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New Tourbuzz Flash Player in Beta

January 15th, 2009

Tourbuzz.com just started a public beta of their new Flash player and time-line based tour controller. I tried it out on some of my demo panoramas and I like it a lot. Tourbuzz is making the player available to customers as a beta version so they can get input from users.

As Alan Pinstein of Tourbuzz describes some of their goals for the new player and controller:

  • View stills, panoramas and videos in the same player.
  • Transition between different media types.
  • Auto-play that shows all media without any human interaction.
  • Convert the auto-play version of the tour into a video file suitable for use on YouTube or DVD.
  • Easily embed the entire tour on a web page.
  • Make the tour navigation intuitive.
  • Allow navigation to any media item in the tour via a time-line and thumbnail paradigm.

This beta version of the player does not have the branding graphics that a normal Tourbuzz tour has on it. The final version will embed this player into the branding box.

I really like the simple elegance of this controller and the idea of combining stills, panoramas and eventually video onto a time-line. It eliminates the necessity of dedicating a bunch of the screen to thumbnails to implement the navigation.

Tourbuzz is wanting your feedback on this design. To give them your feedback go to their forum.

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12 Responses to “New Tourbuzz Flash Player in Beta”

  • I design and host websites for real estate agents in Quebec so you might say I’m preaching for my own church but at least I’m being honest about it!

    This tour package also fails to impress me unfortunately. I like that the navigation is non obtrusive and the ability to integrate real videos seems like a step forward.

    On the other hand it’s really just more of the same: panning pictures with elevator music.

    The buttons are very non descriptive and don’t have a tool tip. You have to click to see which one is full screen, which one gets rid of the music and so on.

    The time line is a little better because it does have tool tips but once again you have to move your mouse over every tick to find which one is the kitchen for example.

    The rooms look very deformed depending on the angle at which you’re watching. It’s very hard to tell what the rooms actually looks like but that’s a problem with most of these 360 degrees panorama viewers.

    You get a VERY weird effect when you zoom out completely.

    At least it’s cheap.

    My favorite “virtual tour package” is the default one from lightroom. I know it’s really just a gallery but at least it looks classy, loads fast and it’s free.

    If you want a bunch of extra features, you might as well get yourself a website and stop paying for those virtual tour packages every time you get a new listing.

  • This version of the player wasn’t really intended for vast public scrutiny; it’s an early release that we were showing to our customers. I would suggest that people don’t read too much into the state of this preview release.

    Alan @ TourBuzz

  • Well, I’m impressed! Keep up the hard work Alan because I believe you are already offereing something no one else does.

  • I can’t figure out how they get the floor and ceiling to do what they do.

    (BTW, use the – icon all the way down to get interesting results)

  • Interesting that Laurent Perrier can downplay the importance of 360 panoramas, it seems he does not do any. I was hoping to see some of his work, but there is no link form this site, or a search to his website. Something to hide?

  • Hi Len,

    I am not downplaying the importance of virtual tours and panoramas. What I’m saying is that we should keep in mind that the purpose of those tours are to help buyers get a better idea of what a property looks like.

    If the room looks completely deformed, it’s hard to say that the tour is really helping anything. Did you try zooming out on that tour and looking around? I can’t even tell you if the room is actually huge or tiny.

    The panning effect and elevator music has been done over and over by many. Changing the way the full screen button looks is not innovation to me.

    I didn’t put a link to the services I offer because I’m not here to promote my company. I target very specific markets which are Quebec and Montreal. I offer different marketing services including websites.

    The websites we make are connected directly to the local mls and updated automatically on a daily basis. We do offer integrated slideshows, videos and panoramas.

    I’ve been trying to find a way to make panoramas look less deformed for a while now. The way I do it offers less options (you can only turn right and left) but keeps the walls looking straight, load instantly and only requires javascript. It’s not perfect but I believe it serves it’s purpose better.

    I am not trying to put anyone’s work down, I am just trying to offer constructive criticism because I believe it’s time to move forward.

    I subscribe to this blog and I am very thankful for all the tips I’ve gotten from it. I just feel like it’s time to move away from these type of tours and promote real innovation.

    Everyone is of course entitled to their opinion.

  • Laurent- Can you give us a link to some your examples? I’d love to see what you are talking about.

    I agree that panoramas can really distort. However, the bad distortion mostly occurs when you let the panorama display in a window that’s too wide. If you keep the window square it minimizes the distortion (David Palermo pointed this out on some thread recently and I think it is a great idea). For this reason, I’m thinking about forcing my panoramas to only display square and not allowing fullscreen display. Also, not providing controls to zoom… Zooming only increases distortion!

