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SAR Image Compression Using HVS


WANG Aili, ZHANG Ye, GU Yanfeng

Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering, Harbin Institute of Technology

Abstract-Generally synthetic aperture radar (SAR) image

compression methods based on wavelet transform remove
statistic redundancy of image data and neglect visual
redundancy. In view of this problem, a new image
compression method based on human visual system (HVS) is
proposed in this paper. First SAR image is decomposed by
wavelet transform, then wavelet coefficients in different
subbands are weighted by the peak of contrast sensitivity
function (CSF) curve in wavelet domain, at last set
partitioning in hierarchical trees (SPIHT) algorithm is used
to code the weighted wavelet coefficients to form embedded
bit stream. Compression results show that comparing with
conventional SPIHT algorithm, the method proposed in this
paper gets better subject visual quality at the same
compression ratio with almost equivalent objective
evaluation results.
Key words: SAR image compression; human visual
system(HVS); contrast sensitivity function(CSF); set
partitioning in hierarchical trees(SPIHT) algorithm.



Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) is a remote sensing

technology that uses the motion of the radar transmitter to
synthesize an antenna aperture much larger than the actual
antenna aperture in order to yield high spatial resolution
radar images. In the last few years, high-quality images of
the earth produced by SAR systems have become
increasingly available. And SAR systems are developing
from Single waveband, single polarization, fixed incidence
to multi-waveband, multi-polarization, changeable
incidence and multi-mode. However, while the volume of
image data collected by SAR systems is increasing rapidly,
the ability to transmit them to the ground, or to store them,
is not increasing so fast. Thus, there is a strong interest in
developing data compression algorithms that can obtain
higher compression ratios, while keeping image quality to
an acceptable level for SAR image data.
Wavelet transform has good local time and frequency
analysis characteristic, structure similarity between
subbands and energy concentration, so it is widely used in
image compression. The most representative image
compression algorithm is the embedded zerotree wavelet
(EZW)E1' algorithm proposed by Shapiro through using
zerotree to encode wavelet coefficients which equal zero or
approach zero and forming embedded bit easy to control
compression ratio. Set partitioning in hierarchical trees
(SPIHT) 21 algorithm proposed by Said and Pearlman
efficiently utilized important coefficients similarity among
different scale subbands and can obtain better performance
than EZW at the same compression ratio.

The algorithms all above removed statistic redundancy

using wavelet transform neglecting visual redundancy. The
method we proposed mainly focuses on removing visual
redundancy at the meantime removing statistic redundancy
in SAR image compression to increase subject quality of
recontrusred image. At first, wavelet transform is applied to
SAR image, then each subband is weighted according to
frequency sensitivity in human visual system (HVS) model
and at last wavelet coefficients are coded by SPIHT
algorithm. Experimental results showed that at the same
compression ratio, the method proposed in this paper
increases reconstructed image visual quality and keeps
image edge and texture information efficiently.
SAR is a high resolution coherent imaging system and
inherent multiplicative speckle noise increases entropy,
severely affecting image visual interpretation and
There are many scatter points in a space resolution cell
in SAR system, so echo wave is vector sum of them which
have different distances to receiver. Thus echo intensity is
not determined by ground object scatter coefficients, but
has great random fluctuation around scatter coefficients[3].
In SAR image, this appears that homogeneous region has
non-uniform gray value as strong noise which we called
speckle noise. Thus each pixel in SAR image can be
expressed as a multiplicative product of backscatter
intensity and speckle noise:

I(i, j) = R(i, j) S(i, j)


where I is image containing noise, R is ground object

scatter intensity and S is speckle noise produced during
fading process which separately submit F distribution,
single sideband exponential distribution and Gamma
distribution and R is independent of S.
In SAR image compression, it is waste to spend bits
coding speckle noise. In order to get reconstructed image
with high quality, we should use most possible bits to
express useful information at a given compression ratio. By
comparison of wavelet coefficients of image without and
with speckle noise, it can be find that difference between
them in low frequency is small but in high frequency is
large, this sufficiently illustrates speckle noise distributes in
high frequency subband. Reference [4] also analyzed in
homogeneous region, speckle noise is principal
components of high frequency in wavelet domain. So
coarse quantization is applied to speckle noise in high

This work was supported in partly by the China National Science Foundation under Grant CNSF 60472048.

