Why JPEG 2000 Never Took Off

Girl taking JPEG 2000 photos thanks to ISO/IEC standards

As the millennium came to a close and the world accelerated inexorably towards the Digital Age, everyday life underwent some extreme changes. Monolithic companies were displaced, ideas shifted, and physical copies of products slowly became less prominent. However, among these changes, JPEG 2000 never took off as a standard for image compression and coding.

JPEG 2000, like its predecessor, was and is developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG), a committee that serves as a joint working group of the International Organization for Organization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

JPEG serves as a great example of how standardization shapes the world. Many people know .jpeg or .jpg as the common file extension for images. In fact, the JPEG method for lossy compression (and file format) was established by the JPEG committee in 1992 through the publication of ISO/IEC 10918-1. Since this time, the ISO/IEC 10918 suite of standards for “Digital compression and coding of continuous-tone still images” have been developed with any necessary updates by JPEG.

In 2000, JPEG released the first part of the standard intended to replace the original JPEG format, giving it the timely name JPEG 2000. JPEG 2000, which was and is still specified by the ISO/IEC 15444 series of international standards, has numerous distinct advantages over JPEG. While JPEG leads to a slight loss of quality due to compression, a significant issue if you are editing and saving a file numerous times, JPEG 2000 is based on wavelet technology and has a better efficiency in compression. It also offers the possibility of lossless compression.

Aside from benefits in compression, the JPEG 2000 standard supports up to 16384 components, dimensions running into the thousands of terapixels, and precisions as high as 38 bits/sample, with or without tiling. It also offers the possibility of dividing the image into smaller parts to be coded independently, improvement in noise resilience, and access to the compressed bit rate at any point in order to access the image directly. Overall, JPEG 2000 is a more flexible file format.

However, the numerous advantages of JPEG 2000 come with some drawbacks. When it was first developed, JPEG 2000 was an entirely new format (with the extension .jpg2 or .jpf) based on new code. Depending on a new codec and not being backward compatible, upon release, those who wanted to support JPEG 2000 would have to code in the new standard while also supporting the original. In addition, JPEG 2000’s complexities are heightened by its many options in size, resolution, and color space, necessitating some expertise in decision-making.

Ultimately, JPEG 2000’s biggest problem at its time of arrival was that it required machines with more memory. Back in 2000, this was major, as the average computer featured around 64 MB of memory, and the format’s improvements were, in many instances, negligible. With JPEG 2000’s arrival stunted, camera manufacturers and websites were hesitant to accept the format and waited until it was widely adopted. Of course, with so many manufacturers awaiting the spread of the format, they had effectively suppressed its growth.

This isn’t to imply that the format didn’t find any usage, however. The JPEG architecture is used in portable digital cameras, advanced pre-press, medical imaging, geospatial, and other applications.

However, it cannot be denied that the original JPEG format is far more prominent, finding near-universal applications in digital imagery. In fact, to this day, there is no web browser, paint program, or office application that supports JPEG 2000 directly. JPEG prevails as the standard for digital camera photos and images transferred on the World Wide Web.

That being said, both are still developed by the JPEG committee, with JPEG specified in ISO/IEC 10918 and JPEG 2000 in ISO/IEC 15444.

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6 thoughts on “Why JPEG 2000 Never Took Off
  1. Safari (and, I have read, any Webkit based browser) displays jp2, at least. I have used it to view maps from the Library of Congress.

  2. This article neglects to mention that JPEG2000 forms the basis for delivery of content to every commercial cinema worldwide. If you see a movie in a theater, you’re seeing JPEG2000 in action. It’s also being frequently used in broadcast environments to carry 4K and 8K signals across existing HD infrastructure. Perhaps JPEG2000 never took off in consumer applications but professional applications depend upon it.

  3. I’m president of a company and a semi-skilled photographer and Adobe Creative Suite user. my profession is engineering and construction with a photography avocation and hobby. Despite the above comments on jpeg vs. Jpeg2000 I’m still left wondering about my 10,000 photos stored in Photoshop as jpg images. If I were to pull some of them up and try to edit them or save them as a jpeg2000 ,, Well the article didn’t address what the relative advantages and disadvantages are to me as in everyday user who performs editing of various images which are later printed and or distributed on the internet. It might be helpful of some Pro could address this in more layman’s terms so I can decide whether there’s any real advantage or disadvantage from my semi-professional usage viewpoint

    1. JPEG2000’s Discrete Wavelet Transform gives you a smaller output file for a given image quality OR better image quality for a given output file size. What’s not to love about that?

      It allows you pull down a subsection of the main image. Let’s say you’ve got a nationwide weather image but you’re only looking at part of it. With a traditional JPEG, you have to download the whole thing and then display the section you want OR scale it down on the client device. With JPEG2000, you can get just the section you want without needing to get the whole thing.

      It actually stores the image in multiple resolutions. More specifically, it provides a very low-resolution version of the image, then information needed to use that to reproduce a higher-resolution version, up through multiple steps.

      These two features should have been a “killer app” for the mobile space. The ability to store one, high-resolution image, yet be able to extract subsections (for the portion that’s visible on the screen) and/or reduced-resolution versions, with the ability to pull down more resolution detail if someone zooms in … all without needing to get the ENTIRE image … c’mon folks. We’re talking low-resolution zoomed-out and high-resolution zoomed-in-portions of the image, all while reducing bandwidth used. Apache has had a module which supports ALL of this for some time now.

      The original JPEG format had limits to how big the image could be. And no matter how high you cranked up the “quality” factor, there was no lossless JPEG format. Unless you are using JPEG2000. You can image entire pages at 2400 dpi, full-color, and reproduce the part you want at a resolution appropriate for your display and you don’t have to worry about lost detail.

      We’re way past due for this to be widely used. Anyone using mobile data to get imagery knows what I’m talking about.

  4. I just used JPEG-2000 today and what the heck, why isn’t everything using this? PNG and JPEG couldn’t come close to JPEG-2000’s ability to compress to a smaller size and the image still looked fantastic!

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