March 6, 2007 9:00 PM PST

Microsoft: Make our HD Photo format a standard

If you love something, set it free.

Such is the reasoning behind a step Microsoft plans to announce Thursday: it will submit its HD Photo image format to a standards body. Making HD Photos a neutral industry standard, not just a Microsoft technology, is a significant step in the company's ambitious plan to establish a higher-quality replacement for today's ubiquitous JPEG standard.

"Microsoft...intends to standardize the technology and will be submitting HD Photo to an appropriate standards organization shortly," the company said in a statement. The company plans to announce the move Thursday at the Photo Marketing Association trade show in Las Vegas.

The standardization move makes sense, given Microsoft's ambitions, said InfoTrends analyst Ed Lee. "If Microsoft is looking for wider adoption of the format, it needs to be divorced from Microsoft itself," he said. "They're going to have to loosen the strings on it."

The company prizes its intellectual property as the foundation for its business. So what might Microsoft get by giving away technology? In short, an influential place at the heart of consumers' digital photography world.

"The companies that can help consumers manage and access photos ultimately will have a significant say in how those images are monetized in the future," for example, by connecting to services for photo sharing, editing and printing, Lee said. "The more Microsoft can be ingrained into the workflow process, the better their future is going to look."

Microsoft isn't commenting on its motives, but the standardization move follows earlier lowering of barriers.

In November, it liberalized the licensing policy--dropping fees, for example. At that time, it adopted the neutral HD Photo name instead of the Microsoft-centric Windows Media Photo, though Windows Vista uses the older name. And the company has said HD Photo technology is covered by the Open Specification Promise, an agreement under which Microsoft pledges not to assert its patent rights, which makes it more palatable to potential rivals--in particular open-source programmers.

Standards bodies can be a mixed blessing for technology companies. On the one hand, they can build broad industry support for a technology, enabling different companies' products to work better together. Ideally, standards rise above a particular company's agenda to reflect the needs and experience of several companies.

On the other hand, the consortia that create and approve standards are notoriously sluggish, especially when compared to the fast-moving computer industry, as Josh Weisberg, Microsoft's director of digital imaging evangelism, observed in January. And standards efforts aren't immune to competitive jockeying: Microsoft has faced obstacles trying to standardize its OOXML office document file formats.

Microsoft has put years of research into HD Photo and knows it has years more work to create a JPEG alternative, much less replacement. The company knows it has to woo partners from every corner of the industry, including camera makers and those who build photo printing kiosks.

"We know for it to be successful there has to be whole ecosystem," Rico Malvar, a Microsoft Research director who helped develop the format, said Tuesday at a meeting with reporters in Seattle.

But Microsoft is in a unique position to be able to create that ecosystem, Malvar argued. "When we see a need we go ahead and do it. We understand what it takes to work on a technology and make it into a real product," he said.

Standards can be easier to embrace. "In general, the spirit of the standardization effort is very helpful and useful," said Suresh Venkatraman, director of digital camera work at Micron, which manufactures image sensors and processing chips.

And there's a place for a JPEG successor, he added, though stopping short of endorsing HD Photo.

"From the sensor viewpoint, we're looking at how to get a larger color range. Translating that into a file format is something where there's room for improvement," Venkatraman said.

A broader color gamut is indeed one of the advantages Microsoft touts for HD Photo. ("HD" doesn't actually stand for anything, but the company hopes it will connote the "high definition" advantages of HDTV.) Among other HD Photo features:

• It can store 16 or 32 bits of data for each color, compared with JPEG's 8 bits, making it easier to discern shadow details or the subtle tonal variations of snow in sunlight.

• It compresses data twice as efficiently as JPEG, with either twice the quality at a given file size or half the file size at a given quality.

• It's designed to work well in camera image-processing chips, and to reduce memory requirements, it encodes images chunk by chunk without having to store the complete image at one time.

Microsoft has built support for the newer format into Windows Vista and has won an ally in influential graphics company Adobe Systems. At the same time, though, many of the photographers most likely to appreciate HD Photo's advantages already are shooting using "raw" data taken directly from the camera image sensors. Adobe is trying to replace myriad raw formats with its own Digital Negative specification, though it hasn't said whether it will seek to formally standardize that technology.

Overall, Microsoft's HD Photo journey has just begun.

"You're still probably talking at least a couple years before you get some form of critical mass," Lee said, and displacing JPEG is another challenge beyond that. "They're just at the very, very beginning."