0-7803-9582-4/06/$20.00 c2006 IEEE

frequency to decrease bits which encode speckle noise to

increase encode grain entirely.


Conventional image compression methods mainly

consider to remove statistic redundancy among image data.
Recently years researchers pay attention to human visual
characteristic and utilize it in video images and medicine
images compression removing visual redundancy relative
to observers. But HVS isn't applied to SAR image
compression up to the present. If human visual shielding
effect is sufficient applied during the processing of SAR
image coding, it admits to more practical bit distortion
while keeping the same subject visual distortion.
Research on HVS shows that human eyes are different
sensitive to information in different subbands and different
spatial frequency, usually least sensitive to information in
diagonal sunband. The contrast sensitivity function (CSF)
describes humans' sensitivity to spatial frequencies. A
model of the CSF for grayscale images, originally proposed
by Mannos and Sakrison ], is given by:

Combining SAR image characteristic analysis and

human visual analysis above, we know speckle noise
distributes in high frequency and human are less sensitive
to information in high frequency. So HVS model is
introduced in SAR image compression, different subbands
are weighted by CSF function value (subband sensitive to
human eyes is weighted by larger value) to guarantee
priority encoding important wavelet coefficients in visual
sense in order to improve subject visual quality further.
SPIHT algorithm is regarded as one of the advanced
transform encoding algorithms in the world which inherits
zerotree structure in EZW, here called "spatial orientation
tree (SOT)" as shown in Figure 2. Through partitioning of
SOT, SPIHT modified expression manner of significant
map in EZW whose goal is to influx most possible
inefficient coefficients in one subset and represent them by
one symbol.

-Lir _u

H(f) 2.6(0.192 + 0.114f) exp[-(0.1 14f)' 1] (2)


f =
VfX +tY with units of
where spatial frequency is
cycles/degree. Note: fx and are the spatial frequencies
in horizontal and vertical directions respectively.



3K, .k



Figure 2. SOT defined in SPIHT algorithm

> 0.8
C 0.6



* 0.4






iNormalized spatial frequency


Figure 1. Contrast sensitivity function

Figure 1 depicts the CSF curve and it appears peak in

middle frequency and falls down with frequency increases.
In the whole, CSF is a bandpass filter illustrating human
eyes are more sensitive to infonnation in middle frequency
and less sensitive to information in very low and very high
SAR image can be decomposed a given number of
subimage signal with different spatial resolution, frequency
characteristic and spatial characteristic after wavelet
transform. Through counting wavelet coefficients' energy
in each subband, it can be found according to three high
frequency subbands at the same scale, horizontal and
vertical directions energy are almost equal and diagonal
energy is the lowest 6]. Moreover binary discrete wavelet
transform matches frequency-doubled relationship of
perception channel in HVS. That is to say, wavelet is a
quite suitable transform tool fitting HVS model.

SPIHT algorithm's origin is to reconstruct image at

the condition of minimum mean square error (MMSE).
When scanning bit plane, SPIHT priority encodes wavelet
coefficients with larger amplitude for they contain more
information. Scanning sequence of the whole SOT is from
low frequency to high frequency holding information in
low frequency more important than in high frequency. So
energy aggregates more in low frequency, SPIHT
algorithm can get much better encoding performance.
Experiments indicate after five-level wavelet
decomposition, optics image Lena and SAR image's
energy of the first level are 96.2% and 73.5% of the whole
energy separately (the first level to fifth level are called
from low frequency to high frequency). This means energy
aggregation in SAR image is worse than optics image
because speckle noise distributes in high frequency and
corresponds to large wavelet coefficients. During scanning
bit planes using SPIHT, it is necessary to use more bits to
label unsignificant coefficients until to find noise larger
than threshold degrading encoding efficiency in SAR

