Action Camera company GoPro's recent decision to sunset their excellent portfolio of Panorama tools shows neatly how foolish it is to try and second guess a technology company. This post evaluates a competitor, PTGui vs Autopano Giga.
GoPro acquired acknowledged industry leaders Kolor in 2015 as part of a deliberate to move into and dominate the VR market. As part of that acquisition they got Autopano Giga and Panotour. Autopano Giga was at the time the most user friendly and fully featured panorama stitching software available.
Panotour pulled off the same trick with 360° Virtual Tour creation and display. GoPro then developed the GoPro Fusion, one of the better 360° Video cameras and then mystifyingly, instead of working to integrate the already excellent Kolor tools, designed new tooling from the bottom up. Overcapture, a beast of a software that requires the mother of all processors to function.
What happened next is well recorded. Having taken their eye off their bread and butter market, the GoPro Hero series of action cameras, in order to become a media company, they allowed DJI to move on their market with the superior Osmo camera and stabilising grip. Overextended by the buying spree and suffering from lukewarm reviews and an aggressive competitor the company began to wobble and if rumours are to be believed is up for sale at a bargain basement price.
The knock on effect of all this on the photographers that relied on the Kolor tools to create Panoramas and Virtual Tours has been catastrophic. The combined price of the tooling was in excess of £400 and investment on that level is beyond the reach of non professional photographers. The discontinuation of support for the Kolor tooling means that sooner or later, as Operating Systems are updated and browser capability evolves, the tooling will become obsolete and in the worst case, break.
Panorama created with PTGui, Photoshop and Pano2VR
There is some good news. PTGui is a direct replacement for Autopano Giga and has come on in leaps and bounds over the past few years. I have recreated several of my panoramas in PTGui and I'm impressed, very impressed. The stitching engine gets more right first time than Autopano, distortion is less and the key point editor is more user friendly. On the downside there is no inbuilt method of inserting patches to cover the Nadir and Zenith. This requires an intermediate step, exporting the pano with a 90° pitch adjustment to photoshop to do the patching operation. In fact this is no bad thing as Photoshop is a lot better than Autopano at handling layers. I'm very happy to use PTGui moving forwards.
PanoTour can similarly be replaced. The mysteriously named Garden Gnome software have been around sufficiently long to inspire confidence in their longevity. They create a Virtual Tour software that is roughly the same as PanoTour. It is called Pano2VR. I haven't done anything like as much work with it as I have PTGui, but what I see, I like. The embedded HTML 5 viewer works well. I'll do a more detailed review of its capability next month.
Update: Virtual tour software KRPano was used as the engine of Panotour. I was very late in finding this out but if you licensed Panotour, you can apply for a KRPano license key through the "license" tab. you will then need to update (and pay a nominal fee for) the more recent version that includes the tooling. KRPano is immensely powerful, but fairly complex. People say that it has its strengths and one of those strengths is its currency - it is aggressively updated, their recent implementation of depth ma technology for example allows 3D models to be generated. This in turn has been wrapped into a new product, Everpano. I'm evaluating KRPano now..
If you're interested in the use of Virtual Tours in the real world, check out our Funky Frankwell project. You can find out more about the making of the project here.