• Price When Reviewed: £49.95

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In 1997 Live Picture’s PhotoVista was one of the first low-cost panorama stitching programs on the market. MGI took over Live Picture’s product line last year, and has now released the first major upgrade to PhotoVista. It’s Windows 98-only, though a Mac version will ship soon. Although modestly priced, the new version is a big step forward, and I found its automatic alignment, stitching and blending capabilities to be the most accurate of any stitching program so far. It’s good enough to be usable for panoramas where the camera is hand-held. However, you’ll still get the most reliable results, particularly for objects close to the camera, if you use a tripod with a special panorama head. Using PhotoVista is simple. Basically you import all the images needed for a panorama using a batch loading menu, perform a fast preview stitch to check it’s working, make any manual adjustments that may be needed, and then perform the high-res final stitch and save the results as a JPEG file (for printing) and an interactive viewing file. PhotoVista 2.0’s most important changes are under the skin, concerning improvements to the automatic pattern recognition and matching routines. The user interface is essentially unchanged, though it has been cosmetically tweaked. The main change from the user’s viewpoint is an improved lens definition menu. In order for PhotoVista to be able to remove distortions you have to inform it which lens was used for the original photographs, choosing from a long list supplied. You can define a new lens and check it interactively against your set of images. This menu can also intelligently fine-tune lenses by comparing them against your own results. It also permits manual overrides if you think you know better. PhotoVista 2.0 only outputs interactive images in its own IVR file format or Java – version 1.0 would output QTVR. An IVR player is supplied, but to view IVRs in a Web page you have to install a non-standard plug-in. The Java option is more attractive – the output process optionally generates HTML code that can be cut and pasted into a Web page, plus a Java applet for your Web server. Output resolution for print can be very large if you feed large source files in, but the IVR interactive playback size is always 400-x-300 pixels and 72dpi. You can hand edit the HTML code to give a different image size for Java. QuickTime is supported to a limited extent, in that you can choose to convert PhotoVista’s standard spherical projection to the cylindrical projection required by QuickTime. You can then take the PhotoVista JPEG file and convert it to QTVR using a third-party program. Apple provides a free strip-to-QTVR converter for PICT files, called QTVR Make Panorama 2 on its Web site. This only runs on Mac OS, though its QTVR files can also be read by Windows QuickTime players and browser plug-ins. The application’s main competitor is EnRoute’s Windows-only QuickStitch 360 for fully rotating QTVR movies, or the non-rotating but multi-row QuickStitch 2.0. QuickStitch 360 is less accurate for difficult images, and doesn’t generate HTML or Java. Another alternative, VR Worx 2.0 is more expensive, but lets you create QTVR rotating objects for integration into panoramic, hyperlinked scenes. PhotoVista 2.0 is accurate and offers excellent value for money. It’s just a shame that QTVR has not been implemented properly.