is a language which is built into Netscape, Microsoft and AOL version 3.0 and later Web browsers.  Java based virtual tours are played using Java Applets.  The advantage of Java is that browsers do not require a plug-in to play virtual tours.  The disadvantage of Java based virtual tours is that they lack the performance and enhanced features capabilities of their plug-in counterparts.  A practical solution is to deploy your virtual tours in both a plug-in and Java based version.  This enables users with plug-in technology installed to take advantage of the plug-in's advanced features and performance capabilities, while ensuring that users without installed plug-ins are able to play your virtual tours without additional effort on their part.