Virtual tour and photographic virtual reality experiences normally start with the capture of 360 degree panoramic photography of a location. Panoramas or scenes then have navigation added along with other types of interaction and information.

Initial captured content doesn’t need to be panoramic photography, 360 video is another popular medium. When creating a virtual tour 360 degree content, flat or normal photos and videos are also used.

During project story boarding the properties and behavior of each content type or asset must be carefully considered.

Ensuring a positive user experience also requires additional planning to adapt or allow for delivery platform capabilities.

Chevron Navigation Hotspot Example – Scene from Punchdrunk Virtual Tour
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Panoramic Photography is usually the first step in creating any virtual tour, capturing a location in 360 degrees.

The capture process involves a number of different methods and techniques depending on the exact virtual tour requirements.

Fisheye lenses with fields of view between 110 and 180 degrees capture images in a four step rotation. These four steps or North, East, South and West positions allow sufficient overlap for image stitching.

HDR Capture & Processing

In each position multiple bracketed exposures are also normally taken, dependent on subject matter. These consist of 3 to 7 images, each having a range in exposure of between 1 and 2 stops. Exposure Fusion or True HDR techniques combine images to create High Dynamic Range (HDR) digital composites. 

Exposure Fusion blends the best exposed pixels producing an image with a dynamic range similar to our natural vision.

True HDR provides control over parameters such as ‘tone map settings’ allowing greater control in overall image styling.

Bodie Historic park panorama processed with True HDR

Nadir Patching

When stitching individual images together the resulting panorama includes an area known as the nadir. Patching or removal of the tripod from the nadir completes the panorama for use in the virtual tour.

Virtual Tour Navigation

Navigation between virtual tour scenes or assets is a key primary feature and achieved in a number of different ways.

Navigation Menus

Menu navigation allows users to access scenes in the same way they might access areas of a website.

Menus can include text as well as image thumbnails which provide visual queues when navigating.

Navigation Hotspots

Hotspots added to the virtual tour can take numerous forms. These can include chevrons similar to those used in Google Street View or animated icons such as arrows. Adding polygon hotspots to objects within a scene is also a useful way to link to another scene.

Auto Navigation

Events driven logic or internal timers allow for automatic navigation. The combination of both events and timer based navigation provides enormous scope in project creation capabilities.

Floor plans & Maps

Floor plans or maps are another way a user can orient themselves within a virtual tour. By providing the use of a map users can see where they are, where they’ve been and where else they can go. Floor plans and maps are incredibly useful to aid with navigation especially for larger tours or those which have separated non line of sight navigation between panoramas.

Virtual Tour Hotspot Features

Standard Hotspots

Images anchored within a virtual tour scene, not overlaid on it, with functionality similar to a button. Animation of these images is also posssible.

Polygon Hotspots

Polygon shapes defined by multiple anchor points within the scene. Normally drawn around objects or areas creating interactive zones which can trigger events when clicked or on mouseover. Color overlays used to style these areas can be ‘always on’ or triggered by events such as mouseover.

Image Hotspots

Images such as posters or graphics, distorted and placed in situ in the virtual tour scene. They  appear as if they are in screen, in frame or placed on a wall or surface.

Video Hotspots

One of the ways to include video within the virtual tour is through the use of a video hotspot. The distorted video appears as if it is playing in screen or on a flat surface such as a wall.

Sound Hotspots

The virtual tour can include scene specific sound hotspots with adjustable volume and field of view.Within the sound hotspot field of view the sounds are audible with volume ramping down as a user looks away.Small field of view for sound hotspots can be useful when creating hidden content within the tour.

HTML Hotspots

Distorted web content is placed on a surface within the virtual tour scene such as an open laptop, television or wall. The user can interact with the web content as they would in a real world environment, clicking on links and scrolling.

Additional Virtual Tour Features

Virtual Tour Access

Virtual tours can have username and passwords added preventing unauthorised access. A useful feature if parts of the tour contain sensitive information or content.

Control Bars

Control bars are a useful virtual tour feature which can control tour interactions such as movement or zoom levels. They are also used to trigger other virtual tour elements such as Floorplans and VR mode.

Buttons

Buttons are similar in some ways to control bars which are effectively a series of buttons with set functions. Individual buttons can have customised functions and designs depending on the tour requirements.

Effects

Scenes can have animated effects such as rain or snow added to them as well as image masks. Scene to scene transitions such as cross fades, zoom to or color blending are also added.

Content Overlays

Virtual tour overlays include a number of different content types.

Website Boxes

Website Boxes – Display existing web pages, booking or contact forms or specific html content within the virtual tour.

PDF Boxes

PDF Boxes – Display any PDF within the virtual tour allowing more detailed documentation or brochures to be easily accessible.

Video Boxes

Video Boxes – Display video from streaming services such as Youtube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Viddler,Youku and Soundcloud as a content overlay.

Gamification

Gamification and logic based interaction enable a myriad of possibilities and virtual tour functionality. Bespoke interactivity, object finding games or score cards – just some of the features you can include in your virtual tour.

Virtual Reality

Tours are also built on a webVR standard engine so are compatible with the majority of devices and browsers. Stepping into a virtual reality version of a virtual tour is as simple as clicking on the VR button and putting on your VR headset.