image compression.
According to CSF model we know human eyes are
differential sensitive to frequency components in different
subbands. Corresponding to wavelet, human are more
sensitive to the information in the third and fourth
decomposition level which usually presents edge in SAR
image. Through elevating bit plane of wavelet coefficients
in low and middle frequency and reducing bit plane in high

frequency to transmit coefficients of edge to remove visual

redundancy further. Moreover, in terms of SAR image, the
highest frequency is weighted by least value just shrinking
wavelet coefficients of speckle noise which distributes in
high frequency, thus allocating more bits to edges. This
subband weighting method can be considered to use CSF
mask to multiply wavelet coefficients, then SPIHT
algorithm is used to perform quantization and block
diagram of coding scheme as shown in Fig.3:


Decomposition * 0-


Quantization -


speckle noise. Comparing to SPIHT, our method increases

3 ENL on an average indicating this method effectively
suppresses speckle noise during compression process.





CSF off
CSF on











Figure 3. Block diagram of SPIHT coding scheme with CSF weighting

In order to transform the CSF curve which has relatively

uniform spatial frequency in Figure 1 to match wavelet
coefficients, we perform a wavelet decomposition of the
CSF curve. At i - level decomposition, weight of
diagonal subspace is determined by the peak of CSF curve
in wavelet domain labeled as pi ; if the peak of low
frequency is labeled as q, , weight of horizontal and





vertical subband is determined by p

. The lowest
frequency is weighted by the peak of CSF curve in its



For our experiments, we choose a scene of a rural area
in Japan obtained by PI-SAR with 3m resolution (size of
512 X 512), shown in Figure 4(a). Figure 4(b) is enlarged
result of original SAR image in upper-right square. The
scene contains many urban features that typically appear in
high-resolution airborne SAR imagery. Considering the
efficiency of compression algorithm, we adopted
biorthogonal 9/7 wavelet to decompose and reconstruct
SAR image and decomposition level is chosen as five.
Weights are 11 unique value: 3.78, 3.48, 3.48, 3.21,3.55,
3.55, 3.48, 5.30, 5.30, 7.20, 4.74, 4.74, 3.75, 2.33, 2.33,
1.00 in correspondence with eleven subbands from low
frequency to high frequency and at the same level the
precedence sequence is horizontal, vertical and diagonal

In order to assess the effectiveness of our compression
algorithm on SAR image, two schemes are applied: our
method with CSF weighting and conventional SPIHT. The
results of each two encoding methods are shown in
Figure.4(c), (d) at 0.5bpp and the quality assessment
parameters are given in Table I , here we use PSNR to
describe reconstructed images' deflection to original image.
It can be observed that our method gets PSNR a little lower
than conventional SPIHT algorithm, but visual quality of
reconstructed image apparently outperform SPIHT, for
example dividing lines in the fields present clear and
Meantime, we adopt equivalent number of looks (ENL)
to measure compression algorithms' ability to suppress

Figure 4. (a) Original SAR image. (b) Close-up of original image in

(c) Reconstructed image without CSF mask at 0.5bpp,
PSNR=24.71dB. (d) Reconstructed image with CSF mask at 0.5bpp,

upper right corner.

This paper analyzed human visual characteristic and
weighted wavelet coefficients in different subbands
according to CSF function to complete SAR image
progressive transmission and compression. Experimental
results showed that at the same compression ratio, this
method can achieve better subject visual quality and
efficiently keep texture and edge information suppressing
speckle noise at a certain degree. Since SPIHT algorithm
utilizes uniform quantization to encode, the further research
may focus on utilizing variable quantization step to high
efficiently compress SAR images.
The authors would like to thank CHEN Yushi for useful
discussions and help in programming.




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