New Ground-Level View in Google Earth 6

GEB takes an expert look at the new features in Google Earth 6. We have had a chance to play with some of the powerful new features and content. And we have a few important tips and observations to share.
As you know, Google Earth 6 was just released and has some amazing new features. The major focus of this release is focused on the “Ground-Level View”. As you approach the ground, Google Earth 6 will automatically shift you into Ground-Level mode, which provides a great way for you to browse around while anchored to the ground. (That’s the default behavior anyway – more on this later.)


This enhanced realism (3D trees, better handling of close-up 3D views – first released in 5.2) from the ground-level is a great addition to Google Earth, so Frank and I have been testing the new release. Keep eading for GEB’s observations and tips.

Getting to Ground-Level

By default, you can simply zoom into the Earth and it will automatically switch you to Ground-Level View, as seen in the image above. The Ground-Level mode is a whole new experience in Google Earth. It provides a new way to see all the 3D data Google, and millions of SketchUp modelers, have been adding in to Google Earth. We’ll talk more about how to move around next – and then we’ll have tips for experienced users to combine the best of the old ways of using Google Earth with this new feature. And, there’s an even faster way to get to Ground-Level in our tips below.
To exit Ground-Level, simply click the “Exit ground-level view” button located in the top-right corner of your screen.

Moving Around on the Ground

Once you’re in Ground-Level mode, you have a variety of ways in which you can move around. Those of you who love your Space Navigator will find it is disabled while you’re in this mode (but, read on for a solution!).
Mouse: You can use the scroll wheel on your mouse to “drive” and you can click/drag to move the view around and change directions. You can double-click on any location in front of you to fly directly there.
Keyboard: Use the arrow keys to drive around. If you use the Page Up key, you’ll go faster (or Page Down to slow down). Hold [ALT] with the arrow keys to move more slowly. Hold [CTRL] (or “Command” on Mac) and up/down arrows to tilt your view.

Tips for Experienced GE Users

Experienced GE users may find it annoying that, out-of-the-box, you can’t zoom with GE 6 close into high-res imagery like you’re used to. That’s because you’ll get switched to Ground-Level mode before you can get close enough. You can go to Tools > Options (or “Preferences” on Mac) and choose the “Navigation” tab. On the right you’ll see three options. Choose either of the top two to disable the automatic Ground-Level entry. Leaving the Ground-Level mode also enables you to fly close in with the Space Navigator as well (if you have one). I think most experienced GE users will want to change to one of these options. Especially with the tip below.


Now it seems you have a new problem — how do you get into Ground-Level mode? No worries. Just grab the Street View Peg-man with your mouse from the navigation controls and drop him into your view. If Street View imagery is available in that area, you’ll go to that mode (you can toggle back to 3D mode by using the controls in the top-right corner). If no Street View imagery is available, you’ll simply go to Ground-Level View. This tip makes it fast and easy to zoom straight into Ground-Level mode any time.

Street View

The same controls work in Street View mode, and it’s great! Being able to “drive” in Street View is an excellent experience. Much better even than with Google Maps.
The one downside is that you essentially lose the “zoom” feature that you’re used to with Street View imagery. The up arrow will somewhat zoom into buildings, but it’s not nearly the freedom you have when you’re in Google Maps. Hopefully, Google will fix this missing feature before GE 6 leaves beta. Bring back the zoom Google!
Another neat thing to do is to compare the Street View imagery with the 3D view (using the selector in the upper right). Its especially cool to compare the new auto-generated 3D trees to the reality of a Street View image. We’re getting a lot closer to reality in the virtual globe world!

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.


  1. First, I’m sure GEB readers appreciate these reviews and tips, although I’ve found that GE 6 requires later than Mac OSX 10.4 which I use, so I can’t try out the new features.
    But surely automatic switch to Ground Level View after zooming in can only happen where there is either Street View imagery and/or 3D buildings – only a small fraction of the globe. And in such areas what happens when you navigate (zoomed in) between open country without streets or buildings and urban areas?
    Personally I prefer be able to zoom in to high res aerial imagery in GE, and to use Google Maps for Street View as the latter is stable and rarely crashes, unlike SV in GE.

  2. (Personally I prefer be able to zoom in to high res aerial imagery in GE, and to use Google Maps for Street View as the latter is stable and rarely crashes, unlike SV in GE.)
    I agree 🙂

  3. It seems that street view is only available if you have the navigation controls visible. If you set them to “never show” or “compass only”, then you can’t access street view.

  4. You mentioned that there was a solution for Space Navigator not working in street level view. I don’t see that. Are you saying that being able to “drive around” with the cursors is the “solution”? I don’t think so. When you’re as addicted to SN as I am, you don’t want to ever let your left hand leave it!
    Space Navigator never did work inside Street View. I was hoping you’d come up with something different for Street Level View. Oh, well…

  5. A minor observation: When we were in beta for 5.2, we had the ability to see the area measurement for a polygon, something that had only been available for the Pro users. In particular, had it working correctly. Then, they put out the official and that area measurement was gone, back to Pro land I guess.
    I was hoping that this new would give it back to us free users. Nope, no such luck. It’s not there.

  6. is unusable for me. (Win7 ultimate 64-bit). Cpu is immediately and constantly at 100% and memory is leaking massivly, reaching >3GB very soon before crashing shortly thereafter.
    Version 5 was running fine.

