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Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Friday, 6 November 2009

A 360 degree 'real' net experience

By Dan Simmons
Reporter, BBC Click

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The tech behind virtual video tours

When Google's Streetview was launched in the US in 2007, users marvelled at being able to see locations and move along the images.

Now hi-tech firm yellowBird is promising to offer people the chance to direct their own 360 degree exploration of a place or event such as a music festival.

Unlike Streetview's static images of people and cityscapes frozen in time, yellowBird's technology aims to deliver virtual video tours.

"The user can look around for themselves and decide for themselves what they want to look at in a particular scene," said Marc Groothelm, head of yellowBird.

Click reporter Dan Simmons met up with the company at a festival in Amsterdam to see out how it creates an immersive experience.

Stitched images

The firm uses a video camera with six divided lenses to capture every possible viewing direction in video with sound, rather than photographs. Unlike Google's StreetView cameras which travel by car, yellowBird's rig is carried by a human operator.

Stefan Vogelzang, yellowBird camera operator
A camera operator records images at events to create video tours

Once shot, footage is stitched into a single image stream in a studio and saved into a variety of formats for playback.

Currently the camera can be setup on a tripod or to "float" above the head of the camera operator - and it then takes about a week to stitch a 60 minute video together.

Camera operator Stefan Vogelzang said that the device must be handled carefully to stop the audience getting confused.

"If they want to go to the right in the video while I am moving to the left it doesn't work. It clashes.

"So I have to walk pretty carefully and walk straight lines," he said.

Music lovers could experience a concert or festival from the comfort of their own sofa. Or it might enable them to relive an event from a different perspective - festival-goers could catch up on something they had missed first time round.

Interactive future

Mr Groothelm said the next step will be filming an event from multiple cameras so the audience get an even more personalised experience.

Marc Groothelm, yellowBird CEO
Mr Groothelm hopes to bring events live to future audiences

"With multiple cameras at the festivals, people can choose their own scenes and create their own movie, but that's something for the future," he said.

He believes his system could create novel ways of broadcasting various kinds of events, and foster creative ways to interact in music videos and online shops.

The company could monetise its system, if it can enhance the experience of online shoppers.

"You can make it far more interactive… giving labels to particular items, for example, in a virtual store. Making it possible for people to actually walk around and click on specific items in the store," he said.

He added that this would create a "real life virtual experience", in contrast to virtual reality with artificial images.

YellowBird said it was months away from streaming live events. However, this will need a slimmer stream of data to fit broadband bandwidth and fast computers stitching images together instantly.

Users can try out a beta version of yellowBird via the firm's website.

Watch Click on BBC News Channel, Saturday 7 November at 11.30 (GMT).



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