Impressive Upgrade to Virtual Earth 3D

Well, Microsoft has been working hard. Last night they released a major upgrade to Virtual Earth that includes some impressive new features. Here’s an excellent summary of the new features by Microsoft Steve Lombardi. NOTE: you will have to install the new version when you go to visit the Virtual Earth site – virtualearth.com and click on the 3D option. Let me summarize the key new features I see from a Google Earth perspective:

  1. Virtual Earth 3D Las Vegas in Google Earth

    Improved 3D buildings – Virtual Earth 3D already had more buildings with consistent quality textures (compared to GE). But, the texture resolution was low. They’ve now upgraded the texture resolution, increased the range of coverage to suburb areas, AND are now rendering trees as well! So far, only Las Vegas, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix have this new “version 2″ upgrade. But, they promise hundreds of cities by the end of the year. Here’s my initial impression: Models for the first city I tried took a while to load, but not terribly slow. Textures definitely look better, although not a huge increase in resolution. For some reason anti-aliasing is not working on my computer so edges on models look jaggy. The trees look really good – at least in Las Vegas. If they are automatically rendering trees from photogrammetry, I’m really impressed! [UPDATE 1030 ET: Steve pointed me to a new blog post, by Jerry Skaw of Microsoft, sharing more details about the 3D rendering. And the trees are automatically generated - and it matches my guess at how they would do it. See the post for more details and screenshots.]

  2. Export to KML – Microsoft has added the ability to export collections (their equivalent of placemarks) to KML, GPX, and GeoRSS. This means you can now save collections to files and use them in other things like Google Earth, or put placemarks on your GPS. Another step in improving functionality for practical use.

  3. 3D Modeling Improved Also – Steve also mentions that their 3D modeling tool, 3DVidia, was also upgraded. I’ll have to look at it, but the earlier version didn’t seem as good as SketchUp.

  4. Bird’s Eye Enhanced – You can now see street/map labels inside Bird’s Eye views. This is a cool trick in projection since the photos are taken at different angles. It makes Bird’s Eye much more useful as well. Cool feature!

  5. MapCruncher integration – MapCruncher is Microsoft’s application that lets you place maps and photos over a location very accurately. They’ve now integrated this with Virtual Earth 3D. I haven’t tested this yet. But, since VE3D was missing a way to put image overlays into their world, this is a step in the right direction. I just wonder how hard it will be to use. GE has a very easy and intuitive interface for adding image overlays. But, it doesn’t have the ability to accurately project them into other than rectangular overlays.

  6. Explore Collections – Steve called this GeoWeb Explorations. It’s kind of like dynamically searching for user content as you move your view. Something I think Google Earth should be doing as well. You find the option in VE3D under the “Collections->Explore” option in the upper right. They have added the ability to filter your searches by KML, or other tags that appear in your scene. And, you can filter based on photos, OR 3D models. I’m guessing Microsoft has developed their own equivalent of 3D Warehouse with a few models. I haven’t found a lot of models available in this mode yet.

  7. Movie Capture – Microsoft has a new capability to make movies and even claim the ability to capture up to HD quality movies. Google Earth Pro does not do a good job of capturing movies at higher frame rates (probably due to using the built-in Microsoft video codec). But, I use Fraps and can capture HD for GE anyway.

  8. Real-time Traffic – Microsoft has a new traffic application called ClearFlow that allows it to predict traffic patterns based on other traffic data. This sounds like impressive stuff. See the NY Times article, and Mickey says some good stuff about it at Digital Earth Blog. Mickey also notes what they really need is a mobile version – which I’m sure will come eventually.

  9. Improved KML Support – Steve says they can support KML files with a new “&mapurl=” parameter – meaning you can add the URL of a KML file without having to load it inside the app. He notes this means you can view a Google Mays MyMap inside Virtual Earth. Interesting! I tried this, but it is a little tricky. Steve gives example URLs for how to use the new parameter. You then look for the “View in Google Earth” inside your Google MyMaps and copy that link as your URL.

