Why use VR on a Web-site....

Virtual Reality, "VR" offers the most cost effective visual presentation of any type available. In terms of "Bang for your Buck", VR is the best method for viewers to evaluate products on a web-site. VR allows the user to interact with the product, looking at it from different angles, study particular details, see it how it functions, generally play with it - all without leaving the home or office. We all know how important it is to a sale for the customer to pick up the product in a store; VR on a web-site is the virtual equivalent of picking up a product. Only better!

VR on a web-site creates a memorable experience for the visitors who will remember the site and products. The term "sticky" site was coined for VR!

In side by side comparisons over the past several years, it has been confirmed that sites with VR imaged products outsell 2D imaged products at least five to one. This makes VR a sensible choice when investing in a web-site for product eCommerce, after all, what is the point in spending money to drive visitors to a web-site, only to loose them again. VR will help convert visitor traffic into sales customers.

I suggest offering VR files with your URL embedded in the file for downloading onto the visitor's computer; it's like putting a brochure in their hands.


A little about the different types of VR....

There are a number of ways to put VR onto your web-site. These include QTVR and FLASH, both of which require a plug-in to operate. VR that does not require plug-ins are JAVA players such as IBM's Hot Media or MGI's Live Picture.

Each technology has advantages and limitations. When it comes to flexibility, nothing can touch QTVR, which allows pretty much any image manipulation one can think up, including zooming, animation in panoramas and lots of other cool features. However, for the broadest appeal and application, FLASH seems like a good pick. Unlike QTVR, FLASH is not a "true" object movie, but rather a fancy "rollover". This does not matter since it works well for Objects. Unfortunately, FLASH does not work well with panoramas, since it is not able to distort the source image properly to get a beautiful playback. For panorama imaging. Hot Media or MGI Live Picture are a workable alternative to QTVR technology.


How BIG do these files have to be....

Most of the object movies on my site are between 300 and 400k each. These images comprise 36 frames, each with a window size of 320x240 and JPEG 50 compression. Click on any one of them and you will get a good idea of the time a visitor to your site will have to wait while downloading a VR file. If this seems long, do not despair, the files can be made a lot smaller.

There are three main issues affecting file size and hence download times:

1. Number of frames.
HOW many frames are really needed to present your product properly? If the number of frames is reduced from 36 to 12, this reduces a 300k file to 100k - a two-thirds reduction in download time. The trade-off is a less smooth movement of the object when spinning. It is worth mentioning that some clients feel the need to go the other way, with as much as 180 frames for each object. This is NOT recommenced as the file size can easily reach 3-4 Megabytes, which does not work well for dialup connections.

2. Window Size.
The size of the window in which the image is presented can be adjusted to minimize the file size. The smaller the window the smaller the file - a 320x240 pixel window reduced to 300x200 pixels results in almost 50% savings in the file size. Many web-sites use window sizes such as 120x160, This is very small, but it works wonders for the file size. A good solution can be using them as "thumbnails" which when clicked deliver a larger size image for the user to view. Time is not then wasted waiting for images of no interest to download.

3. Image Compression.
Compression reduces the quality of an image by removing information in the source file. The more a file is compressed, the more information is removed and, depending on the displayed size of the image, at some point the amount of data removed will start to affect the appearance of the picture. Personally, I'm very happy with JPEG 50, but many people are perfectly happy with a file compressed much more. The best way to make this choice is to create samples of different compression ratios and compare them.

My personal recommendation for most clients is to create 2 or more versions of each VR file, then as the default on the website link people to the smallest file, while at the same time offering a link to a larger file, this will bring pictures in front of clients quickly, and also encourage people to check out a larger file to see more details of a product.


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