Industry Standardization for HD Photo

This is a pretty exciting day for all of us working on HD Photo.  Today, the Joint Photographic Expert's Group (JPEG) announced a new work item for the standardization of a HD Photo as a new file format called JPEG XR (XR is short for "extended range".)  You can read the full details in the Microsoft press release here and the JPEG press release here.  (Go ahead and check it out; we'll wait here.)

Wow!  Our group at Microsoft's Core Media Processing Team has been working on HD Photo for over five years.  The underlying compression technology is based on work from Microsoft Research that goes back even farther than that.  Since our first public disclosures about "Windows Media Photo" (the original name of HD Photo), our goal has been to develop the ultimate successor to JPEG as the format of choice for all digital photography.  We also announced earlier this year that we were committed to standardizing HD Photo as an open format.  With today's announcements, we're moving a lot closer to both of those goals.

An Illustrious History

For as long as digital photography has existed, digital photos have been defined by the technology created by the JPEG Committee, and it has become the most widely used standard in the world.  Simply put, digital photography would have never been possible without the work of Joint Photographic Experts Group and their JPEG image compression technology. 

Over the years, the JPEG format has become ubiquitous.  Every application, device or service that is in any way related to digital photography recognizes and/or produces this format.  JPEG is digital photography.

But for all the value the original JPEG format delivers, it's starting to show its age.  Limitations of the JPEG file format are hindering the ability to innovate new features and quality improvements in digital photography.  There have been multiple approaches to work around these limitations, but we need significant improvements to the industry standard photo format to enable new opportunities for innovation and market growth.

JPEG 2000 introduced several excellent innovations, but it largely addresses requirements beyond the role of the original JPEG format.  So, while JPEG 2000 is making some valuable contributions in other areas of digital imaging, this advanced format doesn't directly address the key requirements for consumer and professional digital photography.

A New Format for Digital Photography

From the beginning, Microsoft designed HD Photo to meet the specific needs of end-to-end consumer and professional digital photography, and address the current limitations of the original JPEG format.  HD Photo offers new pixel formats to retain higher image quality, great new progressive decoding features for more powerful image access and manipulation, and significant compression improvements to improve quality, reduce file sizes and enable better performance.

The use of the original JPEG format for digital photography has been limited to 24-bit images; each pixel is made up of three colors (red, green and blue), each stored as an 8-bit value.  This allows 256 different values for each color, or 16.8 million possible colors.  While that sounds like a lot, it significantly limits the ability to create the highest quality images.  Camera sensors typically capture up to 68.7 billion colors, so when saving as a JPEG file, a lot of information has to go.  Additionally, during any image editing operation, a much greater range of colors is required to preserve information that would otherwise exceed the finite limits of the color range.  Once data is lost beyond these limits, it can't be recovered in the future.

HD Photo offers a wide range of pixel formats at 8, 16 or 32 bits per channel including high dynamic range wide gamut formats using fixed point or floating point representations.  HD Photo offers options that eliminate the quality limitations of the original JPEG format's lone 24-bit pixel values.  This previous blog post shows just one example of the capabilities enabled by HD Photo's new pixel formats.

HD Photo's progressive decoding architecture makes it possible to efficiently decode a the image at a lower resolution, reduced quality, or a selected region by processing only a portion of the entire compressed file.  Progressive decoding enables a whole bunch of very cool features.  The Photosynth Technology Preview from Microsoft Live Labs is an excellent example of the new class of applications powered by progressive decoding.  Photosynth is discussed in some detail in a previous blog post here.  HD Photo also helps power Virtual Earth 3D and Microsoft Lab's HD View Giga-pixel Image Viewer.

HD Photo delivers state of the art image compression, offering up to twice the compression efficiency of original JPEG format (providing the same quality in half the file size) as well as higher quality lossy compression that scales all the way to mathematically lossless compression.  This makes it possible to use higher bit depth pixel formats for better image quality while retaining similar file sizes.  Better compression also allows for much smaller files using traditional 8-bit pixel formats.  Smaller files can be saved and transferred faster, providing longer device battery life and an improved user experience.  HD Photo delivers this improved compression using a high performance algorithm that is equally at home on low cost, low power devices or high end multi-core PC's.

