Jon Udell interviews Bill Crow about HD Photo

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July 31 2007: Update from Bill Crow:

This is a pretty exciting day for all of us working on HD Photo.  Today, the Joint Photographic Expert's Group (JPEG) announced a new work item for the standardization of a HD Photo as a new file format called JPEG XR (XR is short for "extended range".)  You can read the full details in the Microsoft press release here and the JPEG press release here.  (Go ahead and check it out; we'll wait here.)

For the last five years, Bill Crow has been working on HD Photo, a new image file format that's intended to supplant the JPEG format currently at the heart of the digital photography ecosystem.

I first met Bill many years ago when he came to BYTE to show us HP NewWave, which was probably the earliest effort to produce an object-oriented file system for Windows -- originally, believe it or not, for Windows 1.0. The connection between NewWave and HD Photo is tenuous, but it does exist in the sense that the metadata strategies we're seeing today (see the truth is in the file) point the way toward ending the tyranny of the hierarchical file system.

Today's podcast begins by revisiting NewWave, but it's mostly about HD Photo: Why it was created, how it works, what it will mean to both amateur photographers ("happy snappers") as well as pros, and how it will be standardized and baked into a next generation of digital cameras.

Along the way I learned a huge amount about the current state of digital photography. For example, I knew that pros prefer to shoot in RAW format, but I wasn't clear what that meant. According to Bill, a RAW image is just sensor data from a high-end camera, which photo processing software later turns into an image. The professional photographer trades away convenience for control and flexibility. In the case of the JPEG images produced by the vast majority of digicams, though, it's the other way around. We get usable images without any fuss, but we give up the ability to reinterpret the data. HD Photo aims for the best of both worlds: ultimate control and flexibility if you desire, convenience when you don't.

Although Bill guesses we're two years away from commercial HD Photo cameras, the format is being used today to support Photosynth. As he explains on his blog, a compressed Photo HD image has a regular structure that makes it possible to extract images at various levels of detail without decoding the entire image.

There's a whole lot more to the story. I hugely enjoyed this conversation, and I think you will too.


HD Photo



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The Discussion

  • User profile image
    I installed the Photoshop plugin right away when I saw it was available and it's very impressive. I hope the fact that it's not called Windows Media Photo or someting like that helps it become more popular because I'm quite tired of otherwise good cameras being limited by the JPEG format.

    There definitely is a need for a better more modern format like this.
  • User profile image
    Can someone speak about MS evaluation of JPEG2000?
  • User profile image
    JPEG-2000 offers better compression quality than JPEG, but the complexity of the algorithm makes in unsuitable for mainstream digital photography usage.

    Bill Crow
    HD Photo Program Manager
  • User profile image
    BillCrow wrote:
    JPEG-2000 offers better compression quality than JPEG, but the complexity of the algorithm makes in unsuitable for mainstream digital photography usage.
    OK. That's good to know. With my CANON's RAW format (7 MB?) ,it's _nearly_ indiscernable from the highest JPEG setting (2 MB).

    But I do know that RAW is more flexible -- I wonder how well HD will compress the RAW...
  • User profile image
    It's gotten to the point where people are hacking Digic II camera firmwares to get RAW out of cameras that don't officially support it.
    If they don't want to support RAW on the consumer level models (like they used to a few years ago) then at least we can have HD photo if they choose to support it someday.

    Can you tell I don't like compression artifacts? Smiley

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