Why JPEG Has Run Its Course

Codecs are compression technologies that are used with all kinds of digital media. However, when it comes to images, one codec, the JPEG, has been considered the “leader” for quite some time. And, to be honest, in many ways, that time is (or should be) over.

While this familiar codec has certainly served its purpose well for a great many years, it’s starting to show its age. It lacks alpha transparency support, still clings to an 8-bit limit, and is easily surpassed by newer codecs, such as:

  • JPEG 2000
  • JPEG Excel
  • WebP
  • WebP2
  • HEIC
  • AVIF

If you’re still not sold on moving on from JPEG, just consider these compelling reasons to do so.

Consider Compression

Why replace JPEG, you may be wondering? After all, hasn’t it worked well for you all this time?

Well, first consider the fact that JPEG was made specifically for lossy compression of photographic images. And, while it can still get the job done in that department, newer codecs, such as JPEG XL and others, do the job better. JPEG XL, in particular, is great in terms of delivering higher fidelity.

Similarly, JPEG 2000 is an excellent choice for lossy or lossless compression of photographic images, while HEIC and AVIF lead the way in terms of lossy compression.

Ultimately, if a different codec can outperform your current one, why wouldn’t you make the switch? No matter how “tried and true” JPEG may be, it’s just as “tired” as it is “tried!”

The Fast and The Frustrating

Despite everything that has been said thus far, the JPEG still does well in terms of speed, at least to some degree and on some devices. This codec can be decoded very quickly. And, honestly, decoding speed matters more than anything if you want to get an image to its audience quickly.

However, with that said, JPEG does lack in terms of single image decoding and may not work as quickly on multicore processors, which came along after JPEG was invented and which are becoming increasingly more common. For this reason, when it comes to a speedy codec, newer options, including JPEG 2000, JPEG XL, and HEIC are often better choices.

Why Limit Yourself?

If you like to push the boundaries and hate limits, then there’s absolutely no reason to still be using JPEG. This basic codec is restricted to only 8-bit color precision. And, while that might work okay for SDR images or sRGB images, it is not suitable for HDR images or wide-gamut images.

Do be aware, however, that JPEG is not the only codec that fails to deliver in this area. WebP, despite being newer, can be just as bad.

If you want to avoid limits as much as possible (and no codec is truly limitless), then HEICs and AVIFs are probably your best bet, though you will have to be careful not to go over the maximum per-tile dimension.

Fabulous Features

Finally, let’s talk features.

When it comes to larger, more complex images, progressive decoding is a desirable feature, and it’s available on JPEG 2000 and JPEG Excel.

Newer codecs are also more likely to be adept at supporting alpha transparency, depth maps, and more.

In fact, when you make the switch to JPEG Excel, in particular, you’ll enjoy the following features:

  • Layer names
  • Spot-color channels
  • Selection masks

Learn More

When it comes to the codec known as JPEG, outdated is the perfect word to describe it. That much is clear.

However, knowing which codec to use and when can be confusing. If you need help optimizing your images, understanding the newer codecs, and presenting the best digital media possible, don’t hesitate to contact C0MPLÉX1.

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