Photosynth is one of the coolest pieces of software of any kind to emerge this year. And despite the fact that the name begins with the word “Photo” from a major software developer’s “Labs”, this time it’s Microsoft Live Labs giving us love instead of Adobe Labs.

Photosynth takes hundreds — or thousands — of conventional digital photos, analyzes them, and then through clever image analysis and comparison constructs an entire 3D geometry, mapping them onto the result. It sounds like complete voodoo, but somehow it works. When the project is done, you’ll be able to create your own 3D photoscapes without any special equipment. That’s a really appealing idea, given that past 2D/3D hybrid photo technologies like QuickTime VR required lots of special gear and manual stitching and labor. And even with those restrictions, QTVR created a loyal community that continues to thrive today; imagine what Photosynth could do.

Now, the really good news: instead of reading about Photosynth on blogs, you can actually try it out.

Photosynth Preview Online [Free ActiveX-based try-out; requires Windows and IE6 or IE7]

(Yes, everything cool from Microsoft these days requires IE7.) The results are stunning, and navigation is surprisingly brisk. (Scobleizer notes this was the surprise hit of the Web 2.0 summit.) It’s really a different experience to see two-dimensional photos spacialized in the real world. I found myself drawn even more to the resulting geometries that the analysis creates, ethereal clusters of colored vertices extrapolated entirely from the photos. I hope in the final version you’ll have some control over what’s displayed, and, ideally, export for use in motion graphics and live visuals.

No need to wax too poetic; let’s cut to the chase. I want to VJ with this thing. Using some photos of my lower Manhattan neighborhood. Right now.

In the meantime, as cool as this is, we’re going to have to wait for a while before it becomes practical even to import our own photos, explains the Photosynth Team:

We want to provide this capability as soon as we can but there are some real technical hurdles to solve before we’re ready for primetime. Today each and every image in a collection needs to be compared against each and every other image in order to see if it’s a match for the scene undergoing reconstruction. Processing to build a collection can take hours or days in some cases. We have lots of ideas on how to improve this processing time but we need some time test some of these ideas and make the tools easy for people to use.

Given these early impressions, it’ll be worth the wait. Go have a try and let us know what you think.

In other news, am I the first person to use the term “photoscape”? Regardless, think we can get it to catch on?

Microsoft Live Labs Photosynth Blog

[tags]Windows, Microsoft, previews, beta, 3D, software, imaging, photos[/tags]