Why JPEG 2000 Never Took Off

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.

Brad Kelechava:
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