Virtual Earth Bird’s Eye Views in 3D – Seen in Google Earth First

Microsoft has announced a new capability for showing their excellent Bird’s Eye photography in a new way. The Bird’s Eye (BE) photography are oblique (at an angle) photos taken from aircraft. Microsoft has been offering views of this imagery through their 2D mapping software (aka Virtual Earth 2D) for quite some time. The neat thing is that for cities with the BE photography you can look at any point from 4 different directions (North, South, East, and West). The photography was taken by planes flying in a grid over a city.
Now Microsoft is releasing a way to view the Bird’s Eye photos from within the 3D interface. It uses a method somewhat similar to their PhotoSynth software where you can see outlines of the photos before the real photo is loaded. This works particularly well when combined in cities which Microsoft has 3D models of the buildings (which is a great deal of cities now – Microsoft has been adding dozens of cities with 3D and BE every month). You can watch a YouTube video of what it looks like:

What you may not know is that there was already a method for accomplishing something similar inside Google Earth – literally showing the Virtual Earth Bird’s Eye views while viewing 3D views. Don’t believe me? Then check out this story about GlobeGlider written in May. GlobeGlider lets you mashup Virtual Earth with Google Earth. Watch this video demonstration of combining Google Earth with Virtual Earth and the Bird’s Eye imagery (the BE part starts about 2:28 from the end):

In any case, I think Microsoft’s move to add Bird’s Eye views this way will probably draw more attention to their very useful BE photography. And, I think the way they’ve combined 3D views with BE so seamlessly is really excellent. (UPDATE: Now that I’ve had a chance to play with the new feature – I really like it a lot! Simply point at a location with the mouse and it automatically finds the best BE view. It works really well!) Theoretically, using the new PhotoOverlay in GE 4.2, you could overlay images in a similar fashion – if Microsoft were to release the position and camera angle information data for each BE photo. But, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Anyway, kudos to Microsoft for their new feature! via O’Reilly Radar
Also from Microsoft’s press announcement: there are now nearly 200 cities in 3D in Virtual Earth, and they claim to be now allowing search results of content from user-generated content for Virtual Earth as well as support for KML (more on this later).

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. You correctly write that the interface is somewhat similar to PhotoSynth. So how can you say that globeglider already did this? It’s no where near this type of interface.

  2. Mark Douma says:

    Do you know how to print or save to disk a bird’s eye view at maximum magnification, e.g., 20 yards?

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