Frequently Asked Questions About Panoramas (and some I made up myself)
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What is a panorama?
What is a Virtual Tour? Is it the same thing as a panorama?
How can I view them?
Which software makes them look the best?

What is a panorama?
Generally speaking, a panorama is a larger-than-average view. "Pano" is an abbreviation of "panorama".

Panoramas can be created for print, video playback, or interactive playback on a computer.

There are two kinds of panoramas I specialize in Immersive Panoramas, and View Panoramas. Immersive Panoramas put you in the center of a scene and you can look in a complete circle (this can be restricted to less than 360 degrees if desired).
Immersive Panoramas make you feel like you are there, you look up, you look around, just like you are there. Of course a View Panorama can make you feel like you are there, enjoying the view, but a View Panorama is about looking, more-or-less, straight ahead.

On the Immersive Panoramas page you can find examples of Immersive Panoramas I've taken. To the right you can see a simple GIF animation crudely representing what it's like to view a pano, except this tiny graphic is just that, tiny and crude. When you really view an immersive panorama you are in control.

Since the middle of the 1800's photographers have been taking panoramic photographs. Be sure to see the collection of View Panoramas at the Library of Congress. They also have a collection of View Panoramas taken in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the early 1900's.

What is a Virtual Tour? Is it the same thing as a panorama?
One panorama, excluding artistic exceptions, ends up being one photograph from one place (although it may have started as more than one photograph). The photographer tries to steady the camera and photographs in such a way as to capture as much of the view as needed.

A Virtual Tour could contain more than one panoramic view, or even "regular" still shots, like a slide show. A Virtual Tour could consist of only one panorama; however, if someone told you, you were going on a tour, then that person only showed you one room, you might not feel like you had a "tour", I know I wouldn't. :-( So that's why I note the distinction between Virtual Tour and panorama. A panorama is one large view, a tour implies there could be more than one view.

Substantiating this view, one can find in the August 2005 REALTOR Magazine, "Today's tours can be a simple series of photos and text or multimedia extravaganzas with maps, floor plans, 360-degree panoramic images, and a sound track."

Begin gratuitous plug-- Scene in Santa Fe can create tours in many different formats (print, TIFF, QTVR, JPEG for Java, PangeaVR, etc...) and distribution mediums (Internet, TV, CD, DVD). Tours can include custom composed music and sounds, be 360 degrees or show a partial view. Tours can also contain maps.--End gratuitous plug. :-)

How can I view them?
Panoramas can be created for print, video playback (TV, movies, etc...), or interactive playback on a computer. So of course that means you can view them in magazines, newspapers, custom prints, even mosaic tile. TV visibility includes Microsoft running a TV advertisement in Alabama in the 1990's that showed students in school, using Apple Macintosh computers viewing QuickTimeVR panoramas; another way to view panoramas on the TV is by recording someone as s/he pans the view; when done, that direction, speed, etc... is what the viewer sees when watching the TV or DVD.

There are a number of ways to view panoramas on your computer. You probably have some software on your computer now that lets you see them. Fortunately there are some free and low cost, easy to download and install options you have. The answer to the next question gives names and links.

There are some differences between how various panoramic viewing software products work; in other words, most of what you learn about viewing panoramas with one software product is useful in another.

Since each software product can play back panoramas on the computer in as many ways as the programmer(s) see fit, there can be some differences in how one interacts with the panos. But there are many similarities; I won't go in to detail here.

Which software makes them look the best?
As you can guess, there are different levels of playback quality, and to an extent quality is subjective. There is also the consideration of playing back the panos locally (from your hard drive or CD ROM), or playing them over a network, in a web browser for example.

My order of preference is:

CubicNavigator, from ClickHereDesign, is an AWESOME way to view panoramas on both the Internet and from your hard drive. CubicNavigator uses OpenGL to display the panos in a very smooth manner, with tons of features: fullscreen, slide shows, customized recording, etc... CubicNavigator can read a number of file formats containing panoramas, including the powerful QuickTimeVR format. The only downside is your computer's operating system might not be Mac OS X, this program doesn't run on Microsoft's operating systems.

