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Chrome Banishes JPEG XL Photo Format That Could Save Phone Space

Four plants made of Legos are partly covered by computer coding that shows a comparison between two photo formats
JPEG XL and AVIF are competing photo formats that could speed up the web, save room on your phone and cut your cloud storage costs. The Squoosh tool compares them in use here with JPEG XL on the left.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

What's happening

Google's Chrome team said it will remove support for JPEG XL, a photo format that offers space saving and image quality advantages.

Why it matters

Google likes a rival format it helped develop, AVIF. But JPEG XL has some advantages photographers might appreciate, and the dispute could mean we're stuck with plain old JPEG for even longer.

The new JPEG XL standard needs dramatically less storage space than JPEG while offering top image quality, factors that helped persuade the photo experts at Adobe to embrace the technology. But Google's Chrome team has just rejected the photo format in favor of a rival technology.

In a time when you have to decide whether to cough up an extra $100 for the phone with more storage space, technology that shrinks photo file sizes sounds like a great idea. Getting to that future, though, is proving messy. 

JPEG XL is an industry standard, but Google likes a rival it helped develop called AVIF, and Apple iPhones shoot photos in yet another format, HEIC.

There's more to like about JPEG XL than space savings. It's tuned for photographic use, doing a better job at preserving fine details and textures than video-derived formats like AVIF and HEIC. JPEG XL also improves image quality through HDR support, one of the reasons that Adobe -- ordinarily conservative with new file format support -- endorsed it. Facebook praises JPEG XL's speed, and Intel thinks JPEG XL is the best of the next-gen photo format options.

Google doesn't have veto power over JPEG XL's future, but as the maker of the world's most-used browser, it can effectively block its use on the web.

Squabbles over industry standards are a common problem hampering the arrival of new technology and confusing consumers in the short term. A classic example, VHS versus Betamax, fragmented the VCR video recording industry in the 1980s, leaving millions of customers on the losing end. Smartphone charging is split over USB-C and Lightning, though Apple is moving away from its Lightning port. Wireless charging didn't catch on until the Qi standard vanquished incompatible rivals.

As the industry works out its issues, decades-old JPEG gets to keep its place at the heart of the photo world a little longer. So maybe you'd better pay for the extra storage on your phone, Google Photos or Apple iCloud.

Google standing firm: No JPEG XL

Don't expect Google to change its stance.

"During our experiment to support JPEG-XL in Chrome, we concluded that it did not provide substantial benefits over AVIF, and unlike AVIF, JPEG-XL has not been adopted by other browsers," the company said in a statement Wednesday. "We do not plan to support JPEG-XL at this time and will instead continue to focus our efforts on improving existing formats in Chrome."

Chrome today supports JPEG XL, often abbreviated JXL for its filename extension, but you have to specifically enable it through a somewhat technical process. In a software update Friday, Google removed the JPEG XL support for Chrome versions that will debut in coming weeks. A Sunday explanation for the JPEG XL removal said Google decided to drop the format for factors including low adoption, insufficient benefits and an effort to improve "existing formats."

The result has been a torrent of comments in the feature tracking system in favor of JPEG XL, including longtime JPEG XL advocate Jon Sneyers, who helped create the standard. "I think it's quite clear that JPEG XL does in fact bring things that existing formats don't have," he said in a comment. He also published a detailed blog post touting JPEG XL advantages on Tuesday.

JPEG XL fans: Adobe, Facebook, Intel, even Google

Sneyers works at Cloudinary, an internet infrastructure company and JPEG XL backer, and has some important allies.

"I believe that JPEG XL is currently the best available codec for broad distribution and consumption of HDR still photos," Eric Chan, a senior engineer at Adobe, said in an August comment before Google's decision to scrap JPEG XL. "I've done several comparisons with AVIF and prefer JPEG XL because of its higher versatility and faster encode speed."

That speed is particularly important for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop customers who often export hundreds or thousands of photos, he said. Adobe has built JPEG XL support into Photoshop, though it must be manually enabled.

Speed also is a key reason Facebook likes JPEG XL, said Facebook images team member Erik Andre said in 2021.

Intel sees JPEG XL as a key enabler for HDR, technology to span a fuller range of light and dark tones. "Browser support is the critical missing link for this ecosystem," said Roland Wooster, a principal engineer at Intel who also leads HDR standardization work at the VESA display standards group, in an August post about whether Mozilla's Firefox should support JPEG XL.

E-commerce company Shopify likes JPEG XL for its advantages portraying color and detail well, both important for product photos.

Even Google has fans too. Jyrki Alakuijala, a researcher who's helped design several compression technologies, said in 2020 that JPEG XL is the technically strongest and fullest featured option among new image formats.

In a statement Wednesday, Adobe said it's considering AVIF: "Adobe recently shipped Camera Raw 15.0 with High Dynamic Range support as a Technology Preview. This includes support for reading and writing JPEG XL photos," Adobe said. "We are currently looking into adding support for the AVIF format which, like JPEG XL, can be used for HDR output."

Mozilla and Facebook parent Meta declined to comment. Intel had no comment.

Is AVIF the future for our photos?

JPEG XL isn't the only way to improve image quality on the web. Google is a major supporter of AVIF, a photo format offshoot from the Alliance for Open Media's AV1 video format. Like JPEG XL, AVIF is royalty free, supports HDR and gets a speedup from modern processors with multiple processor cores.

Mozilla helped Google develop AVIF, and it's built into Chrome and Firefox. Apple has begun supporting AVIF in Safari with MacOS 13 and iOS 16. HEIC, encumbered by patent licensing requirements, isn't likely to succeed as a format on the web.

AVIF has some drawbacks compared to JPEG XL, like a reputation for being slower to create. That could slow down photo slideshows on the web and hamper burst mode photography on your phone. And AVIF lacks a "progressive" option that quickly gets a low-quality image onto a website then fleshes out its detail. That helps websites load without elements jumping around.

With big names supporting it, AVIF could win out over JPEG XL.

But don't expect to find out soon. Next time you're upgrading, think about skipping the 256GB phone and springing for 512GB of storage.