Science

Google reinvents JPEG compression, tells Internet to take a load off

Google reinvents JPEG compression, tells Internet to take a load off

Google's new method of encoding JPEG files could help your web browser load pages significantly faster, without sacrificing image quality. Google says it allows for small file sizes without compromising much on image quality by targeting what's known as the quantization stage of the compression process, which is where algorithms can squish files but end up with poorer quality images. In fact, in experiments comparing compressed images, human raters preferred the Guetzli-produced images over those created by libjpeg, even when the latter's images were a larger file size.

"This is similar to our Zopfli algorithm, which produces smaller PNG and gzip files without needing to introduce a new format", said Google.

The new open source algorithm is called Guetzli, which is Swiss German for "cookie". That may seem like a deal-breaker but because of how well it performs in the quality department, Google feels the slower compression time is a worthy trade-off.

Left: original, center: libjpeg, right: Guetzli.

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The prize may be worth the effort: JPEG, long since the victor the image format wars of the late 1990s, now joins PNG in accounting for 73% of all content in websites - petabytes of data on a rolling basis, largely using technologies and standards which have not changed in almost twenty years.

JPEG compression has several steps, including color space transformation, discrete cosine transformation, and quantization. Another upside is that the transition to using Guetzli will happen quietly in the background without any disruption to that next image search you perform looking for cute cats. This sets the algorithm apart from other methods of reducing JPEG file sizes, like RNN-based image compression, RAISR, and WebP. Centre, standard JPEG compression.

Guetzli specifically targets the quantisation stage in which the more visual quality loss is introduced, the smaller the resulting file. Right, Guetzli compression. Credit: Google. "Guetzli is rather slow to encode", the researchers said, suggesting it's most likely useful on image-heavy websites. By employing a new search algorithm Google was able to address colour perception and visual masking better than the simpler colour transforms employed in current JPEG algorithms.


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