Microsoft has been working on a new image format called HD Photo (formerly Windows Media Photo), and they have been pushing to have it adopted as a new standard. They turned to the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) to get it approved, and it looks like things are on the right track. The new standard passed, and it will be called JPEG XR where the XR stands for “extended range.”

As expected Microsoft has patents slapped all over the technology, but they have made the specification available under their Open Specification Promise. This essentially says that Microsoft will not sue anyone who uses the technology, and royalties do not have to be paid. This is important for open-source software, such as Linux operating systems, who would want to include support for the new image format.

How is HD Photo better than other image formats? Here are some of the feature highlights:

  • HD Photos have twice the quality as JPEG at the same file size, or the same quality at half the file size.
  • HD Photos have built-in thumbnails, which means the operating system doesn’t have to generate the thumbnails for previews.
  • HD Photos can be easily rotated in 90-degree increments. JPEG images must be decoded and re-encoded, degrading quality slightly with each change.
  • HD Photos can be up to 262 million pixels on an edge, or 68.6 terapixels total, as long as the compressed image doesn’t exceed 32GB in size.

To give you a better comparison of HD Photo vs. JPEG we grabbed one of the slides that were presented back at WinHEC 2006 (the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference):

HD Photo vs JPEG

The original image is shown in the upper-left corner, and three different compression techniques were applied including the HD Photo in the bottom-right corner. What they did is highlight the areas of the photo that differ from the original, and the darker areas of an image represents better compression. A completely black result would mean that the compression was perfect, and no quality was lost.

The HD Photos have a .HDP file extension, and can be viewed in Vista out-of-the-box. XP users can download the Windows Live Photo Gallery Beta in order to view the images, and the upcoming Paint.NET 3.20 will also include support for HD Photos Paint.NET 3.20 had HD Photo support pulled.

The real success will come when camera manufacturers start using that as the default photo format, but it’s unlikely that will happen. Photo development services would need to start supporting that format first because you wouldn’t want your photos in a format that can’t easily be developed. And most online photo sharing services, such as Flickr, would also have to add support for the photo format.

HD Photo Homepage [via Download Squad, Thomas Hawk, and CNet]