3D virtual tours vs Google Street View?

by Dec 27, 2020News

When it comes to comparing 3D virtual tours VS Google Street View Virtual Tour, you may have thought that it’s likely some kind of a 3D model. It is one of the most common mistakes I get asked about. Most people don’t know the difference between 3D virtual tours and what is in fact a 2D virtual tour. 

2D vs 3D Virtual Tours

Just because you can move around inside a virtual tour does not mean it’s 3D. And it’s not that they could not move around in a 3D virtual tour nor that 3D virtual tours don’t exist. They do. Remember that the “D” is for dimension. And unless you add in information about distance from you or depth of field as it’s known in photography parlance, then it’s not 3D. 

Almost all virtual tours are shot using a single point of view from the camera. That is what makes it 2D. If a virtual tour was in fact 3D, it would require two camera lenses set apart about the same distance our eyes are on our faces. Then, you would be able to get the effect that we have naturally in being to judge distance and depth perception.  

Here’s the really cool thing. Our brains are so good at guessing how far two objects are from each other, even with only 2 dimensions. That’s why we really don’t need 3D to still feel sufficiently immersed in an image.  

To get a bit more technical (and it’s OK if you skip this part if you’re not interested), the world of 3D is a far more complex place to recreate. The big difference is that you have to deal with an effect called parallax. 

Defining parallax

So what’s parallax? The best way to describe parallax is by simply looking at an object relatively close to you where you can also see something else clearly behind it at some distance. Now try covering one of your eyes with your hand and then shift your hand over to cover the other eye. Did you notice that it’s as if things in your field of view were moving? Did you also notice that what you were seeing in the background changed when you shifted from one eye covered to the other? That is parallax.  

Now imagine trying to recreate that effect with a camera. Or should I say, either a 3D camera which would in fact be 2 cameras, spaced similarly to your eyes?  That’s the basic image capture that would be needed to create 3D. The next challenge is to imagine that everything you’ve just seen has to be published. So that means doubling all the content. That means a lot more information you have to download whatever you are looking at. It also means that the effect is only able to be recreated properly if you are wearing a VR headset. 

Desktop vs Mobile virtual tours

So much for just showing a virtual tour on your desktop, right? And what if you’re using a mobile device and the signal is slow or poor over the internet so you then have a really unpredictable experience. 

It’s not that I don’t like 3D. I do. It’s really amazing and yes, it is more immersive than a simple 2D virtual tour. But when you take into consideration all the technical issues that may make it hard to show, it doesn’t make sense, at least not yet. Maybe someday when we all can have guaranteed solid high-speed internet connections, maybe then it may be worthwhile, as long as you’re willing to pay for all the extra time it takes for content creators to do all the extra work in capturing and publishing the images. 

Focus on value and user experience with Google Street View

For now, let’s keep it simple, affordable and easy to consume. Google Street View is all 2D and we’re not disappointed for the most part with that experience. It works. We get to see what we need to learn more about the places we may go to. 

You’ll notice that I didn’t address the video in this article. That’s a separate issue but also another common misconception about what a virtual tour is and requires a bit more to describe virtual tour hosting.

In the meantime, remember, when talking about a virtual tour, it’s not likely ever to be 3D. 2D for the most part is the better choice anyway.