TourWeaver, from Shanghai-based EasyPano, lets you link several immersive spherical images via hotspots to form a guided tour – for instance you could create a tour of your house with hotspots on the doors to take you to the next room. You can link to still images, movies, sound files, and to URLs for other Web pages. Most people will be happy with the full-featured Standard edition; the Professional edition adds the ability to create private branding and suppress an About window in the playback.

TourWeaver has been developed as a companion to EasyPano’s original PanoWeaver, a stitching program that can take two or three 180-degree circular fisheye images, and merge them to form a complete sphere. We’ve taken a brief look at PanoWeaver here, but TourWeaver can import equirectangular spherical-projection images from other stitching programs, such as RealViz Stitcher. When exported for Java or QuickTime viewers in Web pages, the sphere appears as a conventional-looking image that can be steered in any direction.

The easiest, but priciest way to capture images is to use a fisheye lens and a digital camera. Alternatively, you can use a normal lens to take 30 or more overlapping shots and assemble them in a multi-image stitcher such as RealViz Stitcher or D Vision Works D Joiner.

Nikon’s FC-E8 and FC-E9 add-on fisheyes for its CoolPix digital cameras are the most readily available at around £250, but there are third-party lenses for Canon and Olympus cameras. You’ll need a rotator alignment gadget for a tripod to take pairs of precisely aligned images. iPix rotators are good value at around £340 (including a fisheye lens and camera adaptor). They’ll only do pairs of images. but Kaidan’s QuickPan III with twin-axis bracket can handle three overlapping shots for around £300 (without lens).

TourWeaver is for Windows only, though PanoWeaver is available for Mac OS X as well as Windows. PanoWeaver is available in Standard or Professional editions (we tested TourWeaver with PanoWeaver Professional). PanoWeaver Standard is a basic stitcher for pairs of fisheye lens images automatically, with limited functions for correcting alignment. Professional can stitch three images (which can help to hide seams). You can choose a resolution to suit Web sites, CDs or keep it unchanged. The user interface is clear and easy to understand despite the sometimes poetic English translation. My experience with the PanoWeaver on Mac OS X was unhappy – it can’t seem to access the file system properly, you can’t enter numeric settings, and it’s painfully slow.

The Windows version worked fine, although the automatic image density matching and seam blending routines don’t work as well as iPix’s software. I tested image pairs that work perfectly in iPix Wizard software, but showed density differences between the two halves in PanoWeaver. Three images would probably blend better.

There’s a choice of stitching mode – Spherical is used for the Java players, or Cubic can be used with QuickTime players. If you choose Spherical you can preview results in an automatically generated Web page with the PTViewer Java applet viewer, then save them as either JPEGs or .jvr files with a Java player applet, depending on which player you want.

TourWeaver is used to import equirectangular spherical or cylindrical panorama images, add hotspot hyperlinks, and to associate these with actions, such as moving to another sphere or flat image, play a sound, or trigger another event. Setting up a tour is easy, thanks to a step-by-step user interface that guides you through the import of images, setting up initial viewpoints, creating hotlinks, assigning targets or actions, adding a navigation map, then previewing and testing the links. You can save your progress at any point, or go back to any stage and change it.

Tours can be built into layouts called skins, which can be displayed in Web pages. These skins have areas to display the immersive images within pre-set backgrounds, icons and hotlinks, any of which can be edited to suit your own site. You can set up your own skins, with a decent set of tools and good instructions to help you.

TourWeaver supports interactive map images as separate areas within the skin layout. You create a map image separately as a graphic file, then import it into TourWeaver, to add links and actions in the same was as you do to the spheres.

Simple default actions are built into the spherical displays – they will automatically slowly rotate when opened, for instance. There’s an option to set up a Path, which is an automatic self-playing tour that can move within the image and from link to link. This is set up using a standard video-style timeline interface.

When you’re happy you can export the tour as a Java applet embedded in an HTML page, with instructions for adding it to a Web site. If you want more elaborate automation there’s an API available from EasyPano. If you just want a quick and easy way to link cubic QuickTime VR files (with maps), check out the £40 CubicConnector 2.0 from Click Here Design in Australia. The iPix Wizard/Builder suite includes a basic linker and HTML/Java output as part of the £60 package price, though iPix charges an on-going Key fee of £15 per distributable image.

TourWeaver Standard edition is reasonably priced and well thought out. The software makes it quick and easy to create a very professional looking virtual tour, without any Web programming experience.