French programmer Fabrice Bellard has come up with a graphics file format he believes can "replace the JPEG image format." Bellard’s BPG (Better Portable Graphics) format boasts a compelling quality advantage over JPG, particularly when images are heavily compressed. Take a look through the gallery to see a few comparison shots – the left hand side of each image shows the JPEG compressed format, the right side shows BPG at a similar file size.

The BPG files seem to hold up vastly better, demonstrating a lot less color banding, blocking and step-ladder aliasing along edges, and producing pleasing images down to surprisingly small sizes.

BPG files can also handle transparency, which JPEG files can’t – although GIF and PNG files can, and those are both supported by most Web browsers. Currently, BPG files require a 55 kilobyte Javascript decoder to be embedded in a website before they can be displayed.

Is BPG likely to take over as a successor to JPEG? There’s a few factors running up against it. In the most simple sense, JPG is more or less doing a good enough job. Designers are comfortable with using it online, it’s well understood, it’s supported pretty much everywhere, and internet connections are becoming fast enough that image download times aren’t the issue they used to be.

Beyond that, BPG is built using HEVC video compression technology that’s patented by MPEG LA – which also owns the H.264 video codec. As the owners of the HEVC patents, MPEG LA would be within its rights to charge royalties on a piece of hardware or software with BPG decoders built into it, making it a risky move for popular free and open-source web browsers like Firefox to support the format.

And to compound BPG’s worries, it’s competing directly with Google’s up-and-coming WebP format, which, like BPG, compresses much better than the JPEG format and features alpha transparency. But WebP also handles moving images more efficiently than the GIF format and, most importantly, it’s already supported by the Chrome and Opera browsers, with Google also releasing it under a free BSD license.

Still, it’s cool to watch clever people achieving clever things with software, even if the morass of patent law and commercial considerations do end up leaving BPG by the wayside.

Source: The decidedly un-graphical Fabrice Bellard website.

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