« Autochromes, Among the Oldest and Rarest Color Pictures | Main | The Jeff and Michael Show (And There's More) »

Wednesday, 01 August 2007


If it does what it says in the blurb, then great. I don't think you should see this as a 'standard' though despite what the headline says. It'll become a standard, as JPEG has, if it works. Look at it as just another file format which may be better than what we've got already. JPEG isn't that great so if it improves on it, it'll have my vote.
As to what Gates & Co. will gain from it, maybe nothing, maybe they just have something which is better than what we have already and want to share it with everyone - or maybe I've been drinking too much...

I can take a pretty good guess. I believe that project comes out of Microsoft Research, an environment where the problem of "how to fit a picture that doesn't look badly into a smaller stretch of disk space" has some mathematical geek appeal. But I doubt that the proposal will ever get a lot of traction--usually with things like file formats, I doubt the new format is sufficiently better than what already exists to overcome the "what I have already works" inertia.

There may also be some business motivation for following through with it, but I suspect the primary original motivation is the engineering appeal of "doing more with less."

Support for lossless compression of 8 and 16 bit images. 32-bit HDR support, albeit only with lossy compression. Small file size. While JPEG 2000 has been around for a while, it's still not widely accepted and has no real way to embed EXIF data.

JPEG is old, and is showing its age. In particular, it doesn't support large bit depth, and compresses with artifacts. In addition, every save (when done with compression) loses information. It would be nice to have something better come along that could be agreed upon and made freely available to the community (in cameras, operating systems, browsers and image editing programs).

The fear with this coming from Microsoft is that they would control a number of patents which could be offered freely to the community, but with the possibility of having enforcement of "intellectual property rights" happening at some unspecified point in the future. Microsoft also has a history of promoting free standards that are ill-defined, obtuse, and easily broken, and difficult to implement (SOAP anyone?).

Jpeg does need to be overhauled and replaced, but with so many commercial interests competing for market share it's hard to imagine a world where anyone but the entity that describes the standard wins.

Microsoft licensing restrictions pretty much say it all.


Jon Udell (of Microsoft) has a podcast interview with Bill Crow (program manager for HD Photo at Microsoft) in which the history, technology, features and benefits of HD Photo are discussed.

A company, Forgent, has claims related to JPEG and is asking for licensing fees. My guess is that this dispute is somehow related to the Microsoft product and development.

How it furthers Gates & Co.'s corporate hegemony may be related to the words found in the licensing section of the HD Photo Wikipedia entry. It sounds like HD photo will always work better in non-GPL OS's.

Also, I have to wonder about future development. What if, after adoption, MS uses this as the foundation of something proprietary that works better in all sorts of nifty little ways that MS, having created it, understands now? They can use their research investment to morph the old formally adopted free standard into the new proprietary de-facto standard.

Also, from a public relations standpoint, if it works really well, is universally adopted, & was created by MS, then it's another aspect of life assimilated into the collective. Another way for people to think of MS as the source of every basic aspect of digital life.

Try that "Comparison of graphics file formats" link in the "see also" part of the Wikipedia HD Photo article. It looks like there's plenty of alternatives to choose so far.

I think it's about time for this. The compression artifacts in JPEG are pretty ugly, wouldn't you agree? Compression technology has advanced significantly in recent years. Independent photographers are going to need a more efficient way to publish their photographs online after the government awards all the good bandwidth to big media. If not Microsoft, I'm sure Adobe has a replacement for JPEG in the works. I would rather see it from Adobe, since they seem to have more of a commitment to open standards.

This seems well intentioned to me. I'm sure there are many smart, well meaning engineers working at Microsoft. I went to school with a few of them. I'm too busy fighting with windows vista to keep my monitor profiles loaded to defend Microsoft's business ethics, but I think it's hard these days to attack Bill Gates personally on global greed while his foundation is giving so much money for global health initiatives.

Chris' remarks closely reflect my thoughts on this subject.

There are one or two other compression algorithms that do a generally better job with photographic images than JPEG. Certain wavelet methods come to my mind. Such alternate compressors have been employed by closed, proprietary applications such as security and surveillance systems.

