agree good point./a3 wrote: Oh, and by the way, image sprites are a good idea in most cases, since we're talking about the style of the page and not the content. However, smilies are part of the content and should be used in <img> tags, not CSS backgrounds (for semantic purposes - as they are technically a part of the document).
As to the compressions very interesting and good information to have.
Also to speak to the use of Pngs as apposed to gifs. As you already mentioned the only need for a gif would or should be for animation purposes.
With this said all images should be standardized as far as format goes to follow this as a rule all images should be pngs unless animation is needed. (and other than smilies, which are not part of the theme anyways, I am not sure it is needed for the only thing animated is hot topics and aesthetically speaking animation is not really necessary. I believe I may come up with an alternative to this if there are no objections.)
As for smiles then the ones who require this would be gifs since as /a3 has pointed out there will be imgs and not css driven, especially since size is random.
Seeing as how transparency is supported through the use of pngs in all compliant browsers, really the only browser even used that does not support them is IE6 and it should not even be served a graphic rich experience anyway as it needs to die.(less than 5% of all browsers used) The only graphics required should solely be based on legibility/functionality and any such images can be made specifically for it if absolutely necessary.
This is the approach I am leaning towards with the current development of the theme and as for the sprites I believe a script has been written for handling the sprites but I have not been able to see it in action yet. Hopefully this will drastically reduce the the amount of css calls currently being used to handle this seriously uncomplicating the theme. Possibly reducing the stylesheet some 200 lines taking it from around 1380 to something like 1100.