Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Google Earth beater?

Somebody who saw the Gadget Show on channel 5 pointed me to Microsoft's answer to Google Earth "Microsoft Virtual Earth" I hit 3D and allowed Firefox to install the software and was prepared to be wowed.

First of unlike GE (Google Earth), Microsoft's 3D version sits inside your browser, this leads to some interesting problems, the main one being you've no idea if it's finished loading. The status bar shows Lat/Lon/Alt with occasionally Loading [X]%, but has it finished it seems to be very quick if it has.

Control is by either mouse or keyboard, a compass in the bottom left comes in three levels - arrows to move around with an inner circle to rotate and what looks like a curved volume control to tilt. Very slick and Google should take note of it.

Just like GE, msVE has 3D buildings dotted around, for slower connections/computers you can alter the setting between No Buildings, Low Detail Buildings, and High Detail Buildings. Here lies problem two. Zoom in on an area and then change these settings and you're reset to the default start position. The best bet is to pick High Detail regardless of your computer as this then gives you two "Ctrl+" toggles for No Buildings and Low Detail Buildings - rather pointless.

The map itself is smooth, but the layers appear in jerks and combined with the first problem means you're never quite sure if that's all you're getting.

Details for the maps themselves were hmm about as good as GE's offerings, but I noted that they'd seriously got some road names wrong. This might change as apparently they're taking hi-def shots from different angles; so we'll have to wait and see

The biggest problem comes with it's biggest feature - 3D buildings. To test it I headed over to Las Vegas something is always going to show up there and I wasn't disappointed

That's pretty, damn pretty, tear your eyes from the delights of the buildings closest to you and check out the horizon. Yet more buildings protruding on the landscape in the distance.

Let's check out London, Westminster Palace a must surely?

Oops nothing in sight, but wait let's get closer.

What the hell just happened, two buildings on my left and the Eye on my right just appeared. Not a loading problem zoom back out and they disappear. Rotate around and they appear and reappear as you get close.

So is it all to do with height? The two buildings when not present register an altitude of 64ft, when present this jumps to 174ft. The 02 (Millennium) Dome is much more persistent and yet only has altitudes of 53ft and 176ft. Zoom out and I can still see the Dome but the other buildings vanish. Size perhaps? I don't know but I can't see any settings to change it and it's damn annoying when you compare it to the LV view.

So far verdict is - load it up, have a play, and keep an eye on it; but stick to Google Earth for the time being.