Image-Compression Plug-Ins

SAN FRANCISCO (01/24/2000) - JPEG may be the tried-and-true photo format for the Web, but with its tendency to add blocky artifacts to compressed images, it still doesn't get any respect. Several companies have released Adobe Photoshop plug-ins that compress images without introducing those unsightly distortions.

Joining Altamira Group Inc.'s Genuine Fractals and LizardTech's MrSID are LuraTech Inc.'s LuraWave and BitJazz Inc.'s PhotoJazz 2.

PhotoJazz, intended largely for use with pre-press applications, is based on a lossless compression scheme but offers relatively limited compression ratios -- an average of 2.5:1, compared with 10:1 or more for lossy compression schemes, such as JPEG. However, PhotoJazz gives you smaller files than Photoshop's TIFF LZW option.

The $29 entry-level version produces RGB output only, the $79 version provides CMYK output as well, and the $99 version supports output of 16-bit multichannel files. All three include PhotoJazz XT for importing PhotoJazz images into QuarkXPress, and PhotoJazz QT, which lets you open and save PhotoJazz images using QuickTime programs. BitJazz offers a free version that lets you open PhotoJazz images in Photoshop and most QuickTime-savvy programs.

LuraWave competes not so much with PhotoJazz as with MrSID. Both are based on wavelet technology, a lossy compression scheme that yields fewer distortions at any given compression ratio than JPEG. LuraWave's compression scheme appears to be just as effective as MrSID's. Images compressed at 10:1 had no perceptible artifacts; images compressed at 20:1 had only minor artifacts. LuraWave also includes a lossless option, but its compression ratios appear to be no better than LZW's.

LuraWave's best feature is its price: just $79, compared with MrSID's $495. Unfortunately, LuraTech does not offer a free Photoshop plug-in for opening the files.

Macworld's Buying Advice

LuraWave offers compression features similar to MrSID's and costs much less.

PhotoJazz is a tougher sell, offering marginally better lossless compression than Photoshop's TIFF LZW option but little else.

LuraWave

RATING: 4.0 mice

PROS: Affordable.

CONS: No free decompression plug-in.

COMPANY: LuraTech Inc. (650/326-8829, http://www.luratech.com). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $79.

PhotoJazz 2

RATING: 3.0 mice

PROS: Better lossless compression than Photoshop's TIFF LZW.

CONS: One-trick pony.

COMPANY: BitJazz Inc. (415/488-9626, http://www.bitjazz.com). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: RGB version, $29; CMYK version, $79; multichannel version, $99.

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