By Jennifer Farley

Goodbye JPEG, Hello WebP?

By Jennifer Farley

Richard Rabatt, Google Product Manager wrote earlier today about a new image file format which the engineers at Google have been working on. WebP aims to lower file sizes and in turn reduce download times while still retaining a certain level of quality.

Images and photos make up about 65% of the bytes transmitted per web page today. They can significantly slow down a user’s web experience, especially on bandwidth-constrained networks such as a mobile network. Images on the web consist primarily of lossy formats such as JPEG, and to a lesser extent lossless formats such as PNG and GIF. Our team focused on improving compression of the lossy images, which constitute the larger percentage of images on the web today.

WebP images can’t yet be viewed until browsers support the format, but Google are working on a patch for WebKit to provide native support for WebP in a future release of Google Chrome which will include support for alpha channels, or a transparency layer.

Check out some examples from the Google WebP Gallery and see what you think. It may be my weary eyes but the WebP images seem to be a bit softer than the JPEGs. As a photographer I would be pretty fussy about my images not looking sharp. In the side by side comparison JPEG quality seems better, but maybe seeing a WebP in isolation would make it good enough and a reasonable compromise between quality and file size?

WebP is an open-source format. Undoubtedly it will take a long time before something like this would be adopted by the masses but as most people want faster browsing it’s an exciting development.

Do we need another file format to play with? Do you think WebP might some day replace JPEGs online or do we just need better browsers?

  • XLCowBoy

    I hope it works, but let’s not ignore the IE…lephant in the room.

  • As a generalisation, most people simply don’t optimise their images well enough. You can crunch a JPG pretty hard for general web use, but the average content producer doesn’t have the tools or training to know to do it.

  • Kevin

    It may be my eyes, but WebP looks sharper than JPEG. Take a look at the contrast in colour around the football players head against the blue background, also in the image below it, the red/orange thing (?) has a sharp orange outline.

    Promising format though.

  • Jon

    WebP looks like it has more detail and sharpness/definition than the JPEGs shown to me.

    But to be honest if you looked at them both in isolation I doubt anyone would notice any differences.

  • bsimonian

    I love the fact that Google is pushing the envelope of innovation and trying to do things better but in all honesty, I am very happy with JPEGs and the quality that we get from them. I haven’t really heard anybody complaining about JPEG images taking too long to download and not too sure how this will be taken.
    Also to comment on the point made in the post, I did notice an increased softness in the WebP photos (it wasn’t just your weary eyes, Jennifer) and even thought I’m just an hobbyist photographer, I still would not like things that I’ve shot sharp to show up soft.
    I’m definitely interested to see where this goes though!

    • Nate

      The “sharpness” you think you see is actually noise created by the JPEG compression. If you zoom in, it is clear that there are compression artifacts in the JPEG, the type that frequently bothers me when I am trying to eke out a bit more compression on images with large areas of solid color.

      Just like the “Add Noise” filter in Photoshop can fool us into thinking there is more detail in an image that has been blown up, the JPEG artifacts are tricking us into believing we see more detail. I’d rather preserve the level of detail I had prior to exporting, than an artificial amount of “sharpness” added. More importantly, I’d rather have smaller file sizes when I upload the images to the web.

  • Do we need another image format….No. JPEG and PNG are more then enough for today and the future. It took PNG long enough to even become partially implement in most of the browsers let alone a 100% implementation.

    • JHig310336

      I second what you’re response,

      I would like to see more development on PNG as I feel PNG its the future of web images. I’ve felt this way for the past 15 year and would love to see PNG be taken seriously.

      These day I don’t use GIF nor JPEG, PNG has been more than enough for my web design and personal photo editing collections.

      Its a shame it too this long for app developers to warm up to PNG. Windows 7 Snipping Tool screenshots web images in only PNG. Would like to see more app doing the same.

      Google should also work on PNG to decrease it file size. WebP seems proprietary.

      • You save photos in PNG? Nice, why not TIFF? ;)

  • Whatever happened Jpeg2000, oh yeah. Support was non-existant (Although partly the creators fault due to the patents)

    While it’s a good idea, unless it is adopted by all the major browsers, it’s pointless in the real world. I can see Chrome and FF supporting it fairly quickly but IE won’t for a while, then we have the people still on IE6 who will never see them.

