Microsoft Takes on JPEG with HD Photo

Although it hasn’t exactly been a secret, Microsoft has formally announced HD Photo, a new file format aimed at digital photographers and high-end image manipulation which claims to offer higher image quality and better compression than existing image formats, while adding features for advanced image editing programs.

According to Microsoft, HD Photo offers up to twice the compression of the existing JPEG image format while producing fewer artifacts: in Microsoft’s words, producing “higher-quality images in one-half the size.” The new format offers the ability to decide only a portion of an image or region (rather than having to decompress an entire image to utilize or manipulate a section of it), and Microsoft claims its compression technology better preserved image fidelity, enabling higher-quality image manipulation even in compressed images. HD Photo also supposed lossless image compression, and enables applications to change color balance and exposure data without discarding or truncating image data, so those changes can be undone or re-done later without a loss of fidelity.

“With HD Photo, we’re taking a new approach to creating and editing photos that simply isn’t available to photographers with today’s formats,” said Amir Majidimehr, corporate VP of Microsoft’s Consumer Media Technology Group . “HD Photo fully preserves the original image fidelity with high dynamic range while still allowing for significant improvement in compression size.”

Windows Vista offers native support for HD Photo by a Windows Imaging Component (WIC) codec, and support can be rolled back to Windows XP and Windows 2003 Service via a WIC download. HD Photo support is also rolled into Microsoft’s .NET Framework 3.0. What’s new today is that Microsoft is offering a beta HD Photo plug-in for use with Windows versions of Adobe Photoshop CS2 and CS3; Microsoft expects to release final versions of the plug-in for Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Mac OS X within 60 days.

It’s not entirely clear whether the digital imaging industry will embrace a proprietary format, although certainly offering free near-native support in Photoshop will garner some attention amongst professionals. If the format indeed offers capabilities which can’t be mirrored in more-open formats and applications, Microsoft might see HD Photo embraced in image editing applications and workflows; of course, Microsoft is also urging device manufactures to add HD Photo support to cameras, printers, and other platforms.