July 31, 2007 9:14 AM PDT

Microsoft photo standard comes into focus

Microsoft's alternative to the ubiquitous JPEG image format could soon become a standard, a major step in the company's ambitions to spread the technology and boost its Vista operating system.

In coming months, 16 national standards groups will formally vote on whether the Joint Photographic Experts Group, after which the JPEG file format is named, should make Microsoft's relatively new HD Photo format a standard. Getting to this stage is a good sign in Microsoft's view, and the company has hopes the format will be accepted as a standard called JPEG XR by mid-2008, said Robert Rossi, principal program manager at Microsoft for emerging image and video technology.

"The fact that this happened is a very strong endorsement. It's very rare for this to be reversed in the formalities that happen between now and October," Rossi said. Microsoft already had declared its standardization intent, but had been mum on details.

JPEG standardization could improve the format's prospects, said InfoTrends analyst Ed Lee. "That helps the potential future of the standard significantly," he said. With an open standard, it will be easier to win allies such as camera makers, and competitors "won't feel as wary about adopting it."

Microsoft hopes the format will put its products squarely in the center of people's digital doings. Windows Vista has built-in support for the file format.

"It's going to make Vista more attractive as an operating system to use," Rossi said.

Microsoft has found some partners for JPEG XR. Among those who have endorsed the technology are high-end camera maker Hasselblad, camera image sensor start-up Foveon, and ARM and Novatek Microelectronics, two companies whose chip designs are used for image processing in cameras. Earlier this year, Microsoft already won praise from image-editing software powerhouse Adobe Systems.

HD Photo

Standardization doesn't guarantee success, however. JPEG 2000, a successor to JPEG that came from the same standards group, has been a dud in mainstream consumer markets even though it offered better compression quality.

But JPEG 2000 has become an option in some specific niche markets such as digital cinema, medical imaging, and mapping and geographic information systems. The JPEG organization, in a statement Tuesday, said many of those standards are independent of the encoding scheme. That means that JPEG XR has the potential to unify the more industrial realm of JPEG 2000 and the consumer world of conventional JPEG.

The JPEG organization also praised Microsoft's decision to give free access to any of its patents that bear on JPEG XR. "Microsoft's royalty-free commitment will help the JPEG committee foster widespread adoption of the specification and help ensure that it can be implemented by the widest possible audience," the organization said, encouraging others to take that approach when trying to set standards.

The JPEG XR format began its development as Windows Media Photo, but in a 2006 effort to encourage broader adoption, Microsoft changed the name to the more neutral HD Photo and dropped restrictive licensing in favor of royalty-free terms. The proposed JPEG XR name not only is neutral, but it's already familiar to almost anyone with a digital camera today.

The "XR" in the name refers to the extended range of tones that the format can represent compared with traditional JPEG, one of many advantages Microsoft claims for the technology. JPEG can describe each component of red, blue and green color in a pixel with 8 bits of data; because cameras typically shoot images with 12 bits of data, that means conversion to JPEG typically throws away information a photographer might want, such as details in shadowed faces or the subtle folds of white clothing. JPEG XR can store 16 or 32 bits of data per color for each pixel.

Better compression technology, more details
Higher dynamic range will be important for image longevity, Rossi argued. Five or six years from now, "printers and displays will be well beyond what current JPEG technology is capable of accessing," he said.

Among the other advantages Microsoft touts:

• Compression technology that can record the same quality as traditional JPEG at half the file size or twice the quality at the same file size. In addition, unlike JPEG, the Microsoft format's encoding algorithm can preserve all the pixel data in what's called "lossless" compression.

• A broader color gamut, permitting richer colors and better preservation as images are moved from camera to computer to printer.

• HD Photo images can be immense--262 million pixels on an edge, or 68.6 terapixels total, as long as the compressed image doesn't exceed 32GB in size.

Many photographers today seeking to extract all the data from their cameras use "raw" formats, which capture image sensor information without in-camera processing such as color balance, sharpening, noise reduction and compression into JPEG. Raw images, though, must be processed, often by hand, to convert them from usually proprietary formats into more easily viewed or printed formats such as JPEG or TIFF.

Microsoft, though, hopes JPEG XR will take away some of the need for raw images.

"You're giving people much of the capability of raw in a convenient file format," Rossi said. "On the ultra-high-end there might be still a preference to use raw," he added.

But the bigger challenge will be just getting mainstream photographers to use the format. Standardization, along with the familiar JPEG terminology, could make that easier.

"The bigger challenge is going to be getting the equipment manufacturers to buy in and incorporate that compression standard into their hardware," Lee said. "Once you've got that hardware, you're well on your way to getting it at least adopted by some consumers."

