Aladine Chetouani, Ghiles Mostafaoui
Laboratory L2TI, Institute of Galilee, University Paris XIII, France
Azeddine Beghdadi
Laboratory L2TI, Institute of Galilee, University Paris XIII, France
Keywords: Degradations, blocking effect, prediction, learning phase, subjective test.
Abstract: A new method for predicting blocking effect in the spatial domain is proposed. This method aims at
estimating the appearance of blocking artefacts in the original image prior to compression for a given bit
rate and a given compression technique. The basic idea is to use a training process in order to compute a
visibility measure. A weighting function of the blocking effects is then derived from this training process
performed on a database. The proposed method is objectively and subjectively evaluated on various actual
images. The obtained results confirm the efficiency of the proposed method in predicting blocking effect.
Block-based image processing approaches are
systematically applied to account for the non
stationarity of the image signal and the
computational constraints. The other motivation
behind the development of block-based image
treatments is to make them appropriate for real-time
application and their possible implementation on
parallel architectures. However, block-based
methods are prone to artefacts, called blocking
effect, that may affect the image quality and limit
the efficiency of some image processing techniques.
This artefact is the most known annoying image
distortion. The efficiency limitation of many
compression methods, such as BTC (Block
Truncation Coding) technique (Delp, 1979) or VQ
(Vector Quantization) coding (Gray, 1984), is
essentially due to blocking effect. Many
improvements have been proposed in order to reduce
this effect. But at our knowledge, the design of
formalized procedures allowing to control this effect
is still missing. Here, we focus our study on block-
based compression methods and especially those
using Discrete Cosine Transform (DCT). This
method has been widely used in image and video
compression standards such as JPEG and MPEG2.
For low bit rate, these block-based coding methods
produce a noticeable blocking effect, in the
reconstructed image. This is mainly due to the fact
that the blocks are transformed and quantized
independently. This annoying artefact appears at the
block frontiers as artificial horizontal and vertical
contours. The visibility of this blocking effect
depends highly on the spatial intensity distribution in
the image. Moreover, the Human Visual System
(HVS) increases the perceived contrast between two
adjacent regions.
Blocking effect has been widely studied and
many had hoc methods for estimating and reducing
this artefact have been proposed in the literature. In
(Wang et al., 2000), a blind method for estimating
the blocking effect in the frequency domain is
proposed. It worth to noticing that blind approaches
are more appealing than full reference approaches.
In (Bovik et al., 2001; Coudoux et al., 1998), the
blocking artefacts are modelled as 2D signals in the
DCT-coded images. By taking into account some
HVS properties, the local contrast in the vicinity of
the inter-block boundary is used as an estimate of
the blocking effect. In (Jang and al., 2003), an
iterative algorithm is applied for reducing the
blocking effect artefact in the block transform-coded
images by using a minimum mean square error filter
in the wavelet domain. Another similar method
based on image restoration approach has been
Chetouani A., Mostafaoui G. and Beghdadi A. (2008).
In Proceedings of the International Conference on Signal Processing and Multimedia Applications, pages 197-201
DOI: 10.5220/0001935401970201
proposed (Luong et al., 2005). A blocking effect
visibility measure based on the local contrast is used
to control the iterative process. In (Singh et al.,
2007), a new technique based on a frequency
analysis is proposed for detecting blocking effects.
The artefacts are modelled as 2-D step function
between the neighbouring blocks. The presence of
the blocking artefacts is detected by using block
activity signal based on HVS and block statistics.
Several other interesting methods (Castagno et
al., 1998; Lee et al., 1998; Zeng, 1999), dealing with
blocking effects have been also developed.
However, most of these studies aim to detect or
remove the blocking effects on the compressed
Here, we propose a different approach which
allows to predict the visibility of the blocking effects
on images prior to compression. The paper is
organized as follows. Section 2 presents the
motivations and describes in details the weighting
procedure. Section 3 is dedicated to the results and
the performance evaluation of our method. The last
section contains the conclusion and perspectives.
