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Google Earth Resurfaced

The 4.3 beta has improved photo-realistic renderings and includes a new sunlight button to observe how light changes over time and at different times of day.

Google on Wednesday released an updated version of its 3D geospatial viewing application Google Earth that aims to deliver a more compelling viewing experience.

Google Earth 4.3 beta offers a new way to navigate the globe at street level using video game-style controls rather than its traditional camera tilt interface.

"We spent a lot of time rethinking how users interact with 3D data," said Peter Birch, a Google product manager, in a blog post. "We realized that when in outer space and far above the ground, you really want standard map-like controls that allow you to pan and zoom smoothly. However, if you want to get down to the ground and check out a city street, you really want a street-level navigation mode like you'd typically find in a video game."

Google's new world includes photo-realistic renderings for dozens of new cities, including Boston, Munich, and Tokyo. According to Birch, the updated software renders 3D models significantly faster than before.

Users can submit their own 3D models for inclusion in Google Earth by uploading them to Google 3D Warehouse, an online model sharing resource.

Google Earth 4.3 has a new sunlight button to observe how light changes over time and at different times of day. And it also marks the unification of Google Earth and Google Maps Street View -- Street View images are now available as a photo overlay layer in Google Earth.

In addition, Google Earth images now include the date that the image was acquired -- just the thing for checking on the progress of Iranian nuclear plant construction or the like.

Launched in 2005, Google Earth now supports 26 languages. According to a Google spokesperson, Google Earth has been downloaded over 350 million times.

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