Will Microsoft’s HD Photo Format Become a Standard?

Microsoft announced Tuesday that it has submitted Windows Vista’s HD Photo file format to the Joint Photographic Experts Group, known as JPEG, and that the standards body has agreed to take it on as a work item.

If adopted, the up and coming photo file format will be officially known as JPEG XR – short for Extended Range. But that process is likely to take at least a year.

Originally called Windows Media Photo, and co-developed by Microsoft Research and the company’s core media processing team, the name was changed to the more neutral-sounding HD Photo late last year.

“Our goal has been to develop the ultimate successor to JPEG  as the format of choice for all digital photography [and] we also announced earlier this year that we were committed to standardizing HD Photo as an open format,” said a blog post Tuesday by Bill Crow, program manager for HD Photo.

“For all the value the original JPEG format delivers, it’s starting to show its age. Limitations of the JPEG file format are hindering the ability to innovate new features and quality improvements in digital photography,” Crow continued. JPEG was formed back in the 1980s.

As digital cameras have become capable of taking pictures containing more and more data, photographers have bemoaned how much information is thrown away when images are saved in JPEG format. HD Photo was designed to provide more efficient compression as well as to preserve much more of the original data captured by the camera’s sensors.

“HD Photo offers a wide range of pixel formats at 8, 16 or 32 bits per channel including high dynamic range wide gamut formats using fixed point or floating point representations. HD Photo offers options that eliminate the quality limitations of the original JPEG format’s lone 24-bit pixel values,” Crow added.

JPEG is a working group of ISO/IEC, the International Organization for Standardization / International Electrotechnical Commission, and of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and is responsible for the JPEG family of imaging standards.

In seeking standards status, Microsoft says the technology will be available on a royalty free basis. “We greatly appreciate the contribution Microsoft is making to the IT ecosystem with the development of HD Photo,” Daniel Lee, convener of JPEG, said in a statement.

If it is adopted as JPEG XR, HD Photo will become part of an imaging architecture called JPEG Systems, which “is intended to provide harmonization and integration between a wide range of existing and new image coding schemes, in order to enable the design and delivery of the widest range of imaging applications, across many platforms and technologies,” according to another JPEG statement.

At this point, JPEG XR looks likely to pass when the ballots are counted after the October 8 closing date. But that only starts the standards process.

“It is pretty unusual for a ballot item to fail, as generally it has adequate support prior to its proposal,” Richard Clark, who is currently leading the ad hoc group charged with the JPEG Systems and JPEG XR work, told internetnews.com in an e-mail.

Once it is voted into the process, it must go through a series of drafts – including a committee draft, final draft, draft international standard, and then international standard, with a ballot between each draft. So, as Microsoft has learned recently with some of its
other standardization efforts – notably, Office Open XML – patience and perseverance are dual virtues for a vendor looking to win an official standards designation for its technology.

However, even the working draft of the original JPEG specification was adopted by vendors before the standard had actually been ratified, Clark pointed out.

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