The continuing development of high resolution
imagery technology leads to higher bit rates because
of the increase in both spatial resolution and
intensity range. Much research on block-based lossy
image compression is still needed. However, lossy
compression at low bit rate may produce some
annoying artefacts limiting thus their efficiency.
Here, we focus the study on blocking effects. One of
the main issues related to image compression is how
to control these artefacts. One way to achieve this
goal is first to predict this structured distortion and
then to propose a solution for reducing it. Inspired
by the fact that human observer is able to detect and
recognize blocking effect, even in the absence of the
original image, we propose a new approach based on
a learning process. The approach use here is based
on a training offline process. The main idea is to
compute a weighting function which assigns to each
pixel a weight that could be interpreted as a
prediction probability of the appearance of the local
blocking effect. The main idea developed here is to
study the relation between the appearance of the
blocking effects and the pixels neighbourhoods in
the non-compressed image. Therefore, we perform a
learning offline process on a database containing
various grey-level and color images. The whole
weighting process is summarized in fig. 1.
2.1 Learning Process
The learning process is applied on a database of 211
different real images (from F. C. Donders Centre for
Cognitive Neuroimaging database). These images
contain various kinds of textures with different
roughness and regions with different intensity
distribution and uniform regions.
Figure 1: Synoptic.
First, we analyze the spatial distribution of the
pixels before extracting some local characteristics
from these images. Indeed, the appearance of a
blocking effect in an image area depends highly on
the local descriptors such as color, homogeneity,
gradient etc. These local characteristics could be
expressed in the transformed domain such as
Wavelet Transform or DCT. To make the method
independent of compression method, we use the
local variance as a local homogeneity measure. For
each image f taken from the learning database, we
compute the corresponding local variance image V
(see fig. 2.b). Once the local variance image
computed, we analyse the compression effect in
terms of blocking appearance. To do this, we have to
detect the blocking effects on the compressed
images. Let us define:
the compressed images of an original
image f of the database where q represents
the different quality factors (q [1,100] for
JPEG compression).
the gradient absolute values images of
Depending on the bit rate, the blocking effect tends
to create large uniform zones where the gradient is
null. The blocking effects on the compressed images
could be then detected by analyzing the signal
This first simple process gives coarse detection of
blocking effect (see fig. 2.c). We will show that by
Original Image Compressed Image
Local Variance
Gradient image
Image Fusion step
Accumulation matrix computation
Weighting process
SIGMAP 2008 - International Conference on Signal Processing and Multimedia Applications
increasing the size of the database, used in the
learning process, the blocking effect detection could
be improved.
Here, we use a cumulative learning scheme
based on a voting process. A table of accumulation
representing the statistics of the appearance of
blocking effect in the compressed images (at
different quality factors) is computed. This vote
table is a 2D array denoted H(v,q) where v is the
possible values of the variance and q the
compression quality factor.
Figure 2: a) Original image, b) Local variances image, c)
Labelled regions with null gradients d) Local variances of
pixels with null gradients.
be the set of database
the corres-
ponding images obtained as explained above.
For each pixel
of an image
define an influence function for each couple (v,q).
This function can be written as:
 
1  
  
0 
This expression means that a pixel will have a
positive influence on a cell (v,q) of H(v,q) only if its
local variance corresponds to v and its gradient
absolute value on the compressed image (
) with q
as quality factor is null (pixel probably belonging to
a blocking effect on
). After computing the
influence functions for all the pixels (
) of
all the images
of the database, we can define the
value of a cell (v,q) of the accumulation table as
follows :
 
Fig. 3 displays a part of the accumulation matrix
corresponding to variances between 0 and 16 for a
better visibility. This table contains the statistical
information about the pixel neighbourhood and the
corresponding degree of blocking effect appearance.
It contains all the relevant local characteristics and
compression factors.
Figure 3: The accumulation matrix.
Fig. 3 clearly shows the coherence of the
statistics. In fact, one can notice that less the
variance is and less the quality factor is (high
compression ratio), higher is the probability of
appearance of a blocking effect. The errors due to
approximations are completely cancelled by the
large mass of correct accumulations.
