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Digital photo print standard progresses

Major camera makers and other digital photography companies are pushing forward with a standard to help consumers get prints from their neighborhood drugstore.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Major camera makers and other digital photography companies are pushing forward with a program to help consumers get prints from their neighborhood drugstore.

The International Imaging Industry Association (I3A)--a nonprofit trade group supported by Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Fujifilm and others-- plans for the Common Picture Exchange Environment (CPXe) earlier this year. CPXe will consist of an online directory maintained by I3A that will help consumers quickly find photofinishers in their neighborhood that process digital photos, plus software standards to enable cameras and photo applications to access the directory and transfer images.

HP and Kodak representatives attending last week's Digital Imaging '02 forum here said work on CPXe is moving along quickly. The software standard should be ready by December, said Mark Cook, vice president of strategic initiatives for Kodak. That launch date should allow camera makers and others to build CPXe support into their products starting next year.

An initial version of the directory has already been assembled, Cook added, and should be online by March.

More companies have signed on with CPXe, including online photo services provider Shutterfly and camera maker Konica, but the initiative still has some notable holdouts, including Sony, the world's leading digital camera maker. Possible issues for holdouts include the likelihood that CPXe will undercut partnerships camera makers have formed with online photofinishers.

HP signed such a deal with Shutterfly early this year, but the company thinks it's better for consumers to have more options, said George Lynch, imaging program manager for HP and co-chairman of the I3A.

"Almost all of the camera vendors have some partnerships going on in that space, and we expect they'll continue those," he said. "What CPXe does is present more options, and we think that's going to be important for moving the market forward."

The I3A also needs to ensure that CPXe services don't favor any particular company. Founding members Kodak, HP, Agfa and online photo printing service FotoWire will put up the initial funding to develop and maintain the CPXe directory, but future funding will come from fees charged to participating retailers. And all development work will be supervised by a vendor-neutral I3A group.

"We believe that the more consumers perceive this as a fair, unbiased source of information and options, the more they'll make use of it," Cook said.

Evidence of the plan's neutrality is shown in the cooperation of Kodak, which has a large stake in products and equipment for retail photo printing, with HP, which benefits more from selling supplies and equipment for home printing. Both companies are counting on CPXe to push the overall consumer adoption of digital photography.

"HP is certainly interested in making sure that printing at home prospers," Lynch said. "Part of that is making sure digital photography is more widely adopted. We think this is going to expand the market, especially for entry-level users, rather than cannibalizing at-home printing."