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Windows Media Photo squeezes more from less

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Microsoft is making a pitch for the jpeg picture market with a rival Windows Media Photo format which will be supported in Windows Vista and made available for XP users.

The new format was revealed in crisp detail yesterday at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle, where Windows Media Photo program manager Bill Crow showed a pic at 24:1 compression that "visibly contained more detail in the Windows Media Photo format than the JPEG and JPEG 2000 formats compressed at the same level", CNET reports.

According to the basic specs, Windows Media Photo offers:

  • Multiple colour formats for display or print
  • Fixed or floating point high dynamic range image encoding
  • Lossless or high quality lossy compression
  • Extremely efficient decoding for multiple resolutions and sub-regions
  • Minimal overhead for format conversion or transformations during decode

Microsoft is pitching the main advantage of its format - better picture, smaller file - at mobile phones and digital cameras where storage space may be a consideration. A smaller file, Crow said, "can also print faster, transfer faster and help conserve battery life on devices. Making a file that is smaller has all kinds of benefits."

Ralf Mueller of Sony Ericsson seemed enthusiastic. He said his company would "look into the new format just as his company looked into supporting Windows Media Audio and Windows Media Video". However, he added: "Considering our development cycle, I could not see us supporting Windows Media Photo before 2008."

CNET notes that broad adoption is crucial to the format's eventual success. Part-time professional photographer Steven Wells said Windows Media Photo showed promise, and admitted that "Windows Media Photo is possibly the first viable compression format", but he warned that MS needs to woo the likes of Adobe and Apple "to win over the graphics professionals".

Original file size is unlikely to be a major issue for photo professionals, who can now avail themselves of the (big, big uncompressed file) .dng format for manipulation on Photoshop CS2, for example. A "viable compression format" would, though, be something of interest to those subsequently trying to squeeze quality out of plausible file size. Wells described jpeg as "unusable for professional photographers".

Naturally, this being Microsoft, the question of licensing quickly reared its ugly head. Wells declared: "Licensing can kill this", while Crow asserted that MS's "philosophy has been that licensing should not be a restriction to adoption".

A full Windows Media Photo Specification (.doc) is available via this page. You will, of course, have to agree to a "Microsoft Corporation Technical Documentation License Agreement for the specification 'Windows Media Photo'" before getting your eager mitts on the blurb. ®

Further info

Here are MS's "Objectives for Introducing a New Still Image Format", gleaned from its full spec:

  • High performance, embedded system friendly compression
    • Small memory footprint
    • Simple, integer-only operations (no divides)
  • Industry-leading compression quality
  • Lossless or lossy compression using the same algorithm
  • Support a very wide range of pixel formats:
    • Monochrome, RGB, CMYK or n-Channel image representation
    • 8 or 16-bit unsigned integer
    • 16 or 32-bit signed integer
    • 16 or 32-bit floating point
    • Several packed bit formats
      • 1bpc monochrome
      • 5 or 10bpc RGB
      • RGBE Radiance
  • Simple, extensible TIFF-like container structure
  • Planar or interleaved alpha channel
  • Embedded ICC Profile
  • EXIF and XMP metadata

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