What better way to put city living in perspective than to look down on it from above?

The i360 tower promises to offer an aerial view of Brighton and Hove, but for those who can't wait, a new computer programme is doing the same job online.

Microsoft has created a futuristic street plan of Brighton and Hove as the software giant attempts to map the country.

Scale 3D images of The Royal Pavilion, Palace Pier and Old Steine greet visitors to Virtual Earth, part of the company's Live Search: Maps service.

It is one of the first areas of the UK to be featured on the site, alongside other provincial cities like Cardiff, Bristol and Wolverhampton.

Computer engineers used aerial photos to create the images and make an accurate lay-out of the city's streets.

John Megaughin, who is helping launch the programme in the UK, said: "They can map down to the most minute detail, then they model the buildings in 3D.

"One day the whole UK will be on there.

"It is quite a labour-intensive process. They are doing flyovers all the time."

He said Brighton was chosen because it was where mappers took the best-quality photographs from the early flyovers.

Visitors to the site it can see the names of streets appear on the roads, and search for businesses and addresses to get a virtual view of the location they are looking for.

They can get driving directions plotted onto the map, reducing the need for step-by-step written directions.

It is also possible to customise maps using photographs or markers to highlight places of importance, like hiking routes or favourite pubs.

More advanced US versions include real-time traffic information for the cities they map.

Visitors can switch between overhead and 45-degree 'bird's-eye' views of the streets.

Live Search spokesman Stuart Anderson said: "By helping people visualise information in far more useful and intuitive ways, Virtual Earth 3D takes search to an entirely new level.

"The immersive 3D experience provides a more powerful and engaging interface that delivers better experiences not only for consumers, but also for developers and advertisers."

The service is available at http://maps.live.com.

To see the virtual video, click here.

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