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A virtual tour is a simulation of an existing location, usually composed of a sequence of videos or still images. It may also use other multimedia elements such as sound effects, music, narration, and text. It is distinguished from the use of live television to affect tele-tourism.

The phrase “virtual tour” is often used to describe a variety of videos and photographic-based media. Panorama indicates an unbroken view, since a panorama can be either a series of photographs or panning video footage. However, the phrases “panoramic tour” and “virtual tour” have mostly been associated with virtual tours created using still cameras. Such virtual tours are made up of a number of shots taken from a single vantage point. The camera and lens are rotated around what is referred to as a no parallax point (the exact point at the back of the lens where the light converges).

A video tour is a full motion video of a location. Unlike the virtual tour’s static wrap-around feel, a video tour is a linear walk-through of a location. Using a video camera, the location is filmed at a walking pace while moving continuously from one point to another throughout the subject location.

History

The origin of the term ‘virtual tour’ dates to 1994. The first example of a virtual tour was a museum visitor interpretive tour, consisting of ‘walk-through’ of a 3D reconstruction of Dudley Castle in England as it was in 1550. This consisted of a computer controlled laserdisc based system designed by British-based engineer Colin Johnson.

One of the first users of a virtual tour was Queen Elizabeth II, when she officially opened the visitor centre in June 1994. Because the Queen’s officials had requested titles, descriptions and instructions of all activities, the system was named and described as: “Virtual Tour, being a cross between Virtual Reality and Royal Tour.” Details of the original project can be viewed online. The system was featured in a conference held by the British Museum in November 1994 and in a subsequent technical paper.

Video-based virtual tours

With the expansion of video on the internet, video-based virtual tours are growing in popularity. Video cameras are used to pan and walk-through real subject properties. The benefit of this method is that the point of view is constantly changing throughout a pan. However, capturing high-quality video requires significantly more technical skill and equipment than taking digital still pictures. Video also eliminates viewer control of the tour. Therefore, the tour is the same for all viewers and subject matter is chosen by the videographer. Editing digital video requires proficiency with video editing software and has higher computer hardware requirements. Also, displaying video over the internet requires more bandwidth. Due to these difficulties, the task of creating video-based tours is often left to professionals.

Recently different groups have been using Google’s system to provide access to private areas, which were previously unavailable to the general public.