Hierarchical VQ

What's HVQ?

Hierarchical Vector Quantization is a form of VQ where the quantization of an image vector is broken up into a series of quantizations on subcomponents of the vector, and in turn the indices resulting from each pair of those quantizations can be fed into another quantization, cascaded until the overall image vector quantizes to a single index. This series of quantizations are managed such that each of the individual quantization steps can be precomputed, and performed using a single LUT. The HVQ encoding process then becomes a series of LUTs cascaded. This results in an extremely fast encoding algorithm, since no computation is required.

To illustrate, let's start with a 4x4 vector containing 8-bit values which represent spatially adjacent pixels in a grayscale image. A full-search VQ process compressing to 8-bit indices would require a lot of computation to encode.

The HVQ setup used by IPCore breaks this 4x4 into a cascaded series of four LUTs. Each of the 2x1s in the 4x4 are first fed into a LUT of precomputed VQ indices. Each pair of indices corresponding to the 2x2s are then indexed into a 2x2 LUT of precomputed VQ indices. Each pair of 2x2 indices are combined to index a 4x2 LUT. And finally the remaining 4x2 indices are used to index a 4x4 LUT, resulting in one index for the entire 4x4 vector.

HVQ Block Diagram

Each of the 4 stages in the HVQ process reduce the amount of information, such that the size of each LUT is a maneagable size (64k). The quantization process is then only a series of look-ups and bit shifts, making the encoding process extremely quick.

The decoding process is even quicker, as the 4x4 index corresponds to a table of 4x4 vectors directly, just as in full-search VQ. Decoding is then another LUT, and is also extremely quick.

Depending on the tolerable quantization level, and expected quality, fewer than all four stages of the HVQ may be used. Output from the four stages yield compression ratios of 2:1, 4:1, 8:1, and 16:1.

When Should HVQ Be Used

Since HVQ is so fast, it is an attractive solution to compression where speed is a critical factor. Results show that the quality is acceptible at a compression ratio of 4:1, when quantizing high-resolution documents at 400 dpi or greater. On this type of image, compression is over four times faster than JPEG, whereas for the same quality JPEG might typically yield 16:1 compression or better. Depending on the content of the image, HVQ followed by LZW does produce comparable quality, and comparable compression, but at the added cost of LZW compression.

Here is an example of the results when using LZW on HVQ indices:

   Compression    (4:1 HVQ) (8:1 HVQ) (16:1 HVQ)
     Ratios        2-level   3-level   4-level

  ViseMixed1         6.39     11.19     21.36
   ViseTxdp         97.93    110.07    161.54
   VisePict1         4.66      9.08     18.22
   VisePict2         4.36      8.50     16.70
Note that the HVQ indices of the text images compress much more with LZW.

Other Benefits of HVQ

Compressed Files Can Be Viewed

By reordering the codebook vectors before the LUTs are computed, VQ indices can be made to correspond to the relative intensities found in the corresponding codevectors. In other words, if I reorder the codebook vectors such that the first vector is the vector with the least accumulated intensity, and the last vectors is the vector with the highest accumulated intensity, then the VQ indices correlate with codevector relative intensity, and the compressed image appears to be a crude image.

Fast Image Processing by Processing the Codevectors

Several image processing routines may take advantage of the fact that an HVQ compressed image represents more spatial information than it appears to. Since each index corresponds to a spatial vector of size 2x1, 2x2, 4x2 or 4x4, image processing routines that don't interfere with the indexing, or can be made to operate on the codevectors instead, will yield faster throughput when HVQ has already been performed:

Resolution Change

An image compressed to 4x4 indices can easily be decompressed into the 4x4 codevectors directly, or if a resolution change is desired, the 4x4 codevectors may be transformed into vectors at a different resolution, and/or depth. For example, let's say we have an image compressed to 4x4 indices, and instead of 4x4 vectors at 8 bpp, we desire 8x8 vectors at 1 bpp. Converting the codevectors from 4x4x8 using a Floyd-Steinberg error diffusion that confines the diffused error to remain within the resulting 8x8 region, we can create a second LUT of 8x8x1 codevectors, and decompress using this LUT instead.

Tonal Reproduction Curve Shift

Since the HVQ indices are only a mapping into the codevectors they represent, a TRC mapping may be applied to the HVQ codevectors before decompression, instead of operating on the entire image.


Since an image of 4x4 HVQ indices is sixteen times smaller than its precompressed counterpart, both the indices themselves and the HVQ codevectors may be rotated in ninety degree increments before decompression, to yield a rotated full-size image.

Other Information

Stanford Compression & Classification Group has done some work on Constrained and recursive HVQ.
FiniteState Hierarchical Table-Lookup Vector Quantization for Images by Chaddha, Mehrotra, and Gray from Stanford.
Medical Image Compression at UMBC.

For more information, contact Dave@davengrace.com.