JPEG, the lossy compression standard for images used on the Internet and digital cameras, might receive a much-needed upgrade by year's end. The creators of JPEG XL claim their free open-source format offers up improvements that will result in a significant reduction in global bandwidth and storage costs.

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The JPEG image format was first developed by researchers at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in the 1980s. Over the years, due to its many advantages over other formats of the time, it became the go-to format for photos on digital cameras and the World Wide Web. At the time, it was revolutionary, cutting down on the time it took for images to load (think 5 seconds compared to minutes) and could store up to 50 images, rather than 1, on a memory card.

For almost 30 years, this standard, which uses data compression to keep files small, has remained largely unchanged and unchallenged, even after several unsuccessful attempts. That, however, could change. Several formats introduced in the past to replace JPEG, including JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, Google's WebP, and even HEIC have fallen short of widespread adoption. JPEG XL is hoping to rewrite that script.

JPEG XL can take existing JPEG files and transcode them, losslessly, to reduce their size without compromising their quality. A single JPEG XL file can be stored on a server and serve both JPEG and JPEG XL clients. A JPEG XL file can also be restored to the initial JPEG through backwards compatibility without compromising the file.

The format will benefit photographers by including a wide color gamut, HDR (high dynamic range), and high bit depth images.

The format will benefit photographers by including a wide color gamut, HDR (high dynamic range), and high bit depth images. Support for printing, large panoramas, 360-degree imagery, and image bursts is also available. Optimized for responsive web environments, it's also addressing current Internet user needs on a wide range of devices such as tablets and smartphones.

'JPEG XL further includes features such as animation, alpha channels, layers, thumbnails, lossless and progressive coding to support a wide range of use cases including but not limited to photo galleries, e-commerce, social media, user interfaces and cloud storage,' reads the official overview. What the creators promise is superior image quality, a codec ratio smaller than the typical 20:1 to 50:1, and encoding plus decoding without hardware acceleration on mobile devices.

The standard has four specifications which will be combined to make JPEG XL the standard, going forward, by the end of 2021, so long as the project doesn't encounter any setbacks. Even if it gets set in stone before the end of the year, it may take time for it to be compatible on all the applications and platforms available. To find out if your browser supports JPEG XL, you can check here. Those interested in the coding system can check out the white paper.