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New JPEG format for virtual reality, drones and self-driving cars

The Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) committee has unveiled JPEG XS. With this new format, the image-compression process uses less energy, and higher-quality images can be sent with low latency over broadband networks like 5G. JPEG XS will have applications in areas such as virtual reality, augmented reality, space imagery, self-driving cars and professional movie editing.

With JPEG XS, images and videos maintain an extremely high level of quality due to a compression process that is simpler and faster, and thus more energy efficient. The compressed files end up being larger, but that’s not a problem given broadband networks such as Wi-Fi and 5G: the aim is to stream the files instead of storing them in smartphones or other devices with limited memory.

For the first time in the history of image coding, we are compressing less in order to better preserve quality, and we are making the process faster while using less energy. We want to be smarter in how we do things. The idea is to use less resources, and use them more wisely. This is a real paradigm shift.

—EPFL Professor Ebrahimi, who heads JPEG

JPEG compression typically reduces image file sizes by a factor of ten. This compression process was developed so that images could be stored in cameras, with their limited memory, and easily shared over communication networks. Yet the process needs to evolve in response to new applications, more efficient broadband networks and technological advances.

The JPEG XS standard compresses files by no more than a factor of six and is not meant to replace the popular JPEG format.

JPEG XS could come in handy whenever images and videos need to be sent to a processor as fast as possible. Potential applications include the “eyes” of drones and self-driving cars—technologies where long latency represents a danger for humans.

The new format has also attracted the attention of the European Space Agency (ESA). The low-power algorithms used by JPEG XS would be a boon for space probes, which need to take very high-quality photos using only a tiny source of energy. Smartphones and other everyday devices with limited memory will continue to use the legacy JPEG format to store pictures.

Another advantage of JPEG XS is that, like all previous JPEG formats, it is open-source. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), based in Hollywood, is already considering adopting JPEG XS as its editing format.

Currently, every brand of video camera that uses high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging techniques has its own proprietary coding format. That means individual files must be transcoded before they can be edited. JPEG XS will change this situation by providing a universal format.

In addition to coordinating the development of the JPEG family of standards, Professor Ebrahimi came up with a new evaluation methodology together with his team in order to assess how well JPEG XS performs. These tests proved that the technological side of the new format is sound. The multimedia industry is currently awaiting final approval by the member states of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Once that is obtained, JPEG XS-based products and services can be launched.

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