2.2 The Weighting Process
The obtained voting matrix is used for predicting
blocking effect. A weighting function, representing
the probability of appearance of a blocking effect on
a pixel neighbourhood, is then derived from this
table. For each factor quality value, a simple
weighting function is to consider the row of the
matrix H given by:
The matrix H is constructed from the image
database. Due to the lack of regularity of the weight
function, a polynomial interpolation is applied in
order to obtain a well behaved function as shown in
fig. 4.
Here, we can also notice the coherence of the
results related to the fact that for a given local
variance value, low the quality factor is (high
compression ratio), high the weights are (increase of
the appearance probability of blocking effects).
Figure 4: The weighting function for different quality
To evaluate the efficiency of the proposed method in
predicting blocking effect, we use both objective and
subjective assessment. In the following, we describe
the two strategies in details. Since, the subjective
evaluation of perceptual distortion measure is the
most accepted approach, we evaluate the objective
measure in terms of correlation with the MOS
obtained through subjective tests.
3.1 Objective Test
To test the efficiency of the proposed measure,
various experimental tests are realized over 200
natural images different from those of the learning
database and with variable bit rate. The experimental
procedure is quite simple and does not require the
compressed images. We use only the uncompressed
images. Let f be an original test image and V its
corresponding local variance image. The probability
of a pixel (x,y) to belong to a blocking effect area
with a given quality factor q of compression (here
JPEG) is :
 
represents the weight function
obtained from the learning process. This makes the
method very fast. In fact, for implementation, the
weight function (obtained with the offline learning)
could be considered as a simple Look Up Table. The
prediction procedure is then based only on to the
local variances computation. The proposed method
has been successfully evaluated on various images.
Here, due to the limited place only one typical case
is shown.
Fig. 5, gives an example of the predicted weight
images obtained for a natural test image. Fig. 5.a is
the original test image. We choose three quality
factor q = 49, 17, 4. The predicted weight images are
represented in figs. 5.b, 5.c and 5.d respectively. The
red and blue regions correspond to the high and low
weights respectively.
Figure 5: Blocking effect prediction. a) Original image, b)-
d): Blocking effect visibility map for q=49, q=17 and q=4,
It could be noticed that the weights gradually
increase as the quality factor decreases. This
expresses the fact that homogeneous regions are
more affected by blocking effect than texture ones.
3.2 Subjective Test
Subjective evaluation of image quality is still the
most accepted solution. Unfortunately, it
necessitates the use of several procedures, which
have been formalized by the ITU recommendation
(CCIR, 1990-1994). These procedures are complex,
time consuming, and nondeterministic. In our
experiments, we performed subjective tests with ten
observers. We present to each observer, various
images with different quality factor values q. The
observers are asked to visually detect for each
compression ratio (quality factor) and for each
image of the database, the appearance of blocking
Fig. 6 shows the Mean Opinion Score (MOS) for
each image (white line) used in the subjective tests.
This MOS corresponds to a quality factor value for
which the blocking effect starts to be visible. For
each quality factor and for each test image, we
compute the corresponding weight. The obtained
SIGMAP 2008 - International Conference on Signal Processing and Multimedia Applications
results show that the mean observer starts to see
blocking effects on the compressed images at ratio
corresponding to prediction probabilities up to 0.4.
Figure 6: Objective vs subjective quality measure.
A simple and efficient method for predicting
blocking effects on the original non-compressed
image based on a local image analysis and a training
scheme is proposed. The obtained results show that
the proposed method is efficient in predicting
blocking effect and show good correlation with
subjective evaluation. This predictive scheme could
be used as a blind image quality control system prior
to compression in order to achieve the trade-off
between bit rate and perceptual image quality. As
perspective, we are planning to introduce a masking
model in the method to make it more adaptive to
image signal activity and HVS limitations. This
predictive method could be extended to other block-
based image compression techniques.
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