I have been meaning to write a story about some of the significant improvements to Microsoft’s Virtual Earth (VE) beta 3D application and data and how it compares to Google Earth. In particular, I’ve wanted to highlight the fact that you can now use 3DConnexion‘s SpaceNavigator with VE 3D and fly around just like you can in Google Earth (a big improvement for moving around in VE 3D by the way). I still plan to make a video demonstration and review. But, Dr. Andrew Hudson-Smith, of DigitalUrban Blog, has just posted some video showing some flying demonstrations with a SpaceNavigator in VE 3D showing the new 3D buildings of the entire UK cities of Brighton and Swindon. He also has just released one of Buffalo, New York. Microsoft’s system of automatically generating 3D models of cities from complex multi-angle aerial photos, while expensive, is definitely producing some impressive 3D model results. The 3D models in Google Earth can have more detail and better appearance, but the volume of new buildings Microsoft is producing is impressive. Although it still only runs on Windows (they do now support the Firefox browser).
[UPDATE 1800 ET: Microsoft VE product manager responds to a couple of points from my comments. He says many of the buildings for their 3D cities have to be hand made because they aren't generated well algorithmically (e.g. the Space Needle he says). And, he points out it cost more up front to get the technology to generate these buildings, but on a per building basis the cost is much lower than doing them by hand. I'd really like to hear how much it cost both to buy the technology, AND to capture all the aerial photography for each city they have generated 3D models for, and finally the cost to both process algorithmically and build the necessary custom models. Of course, Google isn't revealing the cost for their data acquisition or processing either.]
Here is the first video from DigitalUrban:
and here is the one of Buffalo: