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Whitepaper:

Combining Digital Halftoning With


Sub-Pixel Screen Rendering
By Robert M. Case, updated November 14, 2009

ABSTRACT: A method is shown for maintaining quality and reducing file size of
transmitted color images by combining digital halftoning with sub-pixel screen
rendering. By first creating a lossy digital halftone with acceptable quality and
secondarily losslessly compressing the halftone image prior to transmission, a reduction
in the bandwidth necessary for color images is achieved. Applications include static web
pages and eBooks as well as dynamic video.

SPECIFICATION: Current Internet image compression and rendering methods treat


image file size and image quality as a trade-off. The JPEG specification and its offshoots
offers user-defined percentage compression resulting in quality reduction. Because the
user cannot foretell if acceptable quality will be maintained, relatively small reductions
are selected, resulting in larger image files than necessary.

By far the largest "hog" of Internet "pipes" is image files. From the standard web page to
portable documents to Flash animations, images clog today's Internet. The purpose of
this paper is to offer an alternative method that separates image quality from image file
size. This method combines a primarily subtractive printing process known as
halftoning with a primarily additive display process known as sub-pixel rendering.

There are two forms of halftoning: photographic halftoning, a process evolving since the
1850's, and digital halftoning, a relatively recent development dating to the 1970's.

Briefly, all halftoning uses a high frequency/low frequency dichotomy.

In photographic halftoning, the low frequency attribute is a local area of the output
image designated a halftone cell. Each equal-sized cell relates to a corresponding area
(size and location) of the continuous-tone input image.

Within each cell, the high frequency attribute is a centered variable-sized halftone dot
composed of ink or toner. The ratio of the inked area to the non-inked area of the output
cell corresponds to the luminance or gray level of the input cell. From a suitable
distance, the human eye averages both the high frequency apparent gray level
approximated by the ratio within the cell and the low frequency apparent changes in
gray level between adjacent equally-spaced cells and centered dots.

Digital halftoning uses a raster image or bitmap within which each monochrome
picture element or pixel may be on or off, ink or no ink. Consequently, to emulate the
photographic halftone cell, the digital halftone cell must contain groups of monochrome
pixels within the same-sized cell area. The fixed location and size of these monochrome
pixels compromises the high frequency/low frequency dichotomy of the photographic
halftone method.

Clustered multi-pixel dots cannot "grow" incrementally but in jumps of one whole pixel.
In addition, the placement of that pixel is slightly off-center. To minimize this
compromise, the digital halftone monochrome pixels must be relatively small. However,
digital image processing has also enabled more sophisticated dithering algorithms to
decide which pixels to turn black or white.

Working on dithering algorithms, research discovered popular methods could be


improved. While it was apparent that a checkerboard pattern reproduced the smoothest
50 per cent gray, how to reproduce the rest of the luminance spectrum was not. A
method of initiating the output image with a checkerboard pattern was discovered. For
local areas, black pixels are turned white to reproduce lighter areas of the input image
and white pixels are turned black to reproduce darker areas of the input image (Method
for reproducing an image - US Patent 6002493.) By maintaining the checkerboard,
transitions from light to dark became more gradual and less noticeable.

Another problem with digital halftoning is what to do with differential errors between
the local area of the input image and the reduced palette of the corresponding area of
the output image. The most popular method still in use today is "error diffusion"
discovered by Floyd and Steinberg in the mid-1970's. In that method, errors in previous
scan line pixels are spread to subsequent scan line pixels. However, a major problem
occurs when small errors accumulate and subsequently drop in areas where the
differences become noticeable. To rectify this, a means of interpolating the errors within
the halftone cell was discovered, essentially linking macro and micro error underages
and overages (Reverse diffusion digital halftone quantization - US Patent 7457002.)

Similar to JPEG and other imaging methods, digital halftoning achieves small file sizes
in a lossy manner. The key here is to achieve acceptable quality at the final halftone
prior to compressing and, from that point, using lossless methods.

Because of the above mentioned differences between photographic and digital


halftoning, compressing halftones heretofore has proven difficult and computationally
expensive. The result is that nearly all digital halftoning currently is done at the client
printer from downloaded bitmap images. Work was begun on a method of compression
suitable for halftones. The result was a variable-length run-length lossless method that
utilizes pixel patterns and Fibonacci exponents to reduce file size (None-of-the-above
digital halftone compression and decompression - US Patent 7286264.) Coupled with
widely-used partial pattern matching algorithms, digital halftones are able to be
losslessly compressed to between 1 and 2 bits (and less) per 24-bit "true color" input
pixel.

In printing color photographic halftones, four images are utilized, one for each of the
subtractive inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). These images are printed in a
standard rotation around a halftone cell axis. Digital color halftones, relying on bitmaps,
are much more difficult to force into this axis rotation. It is well-known that luminance
is the primary component of the image with color being secondary. Work was begun on
integrating color into the luminance (black/white) digital halftone

Separating out the luminance, and using it for the base halftone, made color, which is
less spatially-sensitive, able to be woven into the luminance image with acceptable
results (Method for colorizing a digital halftone - US Patent 7623264.) The result is a
pre-compression 3-bit-per-pixel (8 colors) bitmap that displays well on-screen at sub-
pixel levels.

Due to cell size, photographic halftoning has not worked on typography and vector
images, but digital halftoning can be adjusted to do so. If all font and vector outlines are
made to fall on the base checkerboard, their bitmap representations became sharper
and simpler (Method for checkerboard-based vector to raster conversion - US Patent
Application 20090033678). The above methods may be used for "rich documents" with
both images and typography displayed simultaneously similar to a printing plate.

Sub-pixel screen rendering has been utilized in the past decade for optimizing the
reproduction of fonts (ClearType.) The size of screen pixels has in recent years been
reduced with nominal Macintosh 72-pixels-per-inch and Windows 96-ppi being
supplanted by the 150-ppi of the iPhone and even 200-ppi screens recently announced.

Display screen pixels are bit-dependent with 24-bit "true color" at the high end (16
million colors per pixel) to 8-bit Internet palettes at the low end (216 colors per pixel).
The above specified output digital halftone method displays 3-bit pixels in a sub-pixel
2x2 grid, generating a nominal 4,000 colors per input pixel). The results compare
favorably with 16-bit methods (65,000 colors per pixel) due to reverse diffusion causing
adjacent pixels to be correlational.

The Internet currently uses for drawing the screen a combination of vectors (fonts and
drawings) and bitmaps (images) to reduce transmitted file size. The relative placement
of these elements ultimately is dependent on the browser and the assembly method. The
result is a hodgepodge of resolutions and pages that look different on different browser/
OS combinations.

The above specified method resolves not only transmitted file-size and client machine
re-assembly, but also overall "look-and-feel" issues. However, with a totally image-based
Internet, word search would be more difficult but not impossible. Most web page
displays already have Unicode or ASCII files associated and, for those that do not,
recent accuracy improvements in optical character recognition permit such files to be
attached to the image.
With regard to video, it appears the simplified final halftone image relates better to
inter-frame compression than more complex images. Not only will YouTube style video
and Internet television benefit, but turning-page mechanisms for eBooks as well.

CONCLUSION: The combination of digital halftoning with sub-pixel screen rendering


shows promise to simplify digital transmission by reducing the size of images, while
maintaining image quality and integrity.

Further reading: "Cashing In On Electronic Books," by Mark Nelson

Copyright Robert M. Case