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HP looks hard at digital imaging

The computing company announces a multifaceted initiative for helping users exchange images online.

Hewlett-Packard (HWP) today debuted an Internet imaging initiative that targets everybody from content producers and software developers to families building photo albums.

The plan centers on a proposed infrastructure meant to provide a foundation for recording, exchanging, and viewing of digital photographs over the Net. HP thinks the Internet imaging market is a small, rapidly growing area where dominant players have yet to emerge.

"It's an interesting niche today for a variety of applications but as time goes on it will become more mainstream," said Bill Murphy, director of HP's Internet marketing program.

The debut of the initiative follows an agreement last week at PC Expo by Intel and HP to develop industry specifications for digital imaging hardware and applications. The companies hope that more uniform specifications will make it easier for consumers to get involved in digital imaging.

HP is basing its initiative around three major areas: the HP PhotoSmart PC Photography suite, HP Imaging for Internet technology, and HP imaging servers and clients.

The PhotoSmart suite includes products such as digital cameras, photo scanners, and printers and is meant to help home users create their own images.

The suite includes a new printer HP announced today specifically for the WebTV internet box. The new printer is "less of a computer printer, more of an appliance," said Murphy. "From a consumer perspective, they plug it in, press a button, and it works."

HP's Imaging for Internet technology centers on the company's FlashPix file format, but will also use all existing file formats such as GIF and JPEG. The standard is meant to let users download and view images at the resolution they need at the time, rather than always having to download the entire file. HP calls this its "just-enough-data" concept.

Creating new standards means engaging developers. HP will adopt an open standards approach, allowing other companies to freely use the technologies it is promoting rather than trying to keep the technology for itself.

Today's announcement included partnerships with PhotoDisc and PictureVision. PhotoDisc is a major retailer of digital stock photographs. Its collection of more than 50,000 images could provide the content needed to jump-start new image formats.

PictureVision, a photofinishing company, will give consumers the option to have their photos scanned and put on the Web at the same time they are being developed by traditional methods. This strategy could greatly increase the number of people producing digital images, as well as give HP more clout in establishing new image formats.