So how to support all the possible client computing devices? The solution for web-based cloud computing applications is naturally to have a web-based client. While waiting for a Mac release, Autodesk brought out a version that runs from your browser. With no Mac version in sight, this is the option for me.
To take it for a spin, I choose photos from a motorbike while travelling in Thailand. Just a set of 32 photos - each is about 3200x2400 pixels and 2.5 mb in size. I was hoping that the dusty old Honda Wave wouldn't have too many reflections which are hard for photo-geometric applications like 123D Catch to handle. In other words, an old, rusty and dusty motorbike might "catch" more easily than a shiny new motorbike.
The first step : go to 123D Catch and log in. After that, select the web-based version. Here a start screen appears with the basic options. I start a new project and chose add images.
Yes, it is easy - I just select the pictures from my finder window and drag them to the 123D Catch dialog in Chrome. The web-app generates thumbnails for me to see which pictures have been loaded and lets me add more pictures. When all the pictures have been added, I select "finish" and Catch starts to upload and process my photos. I just go back to work on my computer while I'm waiting.
I did close the browser window while the first photo upload was running. Since it had not finished, I had not saved the project. It wasn't possible to go back to the upload, so I just restarted a new project and a new upload. Then back to work on something else.
When uploading photos, Catch gives you a status bar for feedback. When on a reasonable internet network, this works as expected. Working on a slow internet connection at first, I noticed two problems. The less important problem was that the status bar didn't really provide useful feedback.
The more important problem was that I could not finish the upload of the photos. I tested on 2 connections. One internet connection was via 3G and not the fastest connection either. The other was an ADSL connection, but with slow performance. Both worked fine for email and surfing. I watched as about half of my photos uploaded (monitoring the upload data stream) and then the upload just slowed to almost nothing, and then to nothing at all. It did this repeatedly. I was only able to upload the project when I changed locations and moved on to a large city with a different network.
The upload completed in a short time and Catch gives you a dialog to add information before processing. One section is for naming, tagging, and categorizing your project which is particularly useful if you plan to share the project in the 123D Catch Gallery online. The second option is to define the resolution of the model to generate, low resolution or high resolution. Naturally, the latter takes more time and creates larger models.
Once you send the project for processing, the work is done on the Autodesk servers. You are able to continue with other work on your system such as creating another project. 123D Catch lets you know that your project is processing. You can see this in "my projects". When it is complete, then you can open the project, download the model, and continue to work with your "catch".
In this motorbike project, I used 32 photos. The results were interesting with the first version, but there were many surfaces which were incomplete. 123D Catch has a plugin application for repairing the surfaces that you can download and install. The plug in is relatively simple to download and to install. The toolbar for the plugin is added to your browser window and it allows you to analyse your model and to do basic repairs on the geometry. What is missing in the web version but available on the PC version is the tool for improving the stitching of the photos. The stitching tool allows you to provide data for photos which increases the correlation between images and allows 123D Catch to create more accurate 3D models from the photos.
The web version plug in allows for analysis of the surfaces and provides some healing tools. It will be interesting to investigate the implementation of these tools. The Honda Wave model needs a lot of fixing on the left side of the motorbike and the stitching tools on the PC version might help in that case. The front tire, for example, has the ground from the other side of the motorbike as part of the front tire - smeared in the same geometry as the spokes. Admittedly difficult to calculate, the stitching tool may have helped remove the problem.
In the end, my first test used a limited (32) number of photos on a fairly complex object and the results were interesting but of limited use. I would need to add more photos, use higher resolution photos, or perhaps render for a high resolution model. None is possible once you have rendered the model. I will retest with the same photos at higher resolutions and also retest with selecting the high-resolution model-generation option. The web version allows everyone to "Catch" their photos, but the web version has issues with photo uploading and a limited tool-set.
When returning to 123D Catch later, I wanted to launch a new project. It seemed natural to go to "my projects" and to find the option for "create a new model" in whichever manner Autodesk would propose that. But that option is no where to be found. I looked and searched through all the options within my projects. Then I loaded the Honda project to check the options. After loading the project, the 123D Catch menu (in the upper left corner) pulls down and proposes a new project. There I click and the familiar new project dialog appears. In the end, it is only on the very first screen after login or on the model screen where you will find the 123D Catch menu for starting a new project. Knowing that Autodesk has the ability and the resources to check usability, I find this oversight in the interface inexcusable.
And it is not just that the photo upload fails, it is also the problem that you do not know if Catch is still uploading or if Catch has stopped completely. The interface indicates that the upload is still progressing even though the transfer has stopped. I could verify this by watching the data-transfer information from my computer.
Autodesk should find and fix the upload issue - in this day and age, it is not acceptable that the internet connection speed or the quality of the connection should cause a simple data-transfer operation to fail. (in all fairness to Autodesk, the same can happen with services like youtube, but it is rare). In addition, Autodesk could make a simple and useful interface change. Simply add the amount of data uploaded as part of the upload interface. Then, on a slow or troublesome connection, it is possible to see that the transfer has stopped or that it is still uploading.
The stitching tool assists 123D Catch in generating better models using the same photos. It could be that a web interface makes this tool impractical. None-the-less, it is a useful tool to have and is missing here.
This is a small, but annoying issue. I closed the browser window by accident while the photo upload was in progress. Poof ! no more project. I needed to restart from scratch. While it is not difficult to retrace your steps, it is also possible for a web application to prevent an accidental closing of an active browser window. Facebook, for example, warns you if you try to close a window without finishing a post you have written. Autodesk could do the same.
Some points I noted during my project on the Macbook Pro are the following :
Recommended browser : Google Chrome - this is what I used.
Not supported browser : Opera
Safari browser : requires WebGL plug-in
Number of free projects : 3 projects can be stored and kept for free. Autodesk offers a premium membership for $99 (US) per year.
Photograph upload : Uploading photos is sometimes unreliable and does not finish.
Interface : There are circumstances where the interface does not seem intuitive such as not having a "new project" option when reviewing your projects.
Tools : There are analysis and surface healing tools. The stitching tool from the PC version is missing.
Last year, Stéphane Gantelet provided us with an article on his video "Go Home View" created with 123D Catch. Stéphane "caught" an entire apartment in photos and created the video. Read about his experience here on CADplace.