    I suppose you could do some server-side checking and serve a jpeg to those on older browsers but… is it worth the time involved? Not at all.

    Perhaps in 2025 this may become widespread.

  • Mads

    On my iPhone I get the opposite impression. The new format seems to have a higher edge definition than the jpeg.

  • joezim007

    I think that replacing JPEGs is a great idea. I’ve always hated them. Their compression algorithm has always annoyed the heck out of me. Hopefully WebP isn’t the same way.

    I personally saw very little difference between the two images. The only place where I did see what you were talking about is on the first image on the wall of the building along the left edge of the image. Other than that, I had a hard time spotting differences.

  • Sphamandla

    Google are fast and efficiently making the web a better place to call home away from home. So I guess its goodbye jpeg then !

  • Trent Reimer

    Regarding quality, it would be interesting to see what a viewer survey would say if the images were presented without the benefit of knowing the format. (and not always JPEG on the left WEBP on the right)

    I don’t think it’s a slam dunk for JPEG. The street sign seems a tad easier to read in WEBP and certainly in the last example (the ship and tug boat) the JPEG seems to have more artifacts.

  • I love the potential for a transparent JPG.

  • PNGs aren’t great when you scale them up, and yet, they’re the only image format we have today which is universally supported and with alpha transparancy. If WebP can deliver similar compression quality on larger images with alpha transparancy, and become supported in all browsers, then that’s a welcome addition IMHO, even if it means a slight loss in image quality.

    The real challenge will be making it an open standard AND persuading all browser and authoring tool vendors (Adobe for one) to jump in.

  • djeyewater

    Sounds like Google re-inventing JPEG2000 to me. Would be interesting to see how WebP compares to JPEG2000.

  • DevonHartigan

    I downloaded the unscaled pictures, and the only picture where I could see a difference was the night-time picture with the purple lights. But here there was a HUGE difference. Like someone had adjusted the brightness by a significant amount.

  • jerichvc

    with today’s fast internet access browsers and end users, they will not compromise quality over file size.

    does adobe will support it?
    mozilla and the rest of the browsers?

    how about photographers? and dslr camera file formats? :D

  • Wardrop

    The comparisons provided by Google are completely unreliable. The images they’ve sourced for their examples are all JPEG. Hence, when you download the unscaled samples, you’re looking at the original JPEG, and comparing to a copy of the JPEG re-compressed as WebP. Google seem to have shot themselves in the foot here.

    Also, you cannot trust the scaled images either. What they seem to have done is scaled the JPEG images, and re-saved them as JPEG, where as they’ve scaled the WebP image, and then simply saved a PNG. What they should have done is scaled both images, re-saved the JPEG as a JPEG, and re-saved the WebP image as WebP… and then done the conversion to PNG.

    My point is, Google have completely stuffed up this comparison. There’s absolutely nothing of value to be had by looking at these images as the comparison is flawed.

  • Anonymous

    webp is next to pointless unless your a 56k user. With the internet speeds today, you’ll probably save only a millisecond on load time. I know my generation is all about speed, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to save a millisecond.

  • Kevin

    All this is going to do is force a lot of developers who want to be trendy to save their images in about six formats and put a whole bunch of if/else statements in their php code.
    Not what we need.

  • Digital Cherries

    It may be my amateur eye, but it seems to me that the images do seem sharper and the colors a bit more brilliant in the WebP format. Of course these small images are one thing, but how will WebP do with a larger image? Does it still maintain its advantage? I guess we will wait and see.

  • Aidy

    I think it makes sense, if better compression is available it should be used. How many images are on the web? and its only going to increase exponentially. I’m sure it will take a long while to be fully implemented, that’s the nature of these things. But if in the end if we are saving just 5% – 10% that could equate to a big energy save! I’m not a big ‘greeny’ but if someone said we could do this thing to make cars 5% more efficient but it would take some cooperation between a few organisations, I would say it was a no brainer.

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