CNET's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
standards, Microsoft Corp., format, printing, JPEG


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
continual MS Branding issues
Just this week CNet posted about mis-branding of HD: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
And now MS has changed the name of this format to HD Photo. Firstly MS messed up the .NET brand by putting it on everything it owned till nobody knew what it meant, and now it's in the process of doing the same with the Live moniker. MS needs some help in the marketing department. Hopefully it just becomes known as it's file extension of HDP - but even that doesn't exactly roll of the tongue.
Posted by xcgeek (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Graphics format from MS?
70% of media arts professionals use Macs. They will not adopt
any MS format. Even professionals that use Windows and have to
deal with pre-press firms that use Macs. Adobe, not MS, is the
graphics standard-bearer. The only thing MS will do is further
muddy the waters for all the amateurs, hobbyists and wanabees
the use products like Publisher, Front Page, and even Word, as
graphics tools. PSD (photoshop), JPG-RAW, TIFF and PNG are
robust formats and the state of the art.

MS is struggling to be relevant in the graphics space. They
should stick with being a commodity in the OS space. Leave the
expertise to Apple, Adobe and other companies that are
dedicated to excellence, not just trying to control standards.
Posted by Bryan777 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
not sure your facts are correct
70%? This may have been the case pre-y2k. There are many shops converting to Windows for their publishing and so are the printers. I worked at a small company for several years where we published, among other items, 3 monthly magazines. At the suggestion of our publishing group, we moved from Mac to XP in 2002-2003 and never looked back. Why did we migrate?

1. The software (ex. Quark) that was once Mac only is now dual platform or Windows only.
2. The talent pool for people proficient in Mac got smaller and smaller during that time frame. Everyone knew windows.
3. Networking. Especially in the System 9 and early OSX days networking was a pain.
4. Format agnostic. The printers who printed our mags didn't care on what platform we published the content. They wanted everything in common format - usually postscript. We found many of our printers were on Windows anyway.
5. Hardware!!!! This one is huge. We had so many options for Windows based graphics cards and only closed options from Apple. Thjis also applied to Memory upgrades, etc.. Things are a little better now since apple has gone with Intel/Nvidia, but your choices are still very limited.

This was not n easy decision, but when we consulted with peers we found that others were doing the same thing. Going 100 Windows made my job as the IT manager so much simpler. We never looked back and actually wished we had made the move sooner.
Posted by frankwick (413 comments )
Link Flag
I think you might have missed the point of the format
I am a mac user. I think this is a good thing though. This isn't some sort of program format. It is a compression format. Similar to jpg but much more efficient. With Microsoft releasing this, that would mean (I think) Adobe could implement this format as an export/import option in their software without having to pay Microsoft royalties. I could download stock images for example, that haven't been too compressed by jpg format, while keeping the download size small. Web browsers/flash players similarly could implement this and reduce the download size.

I welcome opening up any format as long as it stays open.
Posted by jwmoreland (48 comments )
Link Flag
Graphics format from MS?
"...Leave the expertise to Apple, Adobe and other companies that are dedicated to excellence, not just trying to control standards."

Ummm... Like iTunes? PDF?

I mean, come-on... Nobody likes Microsoft, but to paint Apple &#38; Adobe as being less proprietary is nonsense.
Posted by Observer22 (2 comments )
Link Flag
MS's standard offer
The first vial of crack is always free.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS's standard offer
The first vial of crack is always free.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We don't need a new "standard" from MS. We already got PNG which is a very good replacement for JPEG. This is totally stupid. HD Photo will just be another Microsoft technology that only Microsoft will end using. WMA, HP Photo and Office Open XML. Let them all just die.
Posted by Karl Viklund (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I actually started using WMA over MP3. It's smaller with less distortion at 128k rate. Plus it's faster decompressing on playback.

I poo-pooed WMA for years until I actually looked into it and discovered that it's a better format for my needs.
Posted by Vince66 (27 comments )
Link Flag
PNG is not a player here
Strictly speaking PNG was developed to replace GIF images because of a patent claim by Unisys (that patent has now expired). PNG was designed to be be superior to GIF and to include the ability to replace JPG images by allowing "lossy" compression.

PNG doesn't offer much for camera makers though, it's a more complex format than JPG and doesn't offer the advantages of this new format from MS so it's not a player at either the low end (JPG/HD) or the high end (RAW/HD).

The problem I see with HD is the simple fact that right now if you're talking about raw images you expect to see the highest quality while JPG means a reduced picture but if both are replaced by HD you can't be sure of what you're getting.
Posted by HandGlad2 (91 comments )
Link Flag
A Cold Day in Hades Before that's Accepted
This is a joke, a thinly vield disguise of a move for control in the
graphics space.

First, I would like a show of hands, of anyone who asked
Microsoft for such a "standard". .... thought so, no one.

