Microsoft this week announced that the Joint Photographic Expert Group (JPEG) standards body will soon vote on whether the company's HD Photo digital image format should be ratified as an international standard called JPEG XR. If it is accepted, JPEG XR could soon replace the ubiquitous but ancient JPEG format as the standard format for digital photography and imaging. The move would be a coup for Microsoft, which has seen stiff resistance to some of its recent standardization efforts.

"Microsoft is very pleased that the JPEG working group is considering HD Photo as a new standard, and we are committed to working to ensure that this file format serves the needs of the next generation of consumer and professional photographers," says Microsoft general manager Tom Robertson. "This is an excellent example of Microsoft's multibillion-dollar annual investment in R&D, producing a technology that represents a big step forward in multimedia innovation and tangible benefits for consumers."

While the 20-year-old JPEG format is widely used and supported by virtually every digital camera and digital imaging device on earth, it is a "lossy" image format that actually degrades picture quality each time the files are edited or changed in any way. HD Photo, by comparison, uses lossless compression to retain the full quality and color fidelity of captured images after editing and resizing, Microsoft says. Better still, images sizes for HD Photo files are smaller than those for JPEG and contain fewer unwanted artifacts.

If you're concerned about a Microsoft format becoming the standard for digital imaging, take heart in the news that HD Photo--or JPEG XR, as it will be called--is being offered royalty free, meaning that Microsoft is giving it away. This decision will enable "the JPEG committee \[to\] foster widespread adoption of the specification and help ensure that it can be implemented by the widest possible audience," JPEG noted in a statement.