Overall – I would say this is a significant upgrade to Virtual Earth. The new features have some impressive capabilities. I’m obviously a big fan of Google Earth, so my opinion may be slanted. But, I still feel the Virtual Earth 3D interface is not as friendly or smooth as Google Earth. It will be interesting to see whether the inclusion of MapCruncher makes it easier for people to add content like image overlays. The enhancement to the 3D buildings is welcome, as is the slick addition of labels for Bird’s Eye imagery. The 3D buildings (and trees!) and Bird’s Eye imagery are still the main two attractions for me to use Virtual Earth 3D. But, not enough for me to use it every day.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was released. He worked in 3D graphics for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank left in 2009 to circumnavigate the earth by sailboat as part of the Tahina Expedition.



Comments

  1. FWIW, “&mapurl=” isnt ‘new’ its been there a while, I think this update just improves the number of KML elements understood :) (including network-links – which is what was preventing MyMaps working easily before I beleive)

  2. I’ve just noticed that VE now works in Safari 3. Am I slow in the uptake, or is this new since the latest VE update?
    Fab either way!

  3. now if only they supported linux for their site….

  4. Well here’s something also worth nothing – Users in the UK are now directed to MultiMap – where we receive the same Virtual Earth data, but only a fraction of the features – no more 3D, links don’t even work, they’ve even reverted back to a ‘static image’ way of navigation. Expect allot of UK users coming your way real soon!

  5. As I blogged this morning, the new features of Live Maps sound great, but UK users have been blocked from the service:
    Microsoft adds great new features to Live Maps, blocks UK visitors.

  6. Andrew Jones says:

    In regards to UK visitors being currently blocked I read on another blog that they could go to: http://maps.live.com/?mkt=en-us and get around the block.

  7. Ok, I think I’m going to switch to Live Maps now. Not that Google’s solution is bad, but I really think the Virtual Earth platform is somewhat better than what Google has.
    And there’s other things that have been on Live Maps way before Gmaps and this update. I think I’m going full time.

  8. I admit that I’m impressed with some of the aspects of this upgrade. But, I simply cannot help but make note of something — and in turn wonder who exactly their branding coordinator is over there. “ClearFlow”? Think about that for just a second, and perhaps you’ll dribble your coffee as I did.
    And I really mean no disrespect to Microsoft in regards to such an observation. It must just be my sick little mind that notices these sorts of things, that’s all.
    But yes — decent upgrade. I clap.

  9. And at Quickboy:
    You’re trying a little too hard through all the blogs, bud. I’m also willing to be open and say — the upgrade also wasn’t ‘that good’.
    But it is good. I’ll throw them that.

  10. The detail and lighting of trees is outstanding. Check out this closeup of locust tree foliage at http://www.flickr.com/photos/roddh/2406568948/
    Job well done!

  11. I’m very impressed with the trees in Virtual Earth. In aerial views you see hundreds (or 1000s) of trees, and as you get close you see individual leaves and foliage structure.
    I published a couple photos here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/roddh/2404799837/in/set-72157602457155082/

  12. The quality of GE surfaces and Images in the UK are just too poor to be of much use these days. Also Google have changed the API to restrict the number of points we can get out of the surface to a 5000 (down from 10000 in older versions). The VE surface is more accurate and the images are just more up to date (on most of the area’s I have visited recently) so it’s my first choice at the moment. In my opinion GE still has the better interface, but when the image and the surface is number one in my list, VE is the answer.

  13. It looks like an absolutely fantastic download!!!!

  14. john doe says:

    The newest release of Google Earth is very impressive and the problem with VE is that they just laid off 30% of the team that was supporting this product in Boulder, CO. So not sure how they are going to release “hundreds” of cities in the future…

  15. “john doe” obviously worked with me ;) It’s very disappointing the powers that be in Redmond decided to push their layoffs to a remote office instead of dealing with things in their own backyard.
    The production team was decimated by the layoffs and there’s no way they will be able to keep production going the way it was. I guess when the stuff we had been doing the last few months gets uploaded to the site, the new imagery will slow to a trickle. Unfortunately the oblique/BirdsEye stuff in some cases is 4-6 years old so that’s not very helpful in some cases.
    On the plus side there’s quite a team of image production geeks available immediately in Boulder!

  16. ahmed shika says:

    excellent innovation

  17. Cool stuff, it’s a shame they remove it but the birds eye view is nice.

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