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Google unveils alternative image format for faster downloading

Forget JPEG, GIF or PNG: meet Google’s WebP format, which it says can make files lighter without losing detail.

Saving this image in JPEG takes up 46KB of disk space - in WebP, it takes just 36KB.
Saving this image in JPEG takes up 46KB of disk space - in WebP, it takes just 36KB.
Image: Cnet/Google

GOOGLE HAS UNVEILED a new image format which it claims can reduce the size of image files without losing quality, which it hopes will become the new standard for images being posted online.

The ‘WebP’ format is similar to the common JPG image format, in that it selectively omits image data which it believes is invisible to the naked eye, but takes a significant chunk off their file size – making them quicker to download on relatively slow internet connections.

One sample image Google released to news site Cnet in WebP format measured 36KB – compared to 46KB when the same image was saved in JPG format, and a relatively massive 234KB when saved in PNG.

The technology came as a by-product to Google’s ‘WebM’ project which aimed to introduce a new standard for online video storage, which would presumably make the company massive savings by reducing the bandwidth required of its video streaming service, YouTube.

The leader of the project team, Richard Rabbat, told Cnet:

When we took a bunch of images, recompressed them from their current lossy formats into WebP, we saw on average about 40 percent decrease in size, which is staggering.

We’re talking to other browser vendors about supporting WebP. Initially, we want to spread this widely on the Web.

Google will face significant challenges in trying to spread the new technology as an international standard; Microsoft’s JPEG alternative, JPEG XR, released last year, has failed to take off despite having support built-in to Windows and Internet Explorer.

Google’s massive in-house network of websites, however, coupled with the fact that it hopes to have a new edition of the Google Chrome browser ready to support WebP, mean that the new image format could take off far quicker than previous alternatives.

JPEG, being built into most mobile phones and digital cameras, will remain the world standard for the foreseeable future, however.

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