Image-shrinking tool hits new lows

To reduce the time and space required to store, download, and e-mail digital photographs, a company has released an image-compression tool that supports a compression ratio as high as 1000:1.

MyPhotoZip, recently updated by ECom ECom Inc., purports to produce compressed files that are only a hundredth the size of the original .jpg, or a thousandth the size of an uncompressed .tif.

The MyPhotoZip photo compression program provides the extraordinary compression ratio through its proprietary MPZ technology. Although MyPhotoZip first shipped last spring, only the new version, 1.4d, provides the optional 1000:1 compression.

You can download a free trial version from ECom ECom. A license costs US$40 and includes free upgrades through the life of the program.

Challenge: Sharing

You can safely assume that anyone with a computer can see your .jpg files. But unless ECom ECom can turn its new format into a standard, .mpz images won't be easy to share. The company is working on an open-source software development kit, intended to encourage other vendors to support the format, as well as on ways to promote the format's use in digital cameras.

ECom ECom provides a free viewer program, as well as free Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator plug-ins. The company hopes that its plug-in will become a must-have download on the order of Adobe Systems Inc.'s Acrobat.

To a browser with the plug-in installed, a .mpz file on a Web page appears as just another image--with one exception: You won't be able to right-click a .mpz picture and download it. For copyright holders, that's arguably good news. For viewers, it's an annoyance.

Hands-On Squashing

But for .mpz to really become a standard, it will have to deliver a much better quality-to-size ratio than .jpg. It does just that in some samples ECom ECom provided--NASA photos in which Saturn looked just as good in a 13K .mpz as in a 12GB .tif image.

Unfortunately, when I tested it with more down-to-earth subjects, the results were less spectacular. In casual tests, I tried converting some .tifs both to .jpgs and to variously sized .mpz files. I could often, but not always, get a great-looking .mpz image that was half the size of the .jpg. But if I increased compression beyond that, the quality would plummet. And when I tried the 1000:1 compression, the image looked more like a painting--often an expressionistic one--than a photograph.

At any rate, MPZ is an alternative compression technology that may serve you well in some circumstances. It may even be a better solution than JPEG sometimes. But it's no miracle.

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