I was working on a story about something completely different today when I came across this intriguing digital image technology they’ve been working on for a while over at Microsoft Research. The team sums up their not-too-lofty goal for their HD View technology as follows: “…to create the best picture given (a) a source with high resolution, arbitrary dynamic range, any field of view & color gamut; (b) the user’s interaction; and (c) the display being used.”
HD View allows for smooth panning and zooming of extremely high resolution images which have been stitched together from hundreds or thousands of individual images using tools like Microsoft’s free Image Composite Editor. The HD View software can automatically correct for the appropriate perspective as you zoom in and out of the incredibly detailed photographs.
In addition to providing the ability to pan and scroll and zoom your way around insanely intricate images, the latest release (Beta 3) provides support for high dynamic range (HDR) images, which preserve a much wider color and light gamut than ordinary digital photographs. There’s also the ability to automatically adjust the tone and dynamic range of parts of an image as you zoom in to a particular section of a large photo, bringing out detail you didn’t even know was there when zoomed out. While this effect is kind of slick, I found that it worked sort of like the auto-contrast feature on televisions, producing some hyper-real results when moving between extremely dark and light areas of an image.
HD View also offers support for two viewing modes: lens and fisheye. When in lens mode, the image is displayed as a panorama, while in fisheye mode, you’ll feel like you’re looking at the world from the inside of a globe. In both cases, the experience of moving around an image is pretty stunning. Think of it like Quicktime VR on some serious steroids.
Best of all, you can create your own HD View images. The only bad news I can see about HD View is that it currently requires a Windows-only browser plug-in to be installed on your PC in order to view the content (at least it works in both Firefox and IE). Still, it’s a small download, and it’s worth checking out if you’ve got any interest in digital photography. There’s also an experimental Silverlight version that will work on Macs as well, but it’s not as feature rich.
You can grab the plug-in and check out a number of really cool demo images over on the Microsoft Research HD View site. Once you’ve got the plug-in installed, there a bunch of additional HD View panoramas for you to check out here. And being a Chicagoan, I have to point out this truly unreal panoramic shot.