This is merely a push to gain foot-hold in a market they truly
have no business in. I can only cringe.

What makes a standard? Certainly not someone, or some
company that says "Hey, Look what I've got ... its a new
standard!". What a farce.

Standards come into being because
A) Everyone, or a majority of people are using a common
approach. At some point a group of different parties come
together, and provide guidelines, suggestions, and sometimes
code to move the standard forward. When a standard becomes
obsolete, hopefully the group will address this, simply because it
is in everyones common interest.
B) There is a common need, and parties from different groups
come together to find a common approach to solve a problem.

Microsoft is completely self serving in this. The author of this
article should be blasted for suggesting otherwise. After all we
go through with this corporation, you would think that no one
can be fooled anymore. I suspect no one was fooled in this
case, but merely an approach to sell the idea to us. Like we'd
really bite. To do so, would only result in being bitten. Well, I
have something they can bite on.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How about a new standard from Adobe. Now that I could believe.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
Know-nothing response
What a know-nothing response. It does not address the technology or the marketplace at all. It merely bashed Microsoft for developing it. And the thought that they might make money from it apparently scandalizes the responder. Is it OK if someone else makes money? Can the photo shops charge for their services, or do they have to give the prints away for free? Or do you merely dislike the fact that intellectual property is worth something?
Posted by Jim1900 (821 comments )
Link Flag
Asked for a standard?
How familiar are you with the standards process? IEEE? IETF? ISO?

While some standards come out of the deliberative processes of
a body in most cases standards come from suggestions from
rank and file or outsiders. The IETF is a very good example of
this process - anyone can submit a standards proposal and its
how some of the most important standards have originated (ssh
is a good example of this). What happens is that people see a
problem, develop a solution, and then submit that solution to
the body. If that solution has already been implemented and is
in wide usage then its more likley for the standard to be
formalized. As such it generally is someone saying "hey look!
I've got a new standard". Seriously, check out and look at
the submission guidelines. You might even have an idea that
could become a standard.

In other cases companies develop internal standards that
become so widely adopted that they become defacto industry
standards (and sometimes even formal standards). The Hayes
modem protocol, PCL, and TrueType and very good examples of

I'm not really sure what you think standards bodies are - they
aren't think tanks that sit around and try to come up with
solutions. They generally work as interorganizational groups
that act as referees and judges on competing proposed
Posted by rapier1 (2722 comments )
Link Flag
What is a "standard"
Who gives a crap what company makes an open standard? Take a look at what it does and how it works. If it is the best format out there and we as consumers gain from it then it should be used.

You talk about Adobe as though they would be out give away their graphical standards for the betterment of society. Yeah, sure. I'm sure they never made a penny of the .pdf format- it was all for the good of the computer society! Hahaha!

MONEY drives innovation in a consumer society. Tell yourself otherwise and you're only fooling yourself.

Finally, having a "standard" does not mean that you have market share of any sort. A standard is simply a documented, industry-accepted way of doing things.

There is ALWAYS a need for new, better ways of doing things and standards will always govern them. We as consumers "Ask for" these all the time.
Posted by Fireweaver (105 comments )
Link Flag
They should...
make it a standard. It is a good graphics format.

What they need to do though is standardize it and give up all legal claims to it.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Whatever happened to Flashpix?
It's been out for ages and doesn't seem to have caught on. I know it used alot of storage space, but it only used a small amount of bandwith when displaying an image. I had an image of a tiger from a Kodak CD where you could zoom in and see the taste buds on his tongue.
Posted by freemarket--2008 (5058 comments )
Reply Link Flag
do you really trust Steve Ballmer?
Why would anyone trust a company who wants to charge $4000 for a patch to fix the Daylight Savings issue for Windows 2000? A patch that they have already written. I don't trust them as far as I could fling a Vista CD into the trashcan.
Posted by befuddledms (113 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Daylight Savings Time Patch is Free
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Go to MS, they do not have a patch built for windows 2000 but they do have a registry file to import. Copy and paste the text into a text file and rename to .reg. Double click the file and add the registry entry. $4000?

I am not a big MS fan and agree that anything MS gets their hands into is a bad thing. I do not agree though that their patch for w2k is $4000.
Posted by pchesels (20 comments )
Link Flag
It is a great format but people will not accept it since it is from MS. If it is adopted as a standard then we may see proliferation.

Think of this standard as a format nestled between RAW and JPG. JPG loses so much detail at higher compression and RAW files are way too big and slow. JPG2000 attempted to find the happy medium but never had support or the push to help adopt it.

