Understanding and Commissioning a Virtual Tour – A Beginner’s Guide

The virtual tour is a complete 360 degrees view of a space. The user can feel as if they’re standing within a space, and then can control their motion within the area. They can look up above them, at the floor below all of them, and all around. Users are also able to zoom in and out, giving them the ability to focus within on areas of interest. Each digital tour is usually made up from a quantity of photographs which are ‘stitched’ together

Where are they used?
One of the most familiar programs of virtual tours is by estate agents. These virtual tours are usually small scale, and low-quality, because price is the biggest issue.

High resolution virtual tours that can be viewed at full screen are the best option for any organisation for whom quality is essential. A hotel group will use digital tours to show the potential clients the quality of the rooms. Other examples of potential virtual tour customers include meeting centres, museums, hospitals, car manufacturers, football clubs, universities, architects plus property developers – all of whom benefit by showing off their room to its best advantage.

What extra features can a virtual tour have?
You can use the virtual tours in many different ways on your site, depending on how you’d like to display them. Virtual tours can be linked to a floorplan, so that users can feel orientated and choose how plus where to move within a space. This is particularly useful for architects or property or home developers. Eye Revolution have developed an example of this type for The Edison club and lounge.

A Google Maps user interface enables users to see virtual excursions that are geographically removed from each other : a large number of virtual tours can all of be linked via a map. Britannia Vista offers an excellent example of this kind of implementation.

Many virtual tour providers will also be able to integrate hotspots : special links within a virtual tour. You may even want to include an sound script, a soundtrack or even a few video in your virtual tours.

Talk to the virtual tour companies regarding the project, and they will be able to suggest interfaces that may be appropriate for you.

What’s the advantage of a virtual tour on your internet site?
A virtual tour which is highly relevant to the viewer can help both create a brand and sell a product. So in the case of an architect’s website, where component of their portfolio is available to be performe across the country, the viewer is able to see the high quality of the architect’s work, choose exactly where they’d like to focus on (rather than being dependent on the ‘right’ photos being provided) and then zoom in and see the small details. This gives the company a big advantage over their rivals as potential clients get a better regarding the product on offer.

How should I choose a digital tour provider?
The good news is that there’s a lot of choice out there. The bad information is that there are some very poor providers as well.
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The best bet is to make a shortlist of virtual tour providers and then have a very thorough look through their portfolios. Look for ‘stitching errors’ – areas where the photographs that make up the tour don’t line up properly. Look for clearness – are the lines clear and sharp, or fuzzy, pixellated or even indistinct? Can you see odd colours which don’t look ‘right’, particularly on edges of objects within the tours. Check for over-exposure – you can too see through windows, or are they all white and hazy? Can you browse around a full 360-degrees, or are the ceilings and floors blocked off?

If you’re looking for a high quality virtual tour, it’s important that your providers are good photographers. When they’re poor photographers, nothing will make your virtual tour look just like it should.

So , going through their portfolio to make sure that you’re happy with the quality of their virtual tour work and that they have perhaps a good range of clients and experience is vital to the success of your virtual tour project.

Is it expensive?
This depends on the type of project that you’re commissioning. Talk to the providers you’ve shortlisted, describe your project in as much details as possible and ask them to quote. A ‘menu’ of prices (where you will see the cost per virtual tour, as opposed to the total cost for 10 virtual tours) is often useful, as it allows you to compare like with like.

The important thing to notice is that the old adage still applies – if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys! Good virtual tour suppliers will be investing in new equipment, teaching and software on an ongoing foundation. They will also be expert in retouching, and can use their skills to ensure your tours look as good as they could. This investment means that you get the best end result, and as you’re going to live with it on your website – possibly for several years – you want to make sure that the particular virtual tours are perfect. If you’re being offered a deal that appears to good to be true, again, look back carefully at the portfolio and assess the quality again.

How do I get it on my website?
Your digital tour provider will provide you with files which can be uploaded to your site, or they may be hosted on your virtual tour provider’s server. They will be able to liaise with your web designer to ensure the smooth delivery and upload of the virtual tours.

There are many plugins through which people can watch virtual tours (for example, Adobe flash, QuickTime, Java, Shockwave and OpenGL). Flash’s high penetration (97% within developed markets) tends to make it the primary choice, however , providers will be able to talk about the best options with you.

So finally…
Good virtual tours that endure the test of time and enhance your site visitors’ experience will be likely to increase sales, will encourage people to return, and may even over time increase the traffic to your website.

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