  7. Ground level view is fantastic! I tried it out in Disney World and navigating though the parks was so much easier! I only wish you could climb ramps and stairs. They need to put some kind of clipping on the 3D buildings.

  8. 3D TREES as Google will only ever be able to model a tiny fraction of all the trees in the world, as as it is reasonably easy to interpret types of forest and even species of trees from aerial images (the higher the resolution the better), perhaps Google could divert some resource from 3D trees to creating, or supporting a partner to create, a global key to broad regional forest, woodland, and plantation types as seen in GE imagery, supported by illustrations at ground level and of what the crowns (vertical view) of important species look like.
    It could also cover evidence of forest clearance and regeneration as seen in GE, and such interpretive information could be extended to other features.
    This would be of great benefit to understanding what is happening to our planet.

  9. Another cool idea would be procedural high-texture terrain generation based on aerial imagery. Imagine having a Google Earth that looks like the Outerra 3D engine from ground level:

    Eventually, Google could also sell the 3D high-res terrain to game studios.

  10. i wished the ground navigation would work more like a first person shooter: navigation with wasd (it works already) and using the mouse to steer the viewrotation. i you click you should get a cursor to navigate the menus…clicking again should put the mode back to viewrotation.

  11. Win 7 64bit, running GE6, memory leak, tops over 2 gig in minutes and it keeps rising, running dead slow because of it… Tried it on a second system win win 7 64bit again, same prob… BIG OOPS for GOOGLE!!! Hope its resolved soon!!!

  12. So far for me on Win 7 x64 GE6 is running with a stable 435 Mb virtual memory usage, don’t see a memory leak problem yet.
    On my system, the GE6 installer shutdown Firefox without asking, installed Chrome without asking, and set it to default browser, which I place in the category of “doing evil”.

  13. @ scott s thanks for your comment about CHROME which no one else had mentioned, especially Google in their launch. Did you, or can you, uninstall Chrome and have GE 6 fully functioning?

  14. gootgle earth 6 keeps crashing on me. i really enjoy the ground level

  15. The installer does not ask you if you want to install Chrome and set it as the default browser. Clearly this is the result of an evil company trying to sneak its products onto your computer. Only, Google actually does ask before you download the installer, on the same page that has the terms of use.
    As far as the new ground-level mode goes, it is clear to me that it is aimed at the FPS or MMORPG community, possibly with Google Me integration.

  16. works great.Windows XP pro,,,no issues whatsoever.One thing missing at street view now however, is that you cannot zoom-in any more.

  17. I also notice for the first time that Rain and snow animation!!is this a new feature?

  18. @ jvangeld CHROME maybe I get a different version of the downloads page you have linked by accessing it from Mac OSX 10.4, which the page tells me is not supported by GE10.6, but there is is NO mention of Chrome whatsoever on the page or as far as I can see in the terms.

  19. I dont like the new implementation of street view in google earth 6 and this is why: I cant zoom in street view pictures to see more details, when I try it I move from my place. I dont see the street view man when i get close to new york and theres not an option on layers to enable it.

  20. Marco Rossi says:

    I tried Google Earth 6, but when I discovered they removed the zoom function in Street View, I immediately reinstalled the previous version. It was really useful! Thumb down… (btw I also experienced some crashes, but no news here)

  21. (Personally I prefer be able to zoom in to high res aerial imagery in GE, and to use Google Maps for Street View as the latter is stable and rarely crashes, unlike SV in GE.)
    Could not agree more

  22. krz9000 — That’s a great idea! That’d be really slick.
    Rob — That’s not a new feature, but it sure is pretty cool!

  23. I don’t like this version. I get a feeling of motion sickness. I miss using my scroll wheel when in street view to zoom in, or pull back from a picture. So far no crashes in Win 7 64 bit.

  24. I have a few problems with this version. It seems really jerky on my computer and takes ages to load. The problem with the street view zoom is annoying too.

  25. Can you stop Google earth from automaticly going into ground mode when zooming… is there a setting… This new automatic feature sucks…

  26. @Frank Miklos — No problem. See the section above titled “Tips for Experienced GE Users” to see how to change that setting.

  27. many comments about V6 crashing . My computer too
    Why is there no reply from anyone??

  28. Much preferred the old version of street view with the little camera icons. The zoom with the mouse wheel was much more accurate. Now when using the mouse wheel the camera moves along the road rather than zooms in. Not good for viewing parking restriction signs etc.

  29. When exiting ground-level view, why doen’t GE go back to a vertical mode. It is annoying to have it remain in a oblique angle view. It SHOULD go back to vertical.

  30. I read above: “Once you’re in Ground-Level mode, you have a variety of ways in which you can move around. Those of you who love your Space Navigator will find it is disabled while you’re in this mode (but, read on for a solution!).”
    Then, later:
    “Leaving the Ground-Level mode also enables you to fly close in with the Space Navigator as well (if you have one).
    I don’t follow that. I cannot get my SN to work at all in either Ground or Street Views.
    Can anyone clarify please?

    Terry, East Grinstead, UK

  31. Who can solve my problem? Whenever I zoom out more then 4.000 kms the earth picture turns into a blank circle. So I have to zoom in at a distance of less than 4.000 kms and then the earth appears again.
    Please explain in simple words, because
    a) I’m German and my English is not really perfect and
    b) I’m just a computer user and not very experienced in computing.

  32. All I get in Street view is a flat piece of land and no street view whatsoever. I totally give up with it. It used to be great, but for me now, is a waste of space.

Leave a Reply