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49 comments

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It will take a lot more then a graphics format to save Vista
Besides if it is truly an open standard, how will it benefit the hapless Vista OS?
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
Reply Link Flag
not trying to benefit Vista
I don't think they are trying to benefit Vista but they are trying to build a better image for themselves in the long run. Think of this more as a peace offering to reduce the MS bashers and haters in one group.
Posted by chuchucuhi (233 comments )
Link Flag
Yeah, Microsoft is desperate to do anything to save Windows Vista
Gee, only 60 million sold in 6 months. Sales already exceed the entire installed Mac base.

Yep, Vista is dying on the vine.

Do yourself a favor and buy a clue.
Posted by Milly Staples (24 comments )
Link Flag
All the cool kids are using Vista
Get with the times!
Posted by misterroboto (3 comments )
Link Flag
Two words - Patent Trap.
Not sure (yet), but I'm willing to wager that there's likely more than a couple of processes in the standard that require licensing MSFT patents to do it.

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft gets one right
Microsoft has done a good job with HD Photo/JPEG XR. I have looked at the image quality and source code of HD Photo (which Microsoft makes available to everyone at no cost or license fees whatsoever). Quality wise, HD Photo is comparable to JPEG 2000. Each format has its strengths and weaknesses.

HD Photo really wins in the area of accessibility. JPEG 2000 has lots of restrictive licensing terms. The SDKs I have looked at are expensive to license and don't come with full source code. This is a pain for anyone trying to maintain a code base across multiple platforms and compilers. The HD Photo source code is self contained ANSII C code and should be simple to port to any platform. The unrestricted free license means that developers can experiment with it and integrate it with their products without financial risk.

The upshot of all of this is that we will have access to much higher resolution images with better compression and much better quality than JPEG in the software we use the most such as web browsers and desktop publishing applications.
Posted by grangerfx (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Come on
Want a open source JPEG2000?
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ece.uvic.ca/~mdadams/jasper/" target="_newWindow">http://www.ece.uvic.ca/~mdadams/jasper/</a>

Want more codes links + comparison?
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.compression.ru/video/codec_comparison/pdf/jpeg2000_codec_comparison_en.pdf" target="_newWindow">http://www.compression.ru/video/codec_comparison/pdf/jpeg2000_codec_comparison_en.pdf</a>

Restrictive license?
excerpt: "
... agreement reached with over 20 large organizations holding many patents in this area to allow use of their intellectual property in connection with the standard without payment of license fees or royalties."
That is enough for me.

And yes, "old" JPEG is outdated.
Posted by maf07 (4 comments )
Link Flag
Assuming....
That Microsoft doesn't bait and switch as they usually do. I trust
nothing they do is in the best interest of the consumer or IT.
They have one interest period, domination and control.
Posted by georgiarat (254 comments )
Link Flag
JPEG XR might be the future
First of all, with digital cameras today, people have an LCD screen to see shots after they take them, and if someone's face is in the dark, they just re-take the shot. With the gigabytes on SD memory cards today, people with a digital camera can afford to take more than 1 shot of every scene. I can store more than hundreds of photos, and practically an unlimited amount if you swap memory cards.

Second of all, like the CNET blog said, people don't like processing time. They want to be able to show, edit, and email their pictures instantly. If the quality and small footprint (size) of Microsoft's new JPEG XR is true, then it might be a winner for an evolved JPEG format. Also, given the fact that the JPEG name is popular and widely-known, it wouldn't hinder Microsoft's marketing efforts unless they are really stupid.
Posted by Millerboy (104 comments )
Link Flag
We are sorry but to view these images you need Vista
I can see microsoft changing the spec of the image data every 6 months now.

Windows users will see millions and they will cripple or diable the viewing of any picture.

Imagine you are only allowed to see pictures as black and white or as a jumbled mess. I can seea future micrsoft patch that accidently corrupts image data if it does not conform to their standards.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
...
Why all of the hate and rage? Has Microsoft personally harmed or fouled any one of the people that post so vehemtly against them? I doubt it. Most of us in the technology realm have experienced a time when Microsoft's Evil Empire has actually - dare I say it - helped (ewww) us. Yes, most of the products that they push out are just that - PUSHED out. Too early, too hastily, too sloppily. But does that really mean that certain people have to be wholly against them at every turn? Absolutely not. Here is a novel idea, why not get informed and make a rational intelligent decision on what works for you. Once you've made that decision... don't worry about the rest. "Life is too short to be ticked off all the time"
Posted by kmomrik (44 comments )
Link Flag
reporter responds: it won't be Microsoft's standard
Microsoft certainly has trust issues with a lot of folks--open-source fans especially--but the result of making this a standard through the JPEG organization and all the national standards organizations that contribute to the group is that it won't be just a Microsoft standard. It's an industry standard. It's out of Microsoft's control if not influence. If a Vista patch breaks support, it's Microsoft deviating from the standard, not taking it in a new direction.
Posted by Shankland (1858 comments )
Link Flag
You have a problem with that ?
You have a problem with that ?
Every successful company in the world should always try to dominate its competition and control the market share . that's why microsoft is envied through out the world . with more than $3 billion dollars in profit every 3 months , there 's no real competion for microsoft in IT , not Apple or Google combined can dream of profits like these any time soon . not even in the 10 years . you can bet on that !
Posted by sokorie (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
FYI
Apple and Google combined is worth more than Microsoft. Today. Not 10 years from now. Do the research.
Posted by nmcphers (261 comments )
Link Flag
As long as it's an open standard,
then the oss implementations will be better than the proprietary ones. For now, though, I think I'll just stick to using .png's.

