Microsoft Officially Announces HD Photo

Didn't we already do that?

Regular readers of my blog (which is a tad oxymoronic, since it appears I have a hard time being a regular poster) already know all about HD Photo.  We've been talking about at various conferences, via this blog and on various websites for quite a while.  However, during all that time, we never "officially" announced this new still image file format.  There have been press reports, quotes in the media, blog posting, independent analysis and speculation, and seemingly endless comments, but never a press release.

So, all that changed this week at the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) conference in Las Vegas, NV.  We announced a bunch of stuff that you probably know all about, plus some signficant new information.  The full press release is here.  We also have a new HD Photo information page at Microsoft's Pro Photo website.

We announced the availability of the HD Photo file format, with support in Windows Vista.  We also announced support for Windows XP and Server 2003 via a Windows Imaging Component (WIC) redistributable or via .NET Framework 3.0But you already know all that.

We announced the Device Porting Kit (DPK), allowing developers to implement HD Photo encoders and decoders for any device or platform.  We also announced that HD Photo is licensed 100% royalty free.  But again, you already know all that.

So what's new?

I'm very excited that we announced a free set of HD Photo plug-ins for Adobe® Photoshop® software, developed in conjunction with Adobe Systems, Inc.  The set of plug-ins includes support for CS2 and CS3 on Windows XP, Windows Vista and Macintosh OS/X.  The beta release for Windows is available now; you can download it here.  Our goal is to have the beta version for OS/X available in a few weeks, and final versions released by May.

The plug-ins provide support for a wide range of HD Photo features including extensive pixel format support, alpha channels, multiple color formats, and high dynamic range, wide gamut imaging.  The full set of encoder parameters is also available including quantization, color sub-sampling, overlap processing, tiling, planar alpha channels and option pixel format conversion.  When released shortly, the OS/X version will provide the first support for HD Photo on the Macintosh.

With these plug-ins, it's now possible to easily create a wide range of HD Photo files.  Using Photoshop actions, you can easily batch convert to/from the HD Photo format.  Over the next several weeks I'll be posting a set of tutorials on using the plug-ins to take full advantage of the powerful capabilities offered by HD Photo.  We'll also talk about the great features in Photoshop (especially in the new CS3 Beta release) that are ideal when working with HD Photo.

In addition to working with Adobe, we're also working together with Pegasus Imaging Systems to develop this set of plug-ins.  Check out their website for a very extensive set of healthcare, document and photo imaging solutions for developers and end users.  Cool stuff!

Did someone stay standards?

I'm also very pleased that we have announced our commitment to submit HD Photo for standardization.  There's really no details to talk about yet.  We're in the process of evaluating the appropriate standards organization and the process.  But we're committed to pursue standardization for HD Photo. 

We've worked very hard over the past several months to address the comments and concerns we've heard about achieving broader deployment for HD Photo.  We changed the licensing terms to eliminate the previous very small royalties.  We changed the name to a generic, un-trademarked term.  We've made the DPK available through a simple click-through End User License Agreement.

Now we're taking the next big step.  Our goal is to turn the format over to an appropriate standards organization.  Ideally, this will include the publishing of an open specification, making possible to implement compatible encoders and decoders that are completely independent of Microsoft's reference source code.  This should fully address any concerns that have been raised about the option for open source implementations.

Anyone who has been involved in standardization, especially related to advanced technology, can tell you it is often a complicated and sometimes lengthly process.  We're working hard to move forward in a timely manner; we'll share more details as we have them.