But I don't honestly see the public JPEG technology being predominantly replaced any time in the next 10 years or so, certainly not by a Microsoft-proprietary technology.

Probably the biggest cause for a "better" jpeg format is the megapixel race by camera vendors. You've got ever-increasing files coming off of DSLRs, not to mention MF backs. In a related fashion, once Photoshop added support for 16 bit filters, adjustment layers, etc, edited files of 500+MB have become more common. Most pro shooters are going crazy keeping their storage capacity on pace with their library. Of course, the actual image quality after compression will go a long way in determining whether this format takes hold. But the need for high quality image compression is much greater today than when the JPEG2000 format was introduced.

I think HD photo's real appeal is in the ability of showing high-resolution images on websites (and future media like Surface).

The related technology bit is SeaDragon (first bit of the presentation at http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/129).

What HD photo provides is a means for the browser to ask the server things like "get me this picture at that resolution" or "get me a crop here at full resolution"...

There are other benefits, but they aren't quite as groundbreaking (in my opinion).

It's time for JPEG to retire. But i heard that HD photo isn't too cool. At least for HDR. Are there any better alternatives? JPEG 2000 didn't manage to become a new standard. I think JPEG will be supported for a long time, so nothing to worry about.

MP3 isn't best quality thing for audio & it's not free. But it's still most widely used audio format, every player know it.

WMA is far from becoming a new standard.

When ADOBE promotes DNG people says - cool, at least, Canikon, shame on you for not supporting DNG.

Now we have a chance to get a better alternative to JPEG. If HD Photo sucks - it will be one of windows feature you turn off when you learn how.

"But I don't honestly see the public JPEG technology being predominantly replaced any time in the next 10 years or so, certainly not by a Microsoft-proprietary technology."

But if you read the licensing, the only real restriction forbids another company from altering Microsoft's "open source" code in order to create a third-party proprietary product. That's little different than restrictions on other open source products, so I don't see this as being labeled a "Microsoft-proprietary technology".

As to what Microsoft gets out of this, I have no doubt that there is some self interest, but it seems awful trivial compared to all their other products.

"I believe that project comes out of Microsoft Research, an environment where the problem of "how to fit a picture that doesn't look badly into a smaller stretch of disk space" has some mathematical geek appeal."

Well, if something like that was the case, would every new generation of Windows demand more and more disk space and resources? Would their programs be examples of bloatware and memory-hogging? They don't care about smallness.

As to the HD Photo format, I'd be much more inclined to believe in its benevolence if it was not for the exclusion of open source.

There's another informative podcast on this over at This Week In Media (http://thisweekinmedia.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=208207). It's more than the usual PR interview. Bill Crow actually goes into fairly deep technical detail on how it works.

I was skeptical myself at first of the whole idea, but assuming that Microsoft sticks to their promises of not needing royalties, letting people use their code for free, and publishing full specs for people looking to write their own implementation, then this could work well.

"Moreover, what evil purpose does the change serve?"

That's easy:

1. Microsoft signs up camera manufacturers to use this and makes almost no money doing so.
2. This file format becomes ubiquitous. Now Microsoft has leverage over camera manufacturers. Nobody wants to buy a camera that doesn't have this file format, and the accompanying badge on the box and the camera.
3. Microsoft uses it's leverage to force camera manufacturers to use a slightly extended, slightly twisted version of the file format in their cameras. In theory the new format extensions can be turned off inside the camera, but most people don't do so. The new extensions of the format kinda sorta almost work on all software on all OS's. But it only works well using Microsoft software on Windows.
4. Game over, Microsoft controls the camera industry. No one can build a camera without MS approval, no one can sell photography software without the proprietary MS extensions to their "open" file format.

There is a need to encapsulate perishable data and add editing instructions, descriptive metadata, and adjusted previews. But another format isn't the solution - DNG has those capabilities already. Whether the original is raw or jpeg, it can be wrapped in a DNG. Microsoft should be getting behind Adobe's initiative, not pursuing their own course.

