By Paul Worthington
Most consumers are happy enough with the JPEG
format for photo capture and
storage. Professionals and enthusiasts are turning to RAW as faster
processors and cheaper storage make it a more practical format. Nonetheless, Microsoft sees an opportunity -- if not a need -- for another file format, one that it claims delivers better picture quality and data compression than the ancient-by-technology-standards JPEG scheme.
The Windows Media Photo format was publicized this week at the Windows
Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle, WA.
News coverage this week pointed out the obvious problem any new attempt at a
standard has: gaining support from significant software makers such as
Adobe, Corel, and Apple, and getting hardware makers to switch as well. News
articles quoted hardware makers as saying they could not implement a new
capture format until 2008 -- as if this was the first they heard of WMP.
However, the file format was shown to developers three years ago [if not
earlier], when it was dubbed Photon -- back when Windows Vista was still
called Longhorn, and still expected to ship long before XP had its fifth
Microsoft says WMP "employs a new, state-of-the-art compression algorithm
optimized for the digital photography market," and offers image quality
comparable to JPEG-2000 with computational and memory performance more
closely comparable to JPEG.
The new format "delivers a lossy compressed image of better perceptive
quality than JPEG at less than half the file size. The same compression
algorithm can also deliver mathematically lossless compressed images that
are typically 2.5 times smaller than the original uncompressed data."
Windows Media Photo will deliver leading lossy and lossless compression
technology, the company claims, "excellent performance," and support for the
widest variety of image formats, including high dynamic range photography
and printer-specific color formats. Microsoft says it "is the only format
that ... enables practical in-device implementation."
We were impressed with the Photon demonstration we saw in June 2003 -- but
we can't at this time see major camera makers shifting from JPEG to WMP
image capture. However, there may be a place for a format that offer significant
compression while maintaining better image quality: RAW shooters who want to
save good-looking copies that are better suited to Web pages or email.