An Open Standard

The path towards standardizing HD Photo began earlier this year, and now becomes public with today's announcement from the JPEG Committee.  This is one more step in an ongoing process towards our stated objectives for standardization.  Our goal is that HD Photo becomes JPEG XR, an open standard under the complete control of the JPEG Committee, with royalty-free rights to all required patents granted by Microsoft.  Microsoft is actively participating with the JPEG Committee to produce a complete and detailed technical specification enabling anyone to create implementations in any programming language, on any platform and under a wide variety of business models.  We're excited to be contributing to the next great standard for digital photography, enabling a whole new level of feature and technology innovation, improving photo quality and creating exciting new applications and services.  It's our sincere hope that that today's announcement will help accelerate the process of making HD Photo (JPEG XR) as ubiquitous as JPEG is today. 

Bill Crow
HD Photo Program Manager

Comments (12)
  1. Adrian Ford says:

    HD Photo (previously WM Photo or Windows Media Photo) is one of the image formats supported within the

  2. HD Photo (previously WM Photo or Windows Media Photo) is one of the image formats supported within the

  3. HDGuy says:

    Hi Bill,

    have you checked out these guys:

    …it looks like there’s some room for improvement over the HDR support in HD Photo.

    What’s your thought ?


  4. billcrow says:

    Hi HDGuy,

    I am not familiar the company or the technology you mentioned.  As a matter of company policy, we generally can’t review third party intellectual property without certain legal agreements in place.  As part of the standardization of JPEG XR, we’d encourage those who wish to contribute to the improvement of the technology to participate in the JPEG process.

    Bill Crow

    HD Photo Program Manager

  5. HDGuy says:

    Hi again Bill,

    wow, you actually replied…thanks! 🙂

    I understand your position, but if that stuff is really that good, I doubt Microsoft will make an issue over signing an NDA or the like…or does it ?

    My perception is that it’s not that easy to get into a "standard" like Jpeg…it’s not even sure for Microsoft to get Jpeg XR…imagine for any other "common" company in the world.

    So, my useless opinion is that if you guys can work this out together…JpegXR is going to look even better for HDR.

  6. HD Photo supports high dynamic range wide gamut color (HDR/WG) image content using the scRGB color profile

  7. HD Photo supports high dynamic range wide gamut color (HDR/WG) image content using the scRGB color profile

  8. hugestone says:

    I did not find the paramaters about compress ratio in hd photo. If the compress ratio is needed to be setted, how to solve it?

  9. sankazim says:

    Hello Bill,

    Is there any chance to use HD Photo decoding in C++ applications without the Windows Imaging Components? Targeting Windows XP SP2,2003 or Vista is too restrictive.

    I’ve experimented decoding in custom application based on DPK 1.0 but it seems to me that the EULA does not allow such usage.


    Emanuele Ruffaldi

  10. billcrow says:

    Hi Emanuele,

    Why don’t you think the EULA would allow this?  While I’m not an attorney (and I’m not attempting to play one on this blog), I don’t think there’s anything in the EULA that would prevent you from doing what you describe.  You can’t use the source code to implement a different file format that uses the HD Photo technology, but if you’re implementing support for HD Photo that complies with the specification, I’m not aware of anything in the EULA that would prevent you from doing that.  It was certainly our intent to allow you to do exactly what you describe using the DPK.  In fact, that’s how we implemented the HD Photo plug-in for Photoshop on both Mac and Windows with the same code base- by using the DPK.

    Bill Crow

    Group Manager, Microsoft Live Labs

  11. sankazim says:

    Thanks a lot for the answer!

    In that case … I am trying to integrate HD Photo in our Virtual Reality system for improving image quality and size. The DPK is well coded and easy to use.

    Best Regards,

    Emanuele Ruffaldi

    PERCRO Lab

    PS: greetings for your new position

  12. Channel 10’s Nic Fillingham has gone live with a brand new show on Channel 10 focusing on digital photography

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content