Looks like the marketing people at Microsoft are making a big thing out of something that is "old news".

Microsoft proposed this new format a while ago at a JPEG conference and they agreed to make the patents available free of charge.

Giordano Beretta from HP has a good description of the backgrounds on the HP website:


I don't think Microsoft necessarily has a hidden agenda. JPEG really is up for replacement (greater bit depth, compression rate/quality, HDR, random access), JPEG2000 has failed in terms of widespread support so having Microsoft back a standard might actually be a good thing as long as they keep to their promise of putting HD Photo into their Open Specification.

It'd be an advantage for Microsoft to have a JPEG replacement format which had widespread acceptance. They're developing software/web applications which would benefit from having it being ubiquitous as JPEG is today.

As far as the licensing conditions referred to on the Wiki page, the software which Microsoft provides may have restrictions which make it incompatible with some open source projects but the specification itself does not seem to suffer the same restrictions so you'd be free to write your own libraries implementing HD Photo.

I don't seem much difference between this and the situation with Adobe/PDF. PDF is pretty much an "open" format. Though developed by a commercial company, it's licensed royalty free by Adobe. Microsoft is attempting to do something similar with HD Photo. Call it proprietary if you wish but ultimately it is a "free" (as in beer) standard which benefits everyone.

Technically, I have no idea whether HD Photo is the best alternative, however it is better to have a well adopted standard which may be nearly as good, than a technically superior solution which is hardly ever used.

Image quality loss from JPG compression is an issue worth addressing. I currently deal with this by shooting RAW and saving important, processed images as DNG or TIFF files. I am not a pro, and a 500MB final file size seems unimaginable, but hey, I once thought that a 20MB hard-drive would last me a lifetime. From an archival perspective, it would be good to have a file type that we could _know_ would be usuable, readable, in 20 or 50 years (like my negatives will be). However, I despair of finding a commercial venture that thinks in those time-frames. Short term thinking, that's what we have here boys -- short term thinking.

Ben Marks

JPEG format is 15-20 years old. There is need for something better in future. The problem is establishing a format.

Microsoft can do this and are doing this. HD Photo is not the only format that can achieve the goals, but this is probably the format that will.

Just few examples where HD Photo is better:

1. Twice as good compression.
2. Option for lossless compression.
3. 16bit color/channel.
4. Progressive data format - get the first 10kb and you have the thumbnail - perfect for web, perfect for thumbnail view in Explorer.
5. Many more, 'modern' features that we just don't have with JPEG.

BTW. Adobe dropped the JPEG2000 support from their products - the format was going nowhere.

JPEG2000 was already mentioned and when it came out, it was promising too. This new format looks very familiar to those who ever looked at JPEG2000.
Another comment mentions the ability to serve portions of images at some resolution that's specified by the web browser. Well, JPEG2000 could do that and other things too.
Such magic was possible because of a clever standard that defined the layout of the data stream.

Why did it fail and why does MS think it's time for another try ?

Apart from politics, possible patent worries and lack of commitment from major players JPEG2000 had a technical achilles heel:
The file format - The JPEG2000 standard defined a JP2 container format, which holds the data stream that achieves great compression ratios using magical wavelet compression techniques.
Other than the data stream, the JP2 file format had little support for meta data.
The mandatory standard didn't even include tags to store the resolution (e.g. in dpi). Let alone EXIF etc.
A JP2 file was totally unsuitable for anything but a straight bitmap.
Nobody needed that.
Microsoft seems to have learned from those mistakes and included even more that just 16bit support, but also HDR etc.

However time is against them. I could convert all my RAW files to 16Bit TIFFs (uncompressed at 36MB each) and fit them on a huge 250$ external hard drive. That would have been prohibitively expensive only 5 years ago.
Uploading only 2 such files to a printing lab was near impossible over an internet connection of 5 years ago, but with tomorrows broadband I'll be able to backup or upload hundreds of Gigabyte of uncompressed files in hours or minutes.