  • Laurent-

    I agree with your point in that it’s important to make sure tours serve their main goal: effectively showing the property. I think some of the issues you saw with the player are due to bugs (ie we don’t yet always properly keep zoom out from going too far). But all in all I think showing panos in a proper player that corrects perspective is better than just showing a cylindrical jpeg that slides left & right.

    Oddly enough, very few of the big companies do “correct” display of tours. However, it seems most people don’t even notice. But I really dislike just showing cylindrical jpegs without perspective correction. They don’t show a true sense of space, and while they do keep vertical lines vertical, they warp horizontal lines. This issue is magnified when you have high-resolution images displayed at full-screen.

    It’s interesting to note that after years of playing with these and talking to lots of people, there are essentially 3 camps of people: ones that prefer “correct” panos, ones that prefer “sliding” panos, and ones that don’t care. I have never done a formal survey, but I think most people just don’t care and most of the debate is just among us professionals!

    I think the key thing is having a fast-loading and easy-to-use interface.

    I disagree with you that this isn’t somehow “real” innovation, whatever that means. At TourBuzz we had the first fast-loading, high-resolution, full-screen player over 2 years ago, well before any of the other major companies. All of our competitors know about us, and lost business to us, so I think that the innovations of our service helped prod all of the competitors to improve their offerings. While we’d have preferred they didn’t, it was of course a benefit to the entire community.

    I think that there is plenty of real innovation going on in players — better user experience & ease of use, faster loading, better performance, etc. Beyond that, service providers like TourBuzz are innovating on the production side, making it faster & easier for photographers to display their images online. This allows high-quality photography to be delivered at a lower price, and everyone including homeowners and buyers benefits from that. Not all innovation is just “flashy stuff.”

    That said, one of the reasons we’re building our own player is so that we can continue to innovate on the flashy stuff and other features. I think easy production of more interactive tours with different media types will bring new depth to the tour experience. It’s also important to be able to control the entire user experience to ensure fast loading speed, etc.

    I would be curious what constitutes “real innovation” in your viewpoint, since you don’t explain it in any detail.

    Enjoying the conversation!
    Alan

  • Larry-

    That is a good point about the “distortion” only happening in non-square windows. We are considering ideas for how to deal with this in our new player as well. The downside is that most monitors are not square and some widescreen monitors aren’t even close. On many widescreen laptops today you’d only be using half the screen if you limited the viewable area to being square!

    We do continually get questions from people about why the edges are distorted. The problem is that you get a different complaint if you fix this: “why the black bars”?

    The third option, to just show the cylindrical image without perspective correction, IMHO isn’t worth doing as seeing the curved horizontal lines is worse.

    Alan

  • Alan- “The downside is that most monitors are not square and some widescreen monitors aren’t even close. On many widescreen laptops today you’d only be using half the screen if you limited the viewable area to being square!”

    I think the way do deal with the distortion problem is allow the person creating the panorama to choices:
    1-Quality with minimum distortion: constrain display to square
    and no full screen mode or
    2-Don’t care about distortion: no constraints.

    If you look at David Palermo’s worldvr.com (when he has his site back up), who does very high-end, high quality 360s, this is what he does… he cares about quality so all of his panoramas are constrained to minimize distortion. Viewers that care about quality without distortion will not expect to display a 360 on a 26′ 16:9 screen. Viewers that think panoramas should be displayed on arbitrary aspect ratio screens fullscreens can’t complain about distortion. Viewers just can’t have it both ways!

  • Hi Alan,

    I am not trying to put your company down and my remarks are really not all directed at you. We don’t really work in the same market and offer services that are quite different as I don’t do stand alone virtual tours.

    What I consider to be real innovation would be to find new ways to show properties online that are both helpful and convenient to use. It could be a whole new way of doing panoramas or something in a completely different direction.

    As I said in my previous comment, I don’t have the ultimate answer and while I do feel like cylindrical panoramas serve the purpose of showing a house better, I realize it is not perfect either.

    I agree that most people get impressed by pretty much any kind of virtual tour and that most of the time we’re the only ones who care!

  • Let me start that as a Realtor I really enjoy photography. I have learned a lot from this website. When it comes to companies selling “tours”, in general they all seem the same to me – cheap and non-customized.

    We take photos and load them into PhotoStory. Although this may seem simple also, the end result is pretty good. We have tried to do this with Adobe Premiere, but it can be very choppy.

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