What is a Panoramic Image? When you look at the world, turning your head, you do not see a flat image. How, then, is an image of the world put onto a flat surface? This has been a problem for painters, mapmakers, and photographers for centuries. It is in fact impossible to put a curved image precisely onto a flat surface, although many efforts to date have yielded acceptable results: cameras can usually display lines as actually straight; mapmakers distort our spherical earth in different ways so as to minimize the distortion than inevitably results; photorealistic painters go one step further and depict a mathematically incorrect perspective, to closer reproduce our piecemeal way of looking around ourselves.
Panoramic, or VR photography, is normally viewed on a computer using an immersive viewer, which displays a spherical (360x180 degrees) image. The audience may look in any direction from one point of view.
The implication of this is nothing short of revolutionary for the world of photography. No longer are we confined to the rectangular image captured by cameras. Panoramic photography is, in effect, a step closer to viewing images the way humans see the world.
Viewing Panoramic Images Viewing a spherical panorama on the web requires a plugin to be installed. The most common are Java and Quicktime, respectively. As they serve a variety of functions besides only viewing panoramas, it's best to have them installed in any case.
A new and very promising web-based panorama viewer is made by Deval VR. This activeX plugin is tiny (~150k) and utilizes hardware acceleration (something Java and Quictime don't do) which makes it very smooth and fast. It also allows things that are not possible at all with Java or Quicktime, such as embedding a video inside the spherical panorama.