April 23, 2006

Is it time for JPEG 2000 to go mainstream?

Tim Bray pointed to Dave Hyatt's High DPI Web Sites, wherein he discusses various problems for Web design raised by the rapidly increasing resolution of high-def monitors.

Most sites are designed with the typical 800x600 or 1024x768 monitor in mind. As high-res devices squeeze more and more dots into the same area though, naively treating one CSS pixel as one device pixel would render Web pages so tiny as to be unreadable.

Scaling fonts is not a big deal, and we have the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) standard for, well, scalable vector graphics.

But what about raster images, such as photos? The recommendation is to serve high-res images, and then scale them down in the browser using CSS trickery.

In addition to supporting scalable image formats like SVG, we want to make it possible for Web designers to continue to use image formats they are familiar with (like PNG, JPG and GIF), but give them the capability to conditionally include higher resolution artwork.

The idea behind this approach is that a much higher-resolution image can be specified and then either used only if the resolution is detected to be high enough, or downscaled on lower DPI displays.

I think the venerable-but-mostly-unknown JPEG 2000 standard would come in handy here. JPEG 2000 is a format that allows for lossless compression and intelligent progressive downloading that only pulls down the amount of data you need at the zoom level that you've chosen (think Googe Earth).

JPEG 2000 is used extensively in specialized fields such as medical imaging and geographic information systems, but has not been picked up by the Web browsers yet. (There's a Mozilla bug entry for JPEG 2000 support, which dates back to April 2000.) The lack of enthusiasm for browser support may have something to do with uncertainty over the underlying patents. Mainstream adoption by the browsers may also be contingent on mainstream adoption by the Web servers and image editing tools.

Am I missing something here? Does taking JPEG 2000 mainstream not seem like a good idea?

Update: Deleted a stupid aside.

Posted April 23, 2006 8:41 AM
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