Best known for its eponymous and ubiquitous photo standard, the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) has announced JPEG XS, a new video compression standard designed to stream lossless videos, VR content, and games over wireless networks. Intriguingly, JPEG XS is said to work on current computers with only software updates, while smaller devices will require “next generation” hardware.

Unlike rival video standards, JPEG XS doesn’t attempt maximum compression by using extra processing power or time. It instead presumes that the device will be used on a high-bandwidth 5G cellular or Wi-Fi network and focuses on delivering ultra low latency and superior energy efficiency.

As the group notes, “The aim is to stream the files instead of storing them in smartphones or other devices with limited memory,” letting portable devices wirelessly share high-definition content instantly with larger displays. Although we currently think of this in 2D terms, the group expects JPEG XS to be key for rapid stereoscopic VR streaming, as well as videos used by “drones and self-driving cars — technologies where long latency represents a danger for humans.”

“For the first time in the history of image coding,” explains JPEG head Touradj Ebrahimi, “we are compressing less in order to better preserve quality, and we are making the process faster while using less energy … The idea is to use fewer resources, and use them more wisely. This is a real paradigm shift.” JPEG XS’ energy efficiency has caught the attention of the European Space Agency, which is considering the format for transmitting high-definition videos from power-constrained space probes.

By comparison with JPEG photos, which typically reduce original file sizes by a factor of 10, JPEG XS compresses videos by no more than a factor of 6 — but without visual quality differences. “Compressing the images with JPEG XS doesn’t compromise quality at all,” claims Ebrahimi, “even experts can’t tell the difference between an original and a compressed picture or movie.”

JPEG XS has a couple of other advantages. It’s open source and provides a universal HDR coding format that could be used by video professionals without transcoding. For these reasons, JPEG XS could wind up in a large number of video devices, and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers is already considering using the format for professional video editing.

The organization says that JPEG XS is currently awaiting ISO approval, after which products and services will be launched. In the near-term, JPEG XS is expected to start with professional uses, including movie editing, space imagery, and pro-grade cameras. Consumer electronics will be next, says Ebrahimi, “including self-driving cars, virtual reality, augmented reality, and wireless connections between multimedia devices and TV monitors or projectors.” It remains to be seen whether adoption of JPEG XS will be as widespread as the group predicts, or narrower, as was the case with the still-obscure JPEG 2000 photo format.