It is therefore quite possible, that by the time HD Photo format catches on, nobody will require smaller files anymore, because storage is cheap and internet connections are fast enough for the older established formats.
It is ironic that Microsoft themselves have been seeking to accelerate the trend towards more capable hardware by releasing increasingly demanding software.

This looks nothing like JPEG 2000. For one thing, JPEG 2000 was never natively supported by a massive vendor, not did it really have any momentum behind it -- at the time, JPEG was good enough. It was just another high quality format that was dead on arrival because the industry didn't care about it, like OGG or like AAC would have been had Apple not chosen it for use in the iPod.

Proprietary doesn't mean bad any more than standards based means good. It's all about striking when the time is right and allowing flexibility -- that's how PDF and Flash took off so strong. Microsoft, as the progenitor of the format, stands to gain a lot by having the earliest, most robust development tools (case in point Adobe again). This needn't be any more draconian than that.

Based on the comments here, this format solves a lot of the problems of JPEG: 16 bits+, designed for larger file sizes, designed with flexible display sizes in mind, lossless options. "Better quality compression" is truly minor, but it is icing on a very sweet cake.

Oh, and nobody in the imaging industry cares about the GPL. It's a well meaning, but needlessly ideological license that encourages transcription over innovation, which is exactly the opposite of what this industry cares about. The irony of the whole argument is that somebody in the OSS community inevitably finds a way to handle any format regardless of technology or license restrictions (DeCSS, PlayFair, etc), making these complaints about incompatibility completely academic. Linux users will have this technology before most Windows users will.

I don't hold 100% to the idea that storage will be so cheap that we won't care about compression. If I could have lossless compression at 16-bit depth that decreases my storage requirements by a factor of 10, say, that decreases my storage costs by 90%, regardless of how cheap storage is. Put another way, I could store 10 times as many pictures for the same cost. Goodbye tif's.

Oh great, another system built by the wrong manufacturers, which possibly in the longer term will lock the digital world into what you WILL use and not what you would choose to use. The photographic market is becoming/become reliant on the likes of MS etc and forcing photographers to use a narrowing range of products in pursuit of the digitally produced photograph.

I like this - '' I'm sure Adobe has a replacement for JPEG in the works. I would rather see it from Adobe, since they seem to have more of a commitment to open standards. '' Yes, as long as you are prepared to renew your subscription on an annual basis!

With film, the photographer was able to choose his way forward with a wide variety of products and services to suit his way of work but the digital photographer is becoming tied, in not a good way and in the long term I am sure MS will have an agenda.

(Disclaimer: I haven't read the licensing of HD Photo in depth, and I'm not an intellectual property lawyer. This is my understanding of the state of the world.)

In his post, Mike asked "Moreover, what evil purpose does the change serve? How does it further Gates & Co.'s corporate hegemony or global greed?"

The answer is that Microsoft recognizes the value of controlling a standard (especially de-facto standard) format; the obvious example is MS Office.

It is also interesting to consider the HD Photo proposal in light of Peter Gutmann's paper "A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection", which you can read at http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~pgut001/pubs/vista_cost.html - this paper makes clear whose interests Microsoft protects when it implements digital rights management software.

Chuck Kimmerle writes "But if you read the licensing, the only real restriction forbids another company from altering Microsoft's 'open source' code in order to create a third-party proprietary product. That's little different than restrictions on other open source products".

Actually, the right to distribute modified code is fundamental to free and open-source software; see e.g. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html .

But this is a moot point, as is royalty-free licensing - if the format or the algorithms it uses are encumbered by patents, then HD Photo is stillborn for many in the free or open-source software communities, because for them the principle of freedom is the important thing: they actually do care that MS reserves to itself control of the standard, even though it's free-as-in-lunch for everybody to use. Microsoft's goal might be the more subtle one of popularizing a format which free software refuses to support, thus putting one more speed bump in the road to adoption for those who are considering moving to free software.

Note too that the free-as-in-lunch policy can change: While I think Bruce McL's scenario is a bit too blatant to be likely, let's remember when Microsoft asserted the right to charge royalties on the FAT filesystem which is ubiquitous on flash media (which is why the free-software guys care about the principle, not today's policy).

