Live Picture 2.0 v. PhotoShop 3.0

by "One of Philip's Friends Who Can't Afford to Annoy LivePicture" for the Web Tools Review

Live Picture is a compositing tool with some pixel editing and image processing extensions. It is most useful if you need to composite multiple layers into a file greater than 80MB, something that is virtually never done by Web authors, except perhaps those who are simultaneously producing a high-quality print work and Web site.

I have a friend that works with 400-600MB files and he thinks he needs Live Picture because Photoshop is just too slow. Photoshop works very quickly with files in the 30-60MB range (if you have the RAM) -- and is a much better and more useful program. Very few users will find Live Picture right for them and even they will still need Photoshop to do all of the things that Live Picture cannot do.

Live Picture is faster for many operations on large files if you go by a stop-watch. In normal use, however, it does not feel snappy. Common simple operations seem to take a few seconds longer than in Photoshop, making the overall experience less pleasant.

The basic idea of working at screen resolution and rendering later is a good one. So, while Live Picture in its version 2.0 form is only useful to a small group of people, it has great potential. The IVUE file format, which stores data at many resolutions and as tiles, is perfect for large files. Live Picture gives me nearly instant access to sections of a 2GB world map image.

Live Picture is the best solution for compositing elements into extremely large files, something only the most demanding users will appreciate. The bottom line for most is that IVUE is good technology but Live Picture, the program that uses it, is very specialized and cannot compete with Photoshop for most work, including Web authorship.

Return to Web Tools Review home

Reader's Comments

LizardTech has recently introduced a new, patented wavelet-based compressor/decompressor called MrSID that is more powerful than LivePicture and comes with a Photoshop Plug-in Viewer (free) - so you dont have to give up all of your favorite Photoshop features. MrSID typically handles massive images in the hundreds of gigabytes range providing an average of 30:1 compression for color images, but it does just as good of a job on everyday images too. It has a unique, patented Multiresolution feature that can generate any number of resolutions of the image from the original file ON THE FLY, unlike Live Picture which has to pre-render the resolutions and store them with the original image, creating much larger file sizes than necessary.

MrSID is used by many to serve massive images over the internet, fast. MrSID is very good at preserving original image quality too, even at high compression ratios. At the lower compression ratios (10:1) MrSID images are almost lossless.

The Multiresolution feature can allow users to provide or sell imagery online from a single file and only "unlock" the resolution the client needs or is willing to pay for. The quality is even sufficient for oversize, high quality four color separations.

LizardTech charges for the Compressors but gives away all of the viewers for free. Current viewers include a stand alone viewer, Photoshop Plug in and ArcView Extension at present. Soon to be released is the Netscape Plug in and other GIS application specific plug ins. LizardTech also gives away an SDK free from their website for customers who want to build their own MrSID viewer. Platforms for the Compressors are Wintel and Unix. Viewers run on all platforms.

LizardTech is focused on the high end of the market and will be giving away a free limited compressor starting in March 98.

The Library of Congress uses MrSID to distribute ~200Mb images over the web. National Geographic used MrSID for the maps CD in their new 108 Years of National Geographic CD set, and the list goes on.

Check it out at

-- Jeff Segler, February 17, 1998

LizardTech isn't the only organization to take advantage of wavelet compression technology. See:

ER Mapper is offering royalty free wavelet compression plugins and viewers. Of course to encode the images you need to buy ER Mapper, but the total solution is cheaper via ERM than MrSID. AT&T has DjVU which also has free plugins in addition to a free (unix) compressor, source code for the reference library and an SDK available.

For other closed-and-proprietary-systems-with-"free"-plugins (not an exhaustive list) see LuraTech, Compression Engines, Summus, Infinop Labs, and Pegasus Imaging. For some older resources & source code browse through this page and this one.

Anyway the point is, this is developing technology and there are a number of organizations working on it (read: attempting to own it). On the liberating front, the JPEG group is working on a next generation standard dubbed JPEG 2000 which also uses wavelet technology.

By the way, all of the variants listed above use lossy compression. For true lossless compression you need something like PNG (pronounced ping, for stills) and it's close cousin MNG (for animation and other things outside the PNG specs).

-- Matt Wilkie, May 5, 1999

A very useful tool for people who need to work with very large files is a program called Wright Design. It runs only on Windows machines, but it works really well. The interface is decidedly different than Photoshop, and takes some getting use to. Definately work through the tutorial.

I've used the program for a few years, and it has saved me hundreds of hours. You can download a demo (free) from this site:

-- Marc Sitkin, August 7, 1999

If you are a PS fanatic you will never need LP. If, however you want to invest the time to learn LP you should. Reasons? 48 bit color, speed, resolution independent brushes (gradients also), image distortion, unlimited undo, large file manipulation (FITS), ultra modern interface (ie, no floating menus), texture world, multiple size outputs, cool (but not utilitarian) cloning tool, push/diffuse brush.

48 bit color. What this means is you pick a color you want and it samples it at 48 bit and when you make a build it picks the best 24 (RGB) or 32 (CMYK) bits. The results are amazing. This allows for a truer color of the original. Think of it this way, instead of each color having 256 shades of gray, each color has 65,536 shades of gray, from which the "build" will choose from. You decide.

Speed, yes speed. Live Picture is near real time, for all but 3rd party filters, where it slows down considerably.

Resolution independent brushes. create a 10'x10' document in each of PS and LP. Use the biggest brush in each document. Make a stroke. Live Pictures brushes can damned near cover the whole document. This chokes PS. Make a simple gradient in each. Output each to film. Photoshop will band (24 bit gradient), LP won't (48 bit gradient).

Image distortion. This is as cool as it gets. Make eyes bigger, wider, etc, without it looking like a cartoon.

Unlimited undo. With a simple stroke you can undo/redo anything you have done! To keep it simple, Live Picture is Layers, so make a layer of everything, it can be done quite easily.

Large file manipulation. Photoshop starts slowing down after 20mb, Live Picture starts kicking in at 20mb. Its brushes, gradients, textureworld (through FITS files) allow you to work on images with incredible speed.

Live Picture has a sleek interface. It has no palettes. It appears to be minimalistic, yet it hides its depth. Every pull down menu has multiple tool options. Very cool.

Texture world. 100 preset options, plus you can make your own. Great for backrounds, web buttons, special effects. Textures go from 0% to 27,000%! You can edit each as texture in multiple ways.

Multiple out puts. Get that 35mm scanned at 2500%, work with it in real time, then out put that poster. Oh by the way, can we get it made for the billboard? (Easily, if you plan ahead!), how about website? (Easy)

The cloning tool sucks if you want to remove dust and scratches, however if you want to use it for creative purposes it is pretty damned cool. It allows you you to reveal from lower layers. which PS will do, but not so easily.

Push/brush, is the unspoken hero of many LP users. You would just have to try it. My personal favorite!

All said, LP is not for everyone, but what it does it does best. NO you can't replace PS with LP, but you can have a new tool that will give you new ways to express your creative freedoom.

I think the guy who wrote this original article was "PS" biased, or just did not work with high resolution files all that much.

Boy am I done or what


-- Rodi Planck, September 24, 1999

Add a comment | Add a link