Interestingly, Virtual Earth has parameterized their new hillshade feature. Here are some examples of tiles with the parameter turned on and off.
My first thought was that Virtual Earth was sending an additional, separate, tile overlay with semi-transparent hillshading (like Google is doing with their hybrid map style). Not the case. The labeling is clearly on top of the hillshading (see that little magnifier below), and it is delivered embedded in a single image (above).
Clue to Future Coolness?
I wonder if this means the VE team is managing a wholly separate set of tiles for the hillshaded version, or if it is sandwiched into the existing tiles upon every user request? It’s an interesting comparison of memory vs. processing: which is more expensive?
Curiously, the URL is set up so that hillshade is a variable. I thought maybe they were leaving the door open for additional overlay options they may wish to provide in the future, like population density or any other visual overlay that would tint the map style -maybe they are. I tried various values in there besides "hill", like shading=pop and shading=temp with no luck. The VE team says that hillshade has been implemented as a variable because not everyone will want hillshading in their application. Why would anyone choose cool over super-cool? I don’t know. But I am curious to see what shading parameters may be provided in the future.