Could Google’s WebP Picture Format Replace JPEG?

Posted on October 1, 2010 9:10 AM by Rob Williams

For about as long as the Web has existed, JPEGs have been the most commonly used picture format, and for good reason. It’s a lossy format, but is able to retain a lot of an original picture’s quality and typically results in a much smaller file size. For things like logos or images with a dominant flat color, GIF or PNG might be more suitable, but for photos and pictures, JPEG reigns supreme.

If Google has its way, that might change in the future. Earlier this year, the company announced its WebM project, which provides an open multimedia container format that can avail quality on par with H.264, but doesn’t incur the expensive licensing fees. To continue its entry into multimedia formats, WebP was born, and it’s what Google is hoping can overtake JPEG.

In the company’s tests, its WebP format delivered the same quality as a given JPEG file, but had a file size of 40% less. This test wasn’t something done over lunch, either… one million images were involved, and regardless of the total size of them combined, 40% less is rather significant. It seems that files such as GIF and PNG didn’t experience the same kind of decreases, but in most cases, those formats are used in lieu of JPEG for specific purposes – logos, signs, backgrounds, et cetera.

While Google’s format might be the better of the two formats, the company is in for an uphill climb in order to see it succeed in Web use. The vast majority of websites available today that include images are likely to utilize JPEGs, and off the Web, so do our digital cameras and many other devices. To “picture” that format being replaced is a lofty thought, but if there’s any company that can pull it off, it’s Google.

The company has said that its Chrome browser will see added support for WebP in a couple of weeks, and it’s also in talks with other browser companies to see if the format can be supported within them as well. It will be interesting to see where WebP stands six months or even a year down the road.

WebP is derived from WebM, Google’s open-source, royalty-free technology for encoding and decoding video. The higher compression efficiency measurement came from a sample of 1 million images that Google plucked from the Web. Of them, about 90 percent were JPEG, and Google’s tests showed WebP offering the same quality with 40 percent smaller file sizes. The remaining 10 percent were formats such as PNG and GIF, which are used more for illustration images such as logos rather than the photo-oriented JPEG.

Source: CNET

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