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Microsoft Targets JPEG With WMP Image Format

By Jennifer LeClaire
May 26, 2006 1:08 PM PT

Microsoft this week unveiled a new photo format to compete with an old industry standard. The software giant claims its Windows Media Photo (WMP) will provide better quality at half the size of a JPEG image.

Microsoft Targets JPEG With WMP Image Format

"One of the biggest drivers for upgrading computers is digital photography, so anything we do to make digital photography better is good for Windows," said Bill Crow, senior program manager for WMP. Crow presented the technology at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle.

The software giant has been working on the photo format for nearly four years, with unnamed camera makers among its partners. "It's been very much driven by their feedback," said Crow.

Digital Boasting

WMP is a file format for continuous-tone still images that Microsoft claims surpasses the limitations of existing image formats. Microsoft plans to include the new format in its Vista operating system. It's currently shipping in Vista Beta 2.

Windows Media Photo supports a wide range of features, Microsoft said, including multiple color formats for display or print, fixed or floating point high dynamic range image encoding, lossless or high quality lossy compression, decoding for multiple resolutions and sub-regions. Windows Media Photo delivers an algorithm with a small memory footprint that enables in-device encoding and decoding.

"It's really a new approach, and a whole collection of innovations," said Crow. "Some of the same engineers who worked on the Windows Media Video codec VC-9 also worked on Windows Media Photo. All the lessons they learned from VC-9 but weren't able to change because of the schedule, they applied here."

A Digital Revolution

With digital cameras revolutionizing the photography industry, Microsoft hopes to find its niche with a growing audience of digital technophiles.

"The comparisons between film and digital became a moot point last year. Digital cameras now meet or exceed film at the professional level. That's not true of all consumer cameras," Paul Worthington, an analyst at photography industry research firm Future Image, told TechNewsWorld.

The digital revolution is good news for HP, Epson and others in the digital photo-printer business, but Crow would not say whether camera, printer or chip makers will release products supporting WMP when Vista is launched.

Much Ado About Nothing?

Still, just because Microsoft releases a new file format does not mean that photographers or graphic designers will adopt it. JPEG is a well accepted format with which professional digital photographers may not risk archiving their images. Graphic designers may also prefer to stick with what they know works.

"I don't think this will have a big effect in the Web design world," Web developer Pedro Sostre told TechNewsWorld. "It's like PNG files. It was created to improve and replace the GIF format. It was an exciting announcement, but no one ever used PNGs."


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