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HD Photo to become JPEG XR

JPEG overseers vote to turn Microsoft's HD Photo format into a new standard called JPEG XR. Expect to wait a year before it's done.

A new attempt to provide a higher-end sequel to the ubiquitous JPEG image standard is officially under way.

The multiple countries participating in the Joint Photographic Experts Group, which created the JPEG standard, have approved an effort to make Microsoft's HD Photo format a standard called JPEG XR, said Bill Crow, who has led Microsoft's HD Photo effort and who just took over the company's Microsoft Live Labs Seadragon imaging project. XR stands for "extended range," a reference to the format's ability to show a wider and finer range of tonal gradations and a richer color palette.

"The country vote is done, and it passed," Crow said. "That means the International JPEG committee has decided to go ahead and create the standard. Now it's just a process of doing that work," a process that will begin later this month in a meeting in Kobe, Japan.

The move is an important step in the transformation of the photo format from an in-house technology called Windows Media Photo to a neutral format more likely to be palatable to companies that don't want to be beholden to Microsoft.

However, the move also means that Microsoft will have to be more patient with its hopes to get HD Photo to catch on more broadly. Standardization "typically takes around a year," Crow said.

The wait is worth it, said Josh Weisberg, director of digital imaging evangelism for Microsoft's Rich Media Group.

"As much as I would love to have more support for it, I think it's logical for people to wait for there to be a standardized version of it," he said. "If we weren't going through the standardization process, we'd be pushing much harder for people to support it."

In Microsoft's view, HD Photo also offers better compression and support for in-camera image processing. It's built into Windows Vista, but Microsoft offers the software development kit to implement the technology free and with no royalty constraints. Image-editing powerhouse Adobe Systems has voiced support for the format.