It's nice to see that Microsoft is taking a more orderly approach to creating "standards". Used to be they'd just kind of force everyone to use some proprietary thing and call it a standard. That was the kind of thing that really pissed me off. Seems they're getting smarter over there at Redmond. Bravo-- Encore.
Posted by ethana2 (348 comments )
Reply Link Flag
wtf??
*** is your problem, MS invested gobbles of money to create a new and much improved image format, decides to give it a neutral name (if it was Apple it you bet it would be iMyAs format, gave away the format for free for anyone (including Apple and Linux folks) to implement products on and MS is still bad guy, you fanboys are sick.
Posted by FutureGuy (742 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yes, wtf
"*** is your problem, MS invested gobbles of money..."

gobbles of money does not give them any additional weight.

"...to create a new and much improved image format,..."

It is not "much" improved over jpeg2000

"... decides to give it a neutral name (if it was Apple it you bet it
would be iMyAs format,..."

This is the third name they have given it in case you didn't know.
The last name was HD Photo, although they specifically stated
the HD did not stand for "high-definition". If not "high-
definition", then what did it stand for? What does XR stand for?
You might think "extended range", but where does it say that
anywhere?

"...gave away the format for free for anyone (including Apple and
Linux folks) to implement products on..."

They only promised not to charge royalties on the current
implementation. What about the future? No one knows.

"...and MS is still bad guy, you fanboys are sick."

Yes, Microsoft is still the bad guy. Have a nice day.
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Link Flag
Could ALWAYS used a better image format...
...and I could careless where it comes from.

Thanks MS
Posted by onlyauser (220 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One that will prolly languish anyway.
Unlike the XML-based attempt at an "open" office document standard, This one will likely fail, and for many reasons.

First reason: The one and only proggie that has more reach than Adobe Photoshop is, umm, MS Paint. Not exactly something that's going to hammer Photoshop anytime soon.

MSFT tried in 1999 to create a Photoshop-like clone, but it never left the MSDN/TechNet beta stage (UI-wise, it was pure crap for the most part, even when compared to GIMP, which is really saying something).

The second reason is that most digital cameras save in one of two common formats: RAW (proprietary) and *.jpg. There are literally hundreds of millions, if not billions, of digital cameras out there.

Third up: The Web. No longer is IE a defacto standard... images have to render in the likes of Firefox, Opera, and Safari... and IE's numbers are slipping badly. So, if you want your pix to show up for your web visitors, you'd best use something that everyone can use. IE-only will promptly alienate ~25% of your visitors, and no marketing department is stupid enough to do that. Even MSFT learned the hard way back in 1999-2000 when they tried to literally lock microsoft.com to IE-only... they backed down in less than a week.

Finally, we have the Graphics industry itself. We're talking about folks that are quite happy with .tif, .psd, .png, and a whole host of lossless compressible formats. Most of their inventory resides there. You think they're going to suddenly shift over to MSFT's new standard in light of all the other reasons listed above? Prolly not.

Don't get me wrong - any improvement in image standards is cool (caveat: one that can be vendor-locked is not*), but the industry simply isn't going to bother.

/P

* before anyone screams about Photoshop /.psd , I'll have you know that I can open .psd files all day long in The GIMP.
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's an open standard, not proprietary.
The story clearly states that this would not be a proprietary format, but instead an open one for all to use if they wish.

Your points are interesting, if completely irrelevant.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
Before talking about improvements...
What HD Photo really improves according to MSFT ?
We've just seen one PSNR measurement, which in terms of the "perceived" image quality says NOTHING.
The real supposed improvement in HD Photo is 48bit and High Dynamic Range support, which, in my own tests with their Photoshop plugin proved real poor.
The only other comparison I found around is this one: www.trellis-mgmt.com ...which also shows pretty bad quality of HD Photo when dealing with High Dynamic Range.
In the end, all these "claimed benefits", even versus common jpeg, are yet to be seen and proofs are yet to be evaluated by the people and corporations adopting image compression in general.
So, dear MSFT...whatever...show the facts not the Decibels.
Posted by sum1st (2 comments )
Link Flag
 

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