Staying in the Lines
Digital Imaging Group (DIG) partners with the International Standards Organization (ISO) to develop JPEG2000.
Technology is in a hurry. As a result, the Digital Imaging Group (DIG), a non-profit open industry consortium based in Millbrae, CA, was established to advance digital imaging applications across wide markets of communications. In cooperation with the ISO (International Standards Organ-ization), DIG is giving imaging standards a face lift.
Digging new ground
Since its creation, JPEG became a rapidly adopted standard for World Wide Web-based images. The original JPEG standard, developed more than 10 years ago, may still meet most current needs, according to Craig McGowen, DIG marketing chair, but advances like lower-cost high-resolution cameras, escalating desktop performance, improved printing, user-friendly imaging software and the explosive rise of the Internet, have created an environment ripe for progress.
According to DIG, the JPEG2000 standard, still under development, is designed to meet these new challenges by employing Flashpix (resolution-independent file formatting) and streaming image delivery via Internet Imaging Protocol.
The new file format is scheduled to launch in December 2000, with the support of more than 75 technology companies, including Agfa, Ridgefield Park, NJ; Canon, Lake Success, NY; Corbis, Encinitas, CA; and Eastman Kodak, Rochester, NY.
"The DIG plans to fill the gap for wireless imaging solutions by developing an open standard as well as leveraging existing standards when possible," cites George Lynch, programmer at Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto, CA. "We plan to take the appropriate steps by first researching the state of the industry, identifying the problems and then putting the pieces together to create a universal, open solution."
The efforts begun several years ago have resulted in the convergence in two key areas: industry approval and developer support. According to Dr. Daniel T. Lee of Hewlett-Packard and head of the ISO, "The simple fact is that the largest digital imaging companies in the world are working together to supply important technology to our JPEG2000 effort."
At the core of the JPEG2000 structure is a new wavelet-based compression methodology. DIG defines wavelets as "mathematical expressions that encode the image in a continuous stream, thereby avoiding the tendency toward visible artifacts that can sometimes result … from the division of an image into discrete compression blocks."
JPEG2000's wavelet technology, in contrast, is designed to provide as much as a 20 percent improvement in compression efficiency.
In addition, the new specification will also be designed to handle up to 256 channels of information. According to official DIG reports, "JPEG 2000 will be capable of describing complete alternate color models, such as CMYK, within a single file format. JPEG2000 can work seamlessly within color-managed environments, because it has the capacity to include full ICC profile information within each image file."
Another benefit of the format is the ability to access an encoded image without having to download, decode or even print the entire image file.
According to DIG, this allows for an image file to be customized concurrently with how the information will be eventually be accessed. DIG cites the following active bandwidth conservation example:
When a user clicks on a JPEG2000 image that has been set up for progressive-by-resolution access, the user will be able to see a low-res version as soon as it downloads and can then immediately decide whether or not to wait for higher resolution.
McGowan affirms that not only is progressive access a major benefit of the format, but that in delivering resolution on-demand from a single file, "JPEG2000 can be stored in resolution order," whereas JPEG is stored in blocks.
For the Web, this means revamped storage. DIG reports, "With the format, Web designers only have to store and link to a single image file for each product, which contains all of the resolution levels and detail required by any user. …Throughout the process, the users are always getting exactly the amount of resolution and detail that they require."
As the Web moves farther into the e-commerce realm, quality becomes an integral concern for seducing consumers and supporting virtual buying behaviors.
Therefore, DIG expects that widespread adoption of the new imaging standard will be among the major foundations for e-commerce development in the next few years, not only because of internal reformatting, but also as a matter of rich aesthetics. Original JPEGs didn't specify color, resulting in a slow adoption.
Then, McGowan adds, "RGB was developed to make color predictable, but not predictably good." JPEG2000 supports digital enhancement, enabling what McGowen calls, "innovation in picture quality."
If a user is viewing a shirt on GAP's Web site, for instance, and that user wants to take a closer look at the buttons, zooming in with assured crispness will be possible.
DIG further affirms, "JPEG2000 will reduce the number of images an art director, production manager and magazine/catalog publisher needs to manage because it is a resolution-independent format. … Additionally, JPEG2000 will include DIG's metadata standard, DIG35, [making it] easier for end users to organize, find and retrieve digital images."
In other words, information about the image—time, date, location, copyright information and subject—can be directly coupled with the images through each production process.
Keeping it in perspective
McGowen says that the two most important things about any image are the pixels and the information about the pixels. "The combination of these two elements yields the power of digital imaging," he stresses.
The long-term objective to each newly implemented feature is "to create a digital imaging format that embodies a tightly integrated set of features for storing images and [providing] the needed mechanisms for images to be used more effectively," conveys J. Scott Houchin, Eastman Kodak.
Planning the future
To spring these developments forward, a rapid adoption of JPEG2000 is planned for the end of the year when the 75 companies comprising DIG have promised to implement the standard, as well as acting as industry evangelists.
Lisa Walker, president of DIG, affirms that the new standard will make it easier for people—creative, production and the novice—to create, access and send digital images over the Web.
-Natalie Hope McDonald