Google Promotes WebP, a New Image Format for a Faster Internet
While it’s true that online videos consume a lot of bandwidth, it’s actually pictures or images that constitute the bigger bulk of Internet data consumption. Websites nowadays rarely lack images and to load a web page, all the images will have to be automatically loaded, unless a browser has an add-on that intentionally prevents images from getting rendered. The sizes of web page texts and scripts are only a fraction of those of images. On the other hand, users of the Internet don’t always go online to view videos.
That’s why Google has decided to come up with a new image format that employs a better compression technology to produce image sizes that are up to 34% smaller (in file size) compared to traditional JPEG. For years, JPEG has become the standard image format used online. Its dominance has been unchallenged despite criticisms on its setbacks or disadvantages. Things are likely to change soon as Google gains support from some of the movers and shakers in the Internet. Opera has started supporting the new image format in Opera 11.10. Facebook has also joined Google in the campaign as the social media site tried the new format although some users have met the move with complaints.
What Is WebP
With a similarly named file extension (.webp), WebP is a new open source image format developed by Google and initially released in September 30, 2010. This new format is based on technology acquired as Google purchased On2 Technologies. WebP is a derivative of the VP8 video format and is dubbed as the still image counterpart of the WebM multimedia container format also developed by Google.
It supports both lossy and lossless compression. It was first announced in 2010 as a new open standard for lossily compressed true-color graphics on the web, with the smaller file size (relative to JPEG) as the highlight feature. The year later, Google announced that the format already supports animation, XMP metadata, ICC profile, and tiling or the ability to composite extremely large images of up to 16,384 x 16,384 tiles.The lossless compression feature came later, in November of 2011, along with support for transparency in both the lossless and lossy modes.
This new image format is touted to have a host of advantages over JPEG and GIF. The most notable of which is file size reduction. Based on Google’s measurements, PNG image files (obtained from the web) converted to WebP can be made 45% smaller while PNGs recompressed with pngcrush and pngout can benefit from a 28% file size reduction.
When it comes to animated images, WebP also offers a number of benefits. One of these benefits is 24-bit RGB color support with an 8-bit alpha channel. GIF, in comparison, is limited to 8-bit color and 1-bit alpha channel. Essentially, animated WebP images require fewer bytes than animated GIF. The estimated file size reduction is around 64% for lossy conversions and 19% for the lossless types.
Restrictions and Criticisms
Aside from the lack of native support from most operating systems and browsers at the moment, WebP is also restricted in its limited support for 8-bit YUV format. This can lead to color loss for images with thin contrast elements, examples of which are small computer graphics and pixel art. This can also result in anaglyph ghosting.
The creators of WebP don’t claim to offer superior image quality. The most they claim is quality comparability for a smaller file size. Thankfully, Google takes criticisms constructively as the company promised to fix the WebP image format shortcomings pointed out by critics. In 2010, the format was already criticized by x264 encoder developer Fiona Glaser for the noticeable quality difference when compared to JPEG and x264. When Facebook introduced the format, many of the social media site’s users were irked when they realized they could no longer view their images on their browsers and photo organizing programs.
Also, with animated WebPs, the lack of straight-line decoding in WEbP means that it is more CPU-intensive when compared to GIF since decoding lossy WebP takes more than twice as much time while decoding lossless WebP requires 1.5x.
Why Google Is Pushing for It
We may be willing to ignore Google’s “open secret goal” of overwhelmingly dominating the web upon knowing that there’s a more practical reason why Google is pushing for the new format. As mentioned in the advantages earlier, WebP promises smaller file sizes which can mean the faster loading of websites and the lower storage space required to store these images into hard drives. The benefit even extends to animated graphics, giving GIF an acceptable enough reason to retire.
If you are convinced that WebP is the future of image formats, that it is ripe enough to take over JPEG, you can start having your images converted into this new format now by downloading the WebP converter tool created by Google. It works for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Just remember that you might encounter problems reading the format since support for it isn’t that popular yet.