What to do? Mac users, download the program from the link above and you're set. For only $10 it's an amazing buy!

Pangea VR is a Mac OS X only plug-in for web browsers and a very small download. It uses OpenGL to display panoramas, and like CubicNavigator, is very smooth when you are panning. If you use Mac OS X I highly recommend installing this plug-in if you intend on viewing web pages with panoramas in them. In many cases I will make my panoramas available so they can be played back with PangeaVR, QuickTime, and Java (using the PTViewer).

Besides being Mac OS only (for now; I hear someone's porting it to MS WINDOWS), this plug-in only works for web pages that have been coded specifically for it, however this is not a big deal. Another feature PangeaVR has, is that it can read the standard QuickTimeVR "cubic" file format, (so one doesn't need to keep multiple copies of the same panorama on the server, based on which playback software the viewer chooses; since many players have their own file format which they only can read or write; note that the freeware PTViewer has the capability to read QuickTimeVR movies too). If this changes in the future I will update this. Brian Greenstone, the author, has released the program code as open source for other developers to port to other operating systems.

If you know anyone who programs for Microsoft operating systems let them know, according to Brian, it shouldn't take more than a few days to get this plug-in working in MS Windows. If you saw how great this makes panos look, you'd want to be able to use it too!

What to do? Mac users, download the plug-in from the link above and run the installer.

Probably the best, free, way to view panoramas is with QuickTime. The quality is significantly better than all the Java playback products I've seen, and QuickTime has the advantage of letting the creator easily include links to other panoramas, links to web sites, sounds, and much more. QuickTime is Flash on steroids, but more.

If you have an iPod and installed the free iTunes, you have QuickTime. If you are a Mac OS X user, you too have QuickTime installed already.

QuickTime is free. If you want, you can pay $30 and unlock the QuickTime Player to have "Pro" features, but that is not necessary to view panoramas (or other QuickTime content). You can read more about this on the web site where you download QuickTime.

QuickTime panoramas give web designers and people viewing the panoramas the most options for how they are displayed and the software they can be viewed in.

QuickTime is, hands-down, the best media format for editing and delivery. That's why the International Standards Organization chose it as the basis for the MPEG-4 file format. And unlike a number of other large companies' media file formats, the most recent version of QuickTime can play back content created over 10 years ago with QuickTime version 1.

Hundreds of millions of computers already have QuickTime installed and more than 10 million copies are downloaded each month.

What to do? Download the installer from the link above and run it.

Another great, free, way to view panoramas is with Java. Java is a cross platform programming language that allows programs to run on many operating systems. There are many panorama viewers written with Java. Unlike other software used to view panos, the Java software is (often) downloaded each time a panorama is viewed; one thing this means is that, assuming you already have Java installed on your computer, you do not need to consciously download the Java playback software. This also means, unfortunately, the Java panorama program is not cached on the hard drive for faster access the next time a pano is viewed; your browser will download the panoramic image and Java applet with each pano, a waste of bandwidth.

What to do? You may have Java on your computer already. If not, download the installer the link above, better yet, get QuickTime instead for its superior playback speed and clarity.

If you have a Palm OS device you can interact with panoramas directly on its screen.

Kinoma Player 3 EX is the only program I know that does this. It has many features, and one of them is the ability to play panoramas. You can read more about it at the Kinoma web site.

What to do? If you have a Palm device and want the opportunity to show and/or see panoramas I highly recommend this software. You can download it and try it for free.


Scene in Santa Fe LLC is not a representative of the products mentioned above, and earns no money from their sale. Each of the products listed comes from a reputable software vendor or generous people and more information can be learned at their web sites, via the links above.

QuickTime and the QuickTime Logo are trademarks of Apple Computer, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. The Get QuickTime Badge is a trademark of Apple Computer Inc., used with permission.