Update: post now contains a Theora comparison as well; see below.
JPEG is a very old lossy image format. By today’s standards, it’s awful compression-wise: practically every video format since the days of MPEG-2 has been able to tie or beat JPEG at its own game. The reasons people haven’t switched to something more modern practically always boil down to a simple one — it’s just not worth the hassle. Even if JPEG can be beaten by a factor of 2, convincing the entire world to change image formats after 20 years is nigh impossible. Furthermore, JPEG is fast, simple, and practically guaranteed to be free of any intellectual property worries. It’s been tried before: JPEG-2000 first, then Microsoft’s JPEG XR, both tried to unseat JPEG. Neither got much of anywhere.
Now Google is trying to dump yet another image format on us, “WebP”. But really, it’s just a VP8 intra frame. There are some obvious practical problems with this new image format in comparison to JPEG; it doesn’t even support all of JPEG’s features, let alone many of the much-wanted features JPEG was missing (alpha channel support, lossless support). It only supports 4:2:0 chroma subsampling, while JPEG can handle 4:2:2 and 4:4:4. Google doesn’t seem interested in adding any of these features either.
But let’s get to the meat and see how these encoders stack up on compressing still images. As I explained in my original analysis, VP8 has the advantage of H.264′s intra prediction, which is one of the primary reasons why H.264 has such an advantage in intra compression. It only has i4x4 and i16x16 modes, not i8x8, so it’s not quite as fancy as H.264′s, but it comes close.