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​Microsoft puts some pizzazz into panoramic photos Microsoft on Thursday added new creative options to its ICE software for creating panoramic scenes out of a collection of photos -- and now from a video, too.ICE (Image Composite Editor) 2.0, last updated in 2011, is a somewhat experimental Windows program that's long been due for an upgrade. Fortunately for photo enthusiasts, there are some great new features in the new version:You can create panoramas from a video, with ICE stitching together still frames drawn from it.If you have a recurring figure in that video -- say, a skateboarder you've tracked traversing the scene -- you can designate where you'd like to have repeat appearances of that figure across the panorama.When you create a video that has awkward gaps in it -- a common consequence when you don't keep your camera level as you pan across a scene -- ICE 2.0 can "autocomplete" to fill in the missing pieces.And if you've taken shots for a 360-degree panorama, you can create a "small world" view that turns your shots into a diminutive planet.By blurring the boundaries between single and multiple images and between still photos and video, ICE shows how much untapped potential there is in the domain of computational photography. That field of research applies computer processing techniques to extend well beyond just taking a single shot with a camera.Microsoft ICE 2.0 can create a panorama from a panning video, with the subject showing up multiple times.MicrosoftComputational photographyFor example, computational photography has led to gigapixel images you can dive into with zooming and panning controls, to high-dynamic range (HDR) images that fill in shadow and highlight detail by combining multiple exposures, to cameras that can correct lens optical problems, and even to Lytro's light-field cameras that let people focus a shot after it's taken."There's a ton of opportunity to move the development of photography beyond the camera into the viewing experiences of users," said Matt Uyttendaele, manager of Microsoft Research's computational photography group.Computational photography means new opportunities to challenge incumbents, as Lytro is trying to do with its cameras. A lot of computational photography sticks with the same old cameras, though, and adds post-processing software. Even though Adobe Photoshop has had an HDR tool for years, photographers still support specialist programs like HDRsoft's Photomatix Pro, Oloneo's PhotoEngine and Nik's HDR Efex Pro -- now part of Google.Microsoft ICE can create "small world" images from a suitable 360-degree panorama. The best source images have even skies above and bland ground at the bottom.MicrosoftFor Uyttendaele, the most exciting frontier of computational photography is the smartphone -- especially with camera makers opening up access to the raw image sensor data before it's been processed into a JPEG."It's the first time we've really had a hackable camera. We're getting more and more access to the pixel development pipeline. That's super exciting," he said. "The level of computation we can apply at image formation time is going to open up lots of cool applications."Panoramic imagery is increasingly common these days, with smartphone apps making it easier to sweep out a scene and instantly combine the shots into one single view through computational photography. The ICE software's abilities go a step beyond what smartphones typically offer, though.ICE in actionICE's core job is to examine images to figure out how they stitch together into a group. At that, I found ICE very capable for the most part. In more than a dozen tests from my own panoramic originals, stitched images were devoid of problems like discontinuities in the horizon, mismatched tree branches. Only in one case did I spot distracting tonal changes in the sky.Microsoft ICE 2.0 can fill in panorama gaps so you don't have to crop off the tops of mountains. It can show repeated scenery, though, such as periodic patterns in the lower right of this autofilled image.Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNETMy biggest complaint was that in two cases, ICE couldn't figure out how some images fit into a whole, leaving one edge or the other of my panorama cropped off. Mostly, though, it handled vertical and horizontal panoramas fine, including some grid panoramas with a rectangular array of source images. My second gripe is that images seemed a little soft compared to the originals.For still-photo fans, the biggest new feature is the ability to fill in panoramas' inevitable gaps. I found the autocomplete function to be hit or miss, but still very useful when it did work.Vertical panoramas work, too.Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNETWith featureless areas such as blue skies or a speckled granite foreground, autocomplete has an easy job. But when imagery patterns were complicated, ICE's copy-and-paste artifacts can make your shots eligible for publication on Photoshop Disasters. Most glaringly, slices of trees or buildings sometimes appear floating in the air, and big patches of duplicate scenery look like a glitch in the matrix.But it's hard to get too sore about autocomplete. After all, it's hard to make up image data that isn't there in the first place. And several times, using autocomplete to add a little blue sky in one part of an image saved me from cropping off the top of a mountain peak elsewhere. A good approach to using it was to let it make its best guess then simply crop away what was unacceptable. You could also export the image and then bring it into a high-powered editor like Adobe Photoshop, whose content-aware fill feature might do a better job with the missing pieces.Uyttendaele has ideas about how to improve autocomplete. One intriguing one -- assuming copyright issues were sorted out -- is to draw on the vast supply of images already available on the Internet."You could go to the Web and search for pixels to fill even better," Uyttendaele said. The video techniques add a lot more spice, too. I love the idea of automating the process of pulling the same person multiple times into a panoramic image. That usually requires a lot of manual labor. Microsoft has a particularly compelling example with a juggler tossing clubs to himself from one side of the frame to the other.The new ICE also gets a revamped user interface, the ability to export panoramas to Microsoft's Photosynth Web site, and 100 percent zoom for better previewing.From Microsoft ResearchICE, from Microsoft Research's Interactive Visual Media Group, isn't a regular software product from the company. Instead, it serves as a vehicle to develop technologies that show up in other Microsoft products. ICE's technology, for example, is used in its photo-stitching Photosynth software and its Bing Maps service, where countless individual image tiles must be joined into a seamless whole.ICE's purpose is to push what Microsoft Research can do -- and to encourage other parts of the company to adopt the technology."I've been in research for 15 years. When I started off, I had this rose-colored image of how product transfer would go from research into Microsoft products: we'd write a great paper, have some prototype code, and the idea would be so great that the project would sell itself," Uyttendaele said. "In reality, there's a lot of work left to do going from a research prototype to a product our customers can use. Microsoft ICE, where we finish the technology to the point where people can download and use it, forces us to polish it up so product groups can take it from us."Microsoft ICE 2.0 created this image of a juggler throwing clubs to himself from a video.MicrosoftPhotosynth for Android?Given that mission, it's hard to imagine Microsoft devoting lots of resources to a version of ICE for Mac, for example. Moving the core engine is easy, but some user interface aspects are tied to Windows, Uyttendaele said.But ICE-derived products are a different matter, particularly in the era of CEO Satya Nadella, who's more willing than his predecessor to bring Microsoft software to non-Windows operating systems like Apple's iOS.So how about Photosynth for Android, for example?"We might do that. I can't promise anything," Uyttendaele said. "Microsoft is writing more and more stuff for other platforms."​Yahoo teams up with Google on encrypted webmail LAS VEGAS -- Your webmail will be safer from prying eyes -- at some point next year. That's the promise that Yahoo and Google are making to their mail service users, who together make up the vast majority of webmail users. More than 425 million people use Gmail, with Yahoo Mail usage estimated at 273 million. Longtime security industry veteran Alex Stamos, who was named Yahoo's new chief information security officer earlier this year, told attendees of the Black Hat hacker and security conference here on Thursday that at some point in 2015, Yahoo Mail would not only be encrypted end-to-end, but would be compatible with the end-to-end encryption that Google is working on for Gmail. Related storiesEncrypted Yahoo Messenger on its wayYahoo plays catchup in the encryption arms raceYahoo, ICQ chats still vulnerable to government snoopsSecure websites to get Google search boostNew Chrome extension hopes to demystify encryptionWhen that happens, it will create a secure way to email between the two services. The contents of an email protected by end-to-end encryption are hidden and much harder to tamper with. They can not be viewed by any intermediary, including the webmail provider itself.Yahoo encrypted webmail at the data center level earlier this year, but encrypting emails sent between accounts has proven elusive so far.Encryption in webmail is difficult to implement for a number of reasons. It's currently extremely difficult for most people to use, and tech titans have concerns about losing customers if their services slow down because of encryption.Similar to Google's approach, Yahoo will be leveraging the security community to improve the encryption. Stamos said that Yahoo will release the encryption source code sometime this fall, "so that the open source community can help us refine the experience and hunt for bugs.""We don't have any other providers to talk about yet, butthe hope is that this is open and will be adopted by many others in theemail ecosystem," said a Yahoo spokeswoman. How important is webmail encryption to Google and Yahoo? It's a big enough brass ring that Stamos said they're working together on the project. "What this means is that eventually not only will Yahoo Mail users be able to communicate in an encrypted manner with other Yahoo Mail users, but also with Gmail users and eventually with other email systems that adopt similar methodologies," Stamos said in a statement.Tech titans are making encryption a bigger priority than before in the aftermath of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the foreign surveillance agency conducted bulk collection of phone and email communications.Updated at 7:35 p.m. PT with Yahoo comment.