JPEG: The New Graphics Format On The Block

Any regular readers here know that I’ve owned a lot of machines in my time. It was 1993 when I called an Amiga 1200 my main machine and when JPEG images started appearing on BBSs across the land. You know, JPEGs. They’re the most commonly used image format on the net, but at one time they were a new curiosity.

JPEGs were fun on the Amiga because they support “true color” — 24 bits per pixel of it (16.7 million colors in all) and the Amiga 1200 supports a near-true color mode with it’s HAM8 graphics mode. I recall downloading, with much excitement, various JPEG images I would find on BBS’s here and there for viewing as a means to “show off” what the Amiga 1200 could do. These images were scarce, and every one I downloaded I uploaded to the local Amiga BBS, known as “The Board” (Hampton, VA area). I was trying to make The Board a repository for these great, new sort of images. JPEGs were so rare, it seemed a noble effort. (Some names I recall from The Board: Myron Sothcott (sysop), Pat Birkmeyer, Norm Goswick — all part of our local Amiga user group at the time, A.L.F.A. or Amigoid Life Form Association. And yes, I hope Google brings them here and inspires a comment or two; I’ve not heard form these folks in 15 years.)

The JPEG viewers I had for my Amiga 1200 would render the images in HAM8 mode at 640×480 pixels. Back then was a pretty high resolution. I recall it took about two minutes to fully render the JPEG to the screen using its 14.3MHz Motorola 68EC020 processor. That’s pretty amazing when you consider that modern machines can decode a JPEG in about the same time it takes to decode an uncompressed .BMP or .TIFF image — that is: instantly.

Did my efforts help make JPEG a standard in today’s web world? Unlikely. But standard it is, and it’s interesting to recall a time when it was so strange and new a thing.

The Board is long gone now, but my computer room again contains an Amiga 1200 and an Amiga 2000, and the latter has a 56Kbps modem attached to its ASDG Zorro II dual serial board. Just to help me search for a modern-day BBS even remotely resembling The Board. An unlikely find, I must say. One can always hope, however….

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8 Responses to JPEG: The New Graphics Format On The Block

  1. Jason Wells says:

    I’m glad to hear someone else remembers the early days of JPEG! I never had an Amiga where the JPEG was at home, but just had a run-of-the-mill 12MHz 286.

    But I remember the many-minute render time to just put a JPEG up on the screen. There was an MS-DOS program I downloaded called JPG2GIF that would, as expected, turn the file into a GIF. It was speedier to display and about 3 times the size. Did the Amiga have any programs like this?

  2. Crumb says:


    Of course, there was a wide variety of apps that could work with jpeg, although one of the most interesting things that appeared on Amiga were datatypes. It was a “codec” system that allowed programs that supported datatypes to load any supported image, even if the datatype was written years after the last version of the program was released :-)

    On my A500 I used HamLab :-)

  3. Jon says:

    I remember a similar feeling on the boards back in the late 1980’s over music files. I’d log into the BBS’s in the DC metro area with my A500 and a 2400 baud modem and move tracker files. I still am amazed when I hear Axel F on the radio that I was able to play it on a computer in 1988 way before MP3 files. I switched from a A500 to a Mac IIsi in college in 1992 since they had a localtalk network in all the dorms and buildings, and that could do jpegs and gifs just fine. I made it a year with the a500, dialing in to the mainframe from my dorm and using the print spooler to use the laser printers that all the mac people could use much easier. Lost track of the amiga scene about then as I never made the transition to the AGA stuff.

    BTW, really like your site- it’s like reading about my own past. I just did not hang on to the stuff as well as you did! I’d love to have my 500 back…or my II+, my VIC 20, ect.

  4. blakespot says:

    I had great fun with MODs as well, Jon. The Amiga could do some amazing things in the audio category. I added a Gravis Ultrasound to the 486 PC I set up in ’94. It was made for MODS and demos. It used a Forte sound processor that was basically the Ensoniq DOC II. 12 channel S3Ms and the like took basically no CPU. Awesome board. But I’m getting tangential here – I’ll do a post on the Ultrasound sometime soon.

    Actually, in 1999 I had only a Mac and a couple game consoles. None of the units in my collection are the ones I owned “back in the day” – I’ve reacquired representations of my past machines as well as a few additions that I never owned. eBay mainly. Fun stuff. Takes lots of space. :-)

  5. pdw says:

    Hmm, now you have me wondering if I still have my collection of images I gathered from NASA’s BBS, Spacelink. I recall spending 30 minutes once a week – that was the time limit imposed by my Dad – for a couple of months using the family Apple IIgs trolling, downloading and collecting space related images…

    Of course now all I have to do is type in:

  6. Are you sure it took that long to render a JPEG at 480 lines? I don’t remember it taking that long.

    I compared an LCII to a 1200 which had virtually the same CPU and the Mac rendered a given JPEG file more quickly and moved it around the screen a bit speedier. But the difference wasn’t that vast.

    Blake, maybe you can arrange such a comparison and see if my memory is faulty?

  7. blakespot says:

    Using the command-line viewer that I used, I recall it took about as long as I said. Actually – the Amiga should have decoded the image faster as it has a 14.3MHz 68020 on a 32-bit bus while the poorly architectured Mac LC II has a 16MHz 68030 but on a 16-bit bus. Of course, this viewer was rendering out using HAM8 which took some calc overhead.

  8. Yuhong Bao says:

    BTW, remember the Unisys LZW patents and how it related to GIFs? It is now expired, but…

    BTW, the preview of comments do not work.

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