Microsoft's amazing Virtual Earth mapping service received a revolutionary upgrade this week, taking its bird's-eye imagery into brand-new 3-D territory. The new feature, dubbed Virtual Earth 3D, lets users navigate through select US cities--and eventually other cities from around the world--by using an amazing texture-mapped, near-photographic 3-D interface that emulates the experience of viewing a city from a low-flying plane.

"By helping people visualize information in far more useful and intuitive ways, Virtual Earth 3D takes search to an entirely new level," says Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. "The immersive 3-D experience provides a more powerful and engaging interface that delivers better experiences not only for consumers, but also for developers and advertisers."

This service is one of those see-it-to-believe-it things. As you navigate around one of the supported cities (there are currently 15: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas and Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle), you can access such features as real-time traffic information. Advertising is particularly amazing: It's provided on billboards set in each city, on the top or sides of buildings, and in other similar locations.

Go check this one out. To access Virtual Earth 3D, navigate to the Windows Live Local Search service (http://local.live.com/ ). You will need to use Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and install some local components. Prepare to be amazed.