This is only good news for anyone who struggles with jpg files like I do on a daily basis.
Posted by frankwick (413 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"It is a great format..."

It is a good format, not a great one.

"... but people will not accept it since it is from MS."

Probably true, unless it was actually good enough to get the
attention of those who both know and care what it will do for

"If it is adopted as a standard then we may see proliferation."

Then make the format better so that there will actually be
support for it.

"Think of this standard as a format nestled between RAW and

There are already lots of formats between RAW and JPG. Why
muddy the waters with yet another?

"JPG loses so much detail at higher compression and RAW files
are way too big and slow."

Those are two different formats, and each has its strengths. RAW
is high quality and jpg is fast.

"JPG2000 attempted to find the happy medium but never had
support or the push to help adopt it."

Excellent point. So why is a marginally better format like HD
Photo going to be any different?

"This is only good news for anyone who struggles with jpg files
like I do on a daily basis."

In what way are you struggling? Bandwidth? Compatibility?
Quality? What?

Have a nice day!
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Link Flag
Beware of Microsoft Baring Gifts.
Posted by NWLB (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS have never contributed anything but their control.

Open Source is a safer option because it lacks bias from any one company.

Open standards is the main reason why the Internet flourishes.

A format from MS can only be bad.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Link Flag
the faltering monopolist
Kind of amazing the thought process going on here. Since Microsoft retains massive monopolistic control over the world's computer desktop software space, why would they think that their in-house standard won't succeed? Do they really think that making their proprietary format open will bring business their way? The open-source community will make such short work of incorporating this into their softwares that consumers won't even have a chance to worry about deciding between Microsoft or something else for processing it. Microsoft is losing its touch in the marketplace on every front...
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No They Won't
&gt; their proprietary format open will bring
&gt; business their way? The open-source community
&gt; will make such short work of incorporating
&gt; this into their softwares

I seriously doubt it, unless there were
absolutely no strings attached. Note that the
FOSS community has all but avoided touching
OOXML for this reason.
Posted by DarkPhoenixFF4 (206 comments )
Link Flag
Beware of Microsoft
The devil may be in the details.
You need a lawyer to figure out if it is OK to use.

An open source format would be safer to use.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It feels wrong
I have a gut feeling that if MS managed to make this file a standard that the control that MS would assert would be damaging to everyone.

Just a gut feeling? Not really. History is the best teacher and MS history is full of manipulation, greed, control, and abuse.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
At this point in time, when MS is trying to convince the world that Linux encroaches on their intellectual property, they are generously going to supply an open standard to the world? Hmmmm ...

Re Flashpix, heard of it, never used it. Sounds like maybe used a fractal approach.

I shoot mostly JPG with my Fuji S7000 at highest quality. If there's a subject that really requires the extra detail, RAW and The Gimp work for me.
Posted by NoVista (274 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not a chance
There is no way this is going to become a standard. There are
fundamental problems with jpegs (other than color space) that
this does not address. Image quality is lost every time you save a
file. It's like taking a clean sheet of paper and crumpling it up.
Then you unfold it and flatten it out. It's no longer perfect. Then
you crumple it up again, and unfold it and it's worse. Any lossy
file format as the respository of the original image is wrong, and
should not be used.

RAW is the future of photography. Period. Whether it's Adobe's
dng or some other format is yet to be determined. But as long as
we have multiple file formats, it's like having 35mm, 126, 110
and disc formats. It makes things more complex. Not better.

And last of all, using HD is an insult to our intelligence. Give
buzzword bingo a rest Microsoft!
Posted by ewelch (767 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The scope of this file format is awe-inspiring:

It can replace RAW and JPEG and PNG. It can do all that these formats do.

It can do lossless compression like RAW and PNG. XMP and EXIF stores that metadata our raw processors need.

It can do lossless alpha layers like PNG.

It can do lossy-but-not-terribly-lossy compression that's like JPEG but only better.

And it's open and we're free to implement it in our favorite programming language on our favorite platform.

What a PR stunt, Mr. Ballmer!
Posted by jpsalvesen (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Was that sarcasm? It it was, I love your wit.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
KS Photo
Maybe it should be renamed again... to KS Photo. KS for Kitchen
Sink. Seriously though, HD Photo is pretty good. I simply question
the need for it given the already existing alternatives.

Have a nice day!
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Link Flag
Give it a rest
"Innovation" from Microsoft means buggy and/or some scheme to increase market share, all at the expense of the ultimate consumer. Thank god we have other options. I feel sorry for all those poor people who are forced to use PCs with Microsoft products on a daily basis. What a nightmare!
Posted by Xenu7-214951314497503184010868 (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.