I think everyone who thinks compression ratio is a matter of saving disk space miss the point. Compression is useful for transferring the files *over the wire* to your online backup site, to your online photo sharing site, to your online stock agency...

Now, the funny thing is: RAW actually isn't that bad a compression scheme... It stores only one component per pixel, which would be unacceptable for a JPG competitor but, as it is what the sensor captures, this changes the rules quite a bit...

In gpuViewer, I haven't addressed HDphoto yet, partly because it does more than other formats and deserves special attention, but also partly because there aren't many photos in this format out there...

I still think HD photo has got several strong points for online use, but only time can tell...

J London, I'm afraid I have to disagree with you here. The film industry is a terrible example of freedom, nothing is universal. Can you use your Nikon lenses on a Canon camera? Your color developer with your black and white film? With film, every decision you make adds new, expensive requirements.

JPEGs may suck, but you can get them out of just about every camera on the planet. RAW files, while merchant specific, are still quite flexible with easily a half dozen options for each. There's a TON of competition.

I also don't know about Microsoft being the wrong company. Microsoft's software might suck, but their multimedia technologies are often very good. For a long time, Windows Media offered the cutting edge of video and audio in quality per byte (for all I know, this might still be true). The problem is that they tend to hoard their rights and control the endpoints of the technology, something you can't do if you're trying to promote a new format in which files will be created and shared by everybody.

And it's not needed. If HD Photo caught on tomorrow, and ten thousand open source and commercial developers started bringing out tools for it, Microsoft would still be in the best position to consult camera companies and tools makers on how to most effectively utilize the format. That's exactly what Adobe did with the PDF.

Really stirred up the hornets Mike! - everyone seems to have an opinion on this one.
Personally I'm inclined to mistrust it because it comes from Microsoft, how can you have faith in a company that brings out such a flawed and annoying product as Vista?
Unfortunately for most serious digital photography work we are all tied in to using Microsoft or Apple already.
I have had a long, hard look at the possibility of using (free, open source) Ubuntu Linux as an everyday OS, it is fine for almost any "normal" computing chore but the printer and scanner support is very basic so as soon as I want to scan a neg or print more than text its back to XP - doh!
Oh, the confusion and frustration of living in the capitalist 21st century! - all this lovely technology comes at a price.....

Cheers, Robin

If you want lossless compression PNG is great (8-bit, 16-bit full alfa channel, gamma correction, you name it), widely available and free for use in any form. If you want to save RAW data, DNG is already here and better than a general image format for this particular area.

And if you want to show images over the net, of save lossily at low storage cost, Jpeg is pretty good, free to use, and - more important than anything else - already implemented everywhere so people actually can see your images. Any format you use that will require people to download a separate plugin or something to view them is going to cut 90% of your viewers. Acceptabele for formats (like panoramic VR) that really isn't possible without; not so acceptable when the benefits are subtle and unmissed by most.

Where there was once open range we now have Gates.
(pun entirely intended)


Greetings. Microsoft seems to have developed an interest in photograph presentation... I coulda sworn it was here that I first heard about Photosynth. The link was to the Blaise Aquera y Arcas talk at TED.
There are a number of technical advantages to HD Photo from what I can tell such as color depth supported up to 128 bits where jpeg supports 24, transparency, HDR, better and lossless compression.
What's in it for Microsoft? Well, they immediately become a player in this arena (where they weren't before). It's nice to have patents on defacto standards even if you aren't directly making profits off of the standard (just ask Adobe about this).

A new standard could be a good thing; JPG has become “old” certainly with the high flight digital photography has taken these last years. So I am not at all opposed.
Should Microsoft do the job because they certainly have the intellectual and financial capacity? I don’t think so. This company is active in far too many markets and I don’t want to live in a Microsoft dominated Big Brother world.
Who should do it then? Well, I would opt for Adobe. They have already their excellent DNG-format, sadly not yet enough used by camera manufactures. With their enormous experience in graphic and photographic applications, this could really be beneficial for us all.

