Microsoft Wants Its HD Photo Technology to Be an Industry Standard

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-07-31

Microsoft Wants Its HD Photo Technology to Be an Industry Standard


Microsoft Wants Its HD

Photo Technology to Be an Industry Standard">

Microsoft is looking to get more of its technology certified as an industry standard and has submitted its HD Photo technology to the Joint Photographic Expert Group for a decision in that regard.

JPEG, a working group of the International Organization for Standardization, has decided to introduce a new work item for the standardization of Microsofts HD Photo file format, tentatively titled "JPEG XR"; formal balloting of this work item is being submitted to the JPEG national delegations for approval.

The ballot deadline for this new project is early October 2007, with the finalization and publication of the completed standard, if approved, expected to take up to a year after that.

The HD Photo technology was incubated in Microsoft Research some five years ago, where it was known as photon and developed by the Core Media Processing Team, before becoming part of the Windows Media family and being renamed Windows Media Photo.

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Tom Robertson, Microsofts general manager of interoperability and standards, told eWEEK that this move is another example of the Redmond, Wash., software makers focus on interoperability in a way that allows innovative solutions and technologies to evolve over time.

"One of the ways we do this is by making our intellectual property available to others, as giving them access better enables them to build solutions that interoperate well with our products and services and with those from other industry players using the same technologies," he said.

Standards are also a very important part of the companys overall interoperability program, and Microsoft is active in more than 400 standards development efforts and has implemented thousands of standards in its products, Robertson said.

"Microsoft Research spent a lot of time and energy developing the HD Photo technology, which is going to enable a whole new generation of digital imagery and photography," he said.

But JPEG XR will be the second part of a bigger work item called JPEG Systems, which is a forum for the standardization of systems integration technologies focused on the current and emerging needs of consumer and professional digital photography, Robert Rossi, Microsofts principal program manager lead for emerging image and video, told eWEEK.

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"The JPEG Systems architecture is being introduced as a new major work item, while JPEG XR is being introduced as the second part of this. Part one is going to be a technical report defining this new overreaching architecture, focusing on the future needs of digital photography, that will have a more IT-centric approach," Rossi said.

The current technologies for image coding, like JPEG, just take the technologies that exist for digital still cameras in the film world and make a digital version of them, he said, adding that "we are now looking at placing a bigger emphasis on a connected, integrated means of dealing with images, including how they are handled on the Web, where there is partial Web processing and further processing in a network environment, and how the images are dealt with interactively over the Web."

Part of that work was done in the JPEG 2000 standard, and so some of that technology will migrate into this new architecture and be made interoperable with multiple types of baseline file formats, Rossi said, expressing confidence that there is a "very high probability" the technology will become a standard.

The HD Photo technology brought a number of innovations, including a high dynamic range feature that allows innovation to be developed in cameras to increase the number of successful photographs taken by those with digital still cameras, professional-grade cameras and cell phones.

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Contrasting Technologies

There is also a tremendous amount of innovation to come in terms of the display and rendering capabilities.

"For instance, contrast ratios of 5,000:1 up to 30,000:1 are coming in the next three years. A tremendous range of brightness to darkness in the display is also coming, and images taken with JPEG XR will access the capabilities of these displays, whereas images encoded with JPEG wont. This will be a major benefit for user appreciation of digital photography," Rossi said.

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This technology would also help stimulate the ecosystem of editing and image manipulation software as well as the printing and display devices that would be created around these new capabilities, all of which customers would be willing to pay for, he said, as the standard could be implemented in cell phones, digital still cameras, printers and other devices.

Asked how Microsoft will take advantage of the standard, Rossi said it has laid down the foundation for that in Windows Vista in the Windows Color System, a collaboration with Canon, which is a retooling for the future of fidelity for the baseline imaging support in the platform.

Another technology, the XML Paper Specification, is dedicated to printing and is also in the process of being standardized, while Microsoft is currently working on technology related to the display.

"In the future, displays with a bit depth of 10 and higher will be built by manufacturers, and, as that unfolds, we will be working with them to develop the drivers and other ways those capabilities can be accessed. That will not just be for Vista, but also for the Xbox or other media devices coming out of Microsoft," he said.

That, to Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff, is exactly the reason behind Microsofts push to have its HD Photo technology approved as a standard: "I still think this is mainly an effort to control innovation within Windows and thereby drive upgrades."

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Rosoff said this standardization effort reminds him of what Microsoft did with VC-1, the standardized version of the Windows Media Video 9 codec.

The HD Photo technology comes out of the same product group and, in both cases, Microsoft invested significant resources to develop a format but found little natural demand for that format. "Standardization is an effort to increase the adoption of this format," he said.

In the case of VC-1, that approach worked as both the HD DVD and Blu-ray specs have VC-1 as one of the mandatory codecs that all hardware must support, along with H.264 and MPEG-2. "So far, that hasnt led to an explosion of VC-1-formatted content on those discs, but the groundwork is laid," Rosoff said.

But the underlying question in both cases is why Microsoft saw fit to develop a format where there was already a widely accepted standard, he said, adding that there are several possible reasons for this.

These include the desire to control the pace of innovation on the Windows platform, since Microsoft can improve these formats, thereby improving Windows ability to work with digital media without waiting for approval or participation from multiparty bodies with multiple, sometimes competing, business agendas, he said.

Also, if HD Photo gets some traction, then Microsoft can support it instead of other standards and will not have to pay royalties, Rosoff said.

But to Microsofts Robertson, the question of why another standard is necessary is a simple one: Technology has evolved and continues to do so, and there have to be new approaches and new mechanisms to improve interoperability and to enable new and evolved innovation.

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