Watch a JPG decode on a 286 PC from the early 1990s

Originally published at: Watch a JPG decode on a 286 PC from the early 1990s | Boing Boing


You could use this as some kind of age-gating on adult-oriented websites if you could somehow track who has psychosomatic arousal waiting for the image to load…


There were actually a couple of different ways to encode JPEGs at that time, one of which rendered, not just as a progressive scan of the encoded blocks, but by rendering every eighth or sixteenth row of pixels over the height of the entire image, so you could at least guess what the picture would display about a quarter of the way through rendering it. – from then on, you were just waiting for more fine details to appear. There was also a display mode that pixellated the entire image and redrew each oversized “pixel” in progressively finer detail. All we’re horribly slow to render by today’s standards, but were amazing for the time.


As someone who used a 386 with a 2400 baud modem to download images from the local BBSes around that time, I would say you are onto something.


Yeah, that second technique is a specific way to encode the jpg, called progressive encoding.

Instead of doing a single, “full rez” DCT it sums up several DCTs that add up to the end product. So you download the first DCT and get the blurry low rez. Then each additional DCT you download refines the first one until you get the end product.


Reminds me of trying to play mp3s on a 486. If you had the disk space, you could always decode to WAV and then play that. Or just stick to mp2s instead…


Oddly calming; much more so than the usual ‘do nothing for one minute’ drivel.

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Oh, those were the days! I moved to a print and design company because they were investing in proper computer graphics at roughly that time, and my computer was a 486/66. I used to import scans of printed logos then redraw them as a vector image using CorelDraw, lots of fun to do, every time I hit save, I’d wander out to the drink machine, grab a drink, wander back, and sit watching the screen sloooooooowly redraw. Sped up the actual production time, because the vectors were so much faster to run in the finished job, but I hate to think how many hours I spent just watching the screen redraw. :grin:


I remember downloading from BBS or usenet (can we talk about usenet yet) the descriptions for x rated pictures rarely matched what you downloaded and it took forever to realize that. It was easier to run down to the liquor store and get magazines but the novelty of downloading was cool however slow it was.

The novelty wore off pretty quick.


I had a buddy who did the same thing; he was a sales engineer for a tech firm and he’d import logos and graphics derived from or specific to the prospective customer. Blew them away in the presentations :slight_smile: Lots of late nights and hard work to accomplish this, though


I remember i managed to do that using winamp and tweaking the decoder to use mono / 22 kHz…
On a DX2/66 4 Megs. My cousin had a p100 16 megs…


My buddy’s dad had a strip poker game ca. late 80s in which the images would take forever to load. They were extremely low-res monochromatic, too. I never really understood the point, but was also a little young to be the target demographic.


JPGs on a Amiga 7.16mhz 68000 based machine… so much load time. I loved the interlaced photos. Maybe 2-3 pictures per disk despite being 320x240. The pain!

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That and some chucklehead posted all but one part of the multi-part UUencoded image (“Can someone PLEAZ REPOST PART 37 of 45 to ‘sexy-furniture-jpg’???”) , or just trolled people with lurid descriptions and a can of baked beans or something. (This was also before shock sites like goatse had their 15 minutes of fame…)


Oh my gosh, I forgot about the re-post. It was easy to assemble all posts for a jpg because there weren’t that many parts but once video and large software packages started showing up you almost had to go with automated newsreaders and nzb files.

I used to have a usnet account with many gigabytes. It’s been years since i played around in there. I wonder if it’s still a thing.

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I wholeheartedly disagree with the title of that video.

I found an old 286* by the side of the road when I was younger and used it for abandonware, instead of futzing with cpu limiters, compatibility modes, and/or sandboxes.

It was great fun.

* Could’ve been a 386 but I’m pretty sure it was a 286.


I never thought I would want to wait for so long for an image to load ever again, it being so slow as a result of primitive processing algorithms and technology, but I went ahead and dutifully watched the video, and, while the image loaded as slowly as I remembered it loading on a 386 RGB, and again on a 486 VGA graphic monitor, was nevertheless quite disappointed with the result. I hope the reading of my comment is perceived as analogous to the experience of waiting for a commercial logo to render using archaic image decoding technology.

People in the past were really easy to impress

When we consider how little old computers could do, and how much they cost, it’s really amazing that so many people wanted one


An old FAQ says

DVPEG is a free viewer for JPEG, GIF, Targa, and PPM files. The current
version, 3.0i, is available by FTP from (,
file pub/jpeg/viewers/ This is a good basic viewer that works
on either 286 or 386/486 machines. The user interface is not flashy, but
it’s functional. DVPEG is substantially faster than it used to be; on
hi-color displays it is nearly as fast as QPEG.

and the machine he was using had a 287, in case the algorithm had a floating point path.

Was it just as slow on a 68020 based color mac?

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Winamp? Luxury! I used to run WinPlay!