Relax Mike. It isn't us they're after. We are small fry. There are much bigger fish in the ocean than us serious photographers.

I think they're aiming at the very much larger market of HDR computer graphics rendering. Think game consoles. Think military simulators. Think architect's 3D modelling walk-through software. Think Hollywood special effects. These guys spend a lot more money than we do. A LOT more.

Here's a good read from a Silcon Graphics guy that suggests I might be right:


Craig Norris
Hong Kong

''J London, I'm afraid I have to disagree with you here. The film industry is a terrible example of freedom, nothing is universal. Can you use your Nikon lenses on a Canon camera? Your color developer with your black and white film? With film, every decision you make adds new, expensive requirements.''

So the camera differences remain as in the film days then and the cost of film processing etc was less expensive but the choice of how you did it was yours!

The convenience of digital is total no denying that, but if outfits like MS have total control of systems/applications etc you will have no choices and the costs will escalate.

And to think digital was heralded as being a cheaper way of doing your photography.

Microsoft's proven track record:

1. Embrace. (Accept a standard, and include it in their OS.)

2. Extend. (Say - hey, we can do this better. Wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone used OUR version rather than the old version?)

3. Destroy. (If you're not using OUR version, you're screwed.)

It's a great format technically. It does a lot of good things.

My main concern is purely licensing. It's availble free of charge now, but will it be available forever?

My other concern is one of uptake. JPEG is good enough. Yes, it has problems. For instance, it has a lower dynamic range. But does the average monitor reliably have much more? And is the average monitor correctly colour-calibrated?

The problem HD Photo has is that it thinks it's competing against JPEG, which it is. But it seems obvlivious to the fact that it's also competing aganist the added cost of using it IN A WAY THAT GAINS BENEFITS. It's competing against the current range of consumer-grade monitors. It's competing against a lack of support in photo editing applications. It's competing against the dynamic range of the average inkjet printer.

For the average machine and photographer right now, HD Photo is just not worthwhile, as it provides limited benefits. In ten year's time, it might be wortwhile - but by then, it may be too late.

And for the more dedicated photographer, its competitor is RAW. Where there's no contest - I'd take RAW any day, as it allows alternative demosaicing and colour interpretation methods. Most digital photographers would say the same, I suspect.

HD Photo has the same thing that HD TV has - for many people, current TV is good enough. I always find it odd that the uptake of HD TV is so high in America, for instance - until I remember that America has NTSC as the competition.
In Europe, we have PAL. And HD TV uptake has been slower, because the many people are happy with PAL. (There are other reasons, but it's an interesting parallel.)

File size DOES matter.
May be your HDD is big enough for your photo collection, but:
1. Is your phone memory big enough?
2. Is your bluetooth fast enough?
3. Does a free online storage service offer 250GB or 500MB-5GB?

etc... etc....

We don't need one more file format. But we need one much superior to JPEG format to become a widely used standard.

J London said, "While I think Bruce McL's scenario is a bit too blatant to be likely, let's remember when Microsoft..."

The strategy I outlined is called, "embrace and extend." As Sulis mentioned, Microsoft has used it successfully over and over again in the computer business. Right now they are using it on the Linux community. There is such a thing as Linux that includes Microsoft approved networking. Perhaps someday no business will want to use Linux unless they see Microsoft's stamp of approval on the box. That is certainly Microsoft's goal at this time.

Canon makes a fair amount of money by selling Windows computers. So does Sony. Can they afford to refuse when Microsoft asks them to use Microsoft image file format in their cameras?

"What's that Sony and Canon, you haven't received your Windows licenses for your new computers yet? Sorry about that, Edna in accounting went on maternity leave and she left the licenses in her desk somewhere. We're looking as hard as we can for them, really. Just stop shipping your computers until we get the licenses to you. Oh, by the way, do you need any help adopting our image file format on your cameras?"

J London said, "While I think Bruce McL's scenario is a bit too blatant to be likely, let's remember when Microsoft..."

Did I?

I think that could have been Mike Acar :-)

The comments to this entry are closed.