Monday, November 15, 2010

(TECH) Israeli Company Crunches-Down High-Quality Photos With No Contradiction

"Tackling a major on-line frustration, an Israeli start-up uses video technology and unique algorithms to compress photos to a manageable size, while ensuring the highest quality.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but as far as the Internet is concerned, a picture is worth a thousand kilobytes - or even megabytes. And unlike the descriptive advantage inherent in the comparison of a photo to lots of words, a byte-heavy photo is not always a good thing - especially if you're planning to e-mail it or post it in cyberspace. That problem has now been solved with the unique Hipix application from Israel, that crunches down photos without reducing their quality.

Meir Kollman, CEO and president of Israeli startup Human Monitoring offers this interesting statistic: 'At least 20 percent of all data traffic currently being pushed over the Internet is in the form of photos, and with the increased capabilities of digital cameras - especially those in phones - the traffic load on networks is increasing all the time.'

That extra load is prompting services providers to force consumers to pay more for data services, or cut their data loads. Many of those photos are sent directly from the smartphones via e-mail to friends, or to social network sites like Facebook, exacerbating the problem.

The secret's in the video compression

There is a third way to send photos, says Kollman - the Human Monitoring way, via its unique Hipix application, which crunches down photos without compromising their quality. 'Especially now, when more and more phones come with built-in high-quality cameras, Hipix can go a long way to reducing traffic on the network while allowing users to enjoy and share high-quality photos,' he says.

The more 'information' - the more data, in the form of bits and bytes - in a picture, the better the quality of the photo, and most digital cameras give you the option of taking photos of higher or lower quality (with the latter resulting in smaller photos). Lower-quality photos may be missing some of the rich detail in a scene, but photographers who plan on uploading their photos to the Internet or sending them by e-mail often choose the low-quality setting, to ensure that their photos are small enough to send quickly.

The problem is that those photos usually don't look that good, given the extra compression used to keep them small. Even higher-quality photos are significantly compressed, as they are saved in Jpeg format, a compression system that hasn't been updated for 15 years, according to Kollman.

Hipix is the first new compression system to come along in awhile - and the only one that can compress a photo to a manageable size, while ensuring the highest-quality photo possible. 'We've developed unique, patented algorithms that ensure that photos look great, yet compresses them by as much as 60 percent or even 80% of their original size,' states Kollman.

For example, a two-megabyte four by six photo snapped by a seven megapixel digital camera - which, due to its size, would probably be considered a high-quality photo - can be compressed down to 500 or 600 kilobytes with Hipix, without compromising quality. Thus both the consumer and the Internet or cell phone service provider walk away happy.

Hipix accomplishes this visual miracle by utilizing the video (as opposed to photo) technology that's built-in in modern digital cameras and smartphones. While Jpeg, the standard compression technology for still photos, hasn't been updated to accommodate innovations in camera technology and new chips with expanded capabilities, video compression has improved by leaps and bounds.

It's built on a built-in chip

'When we first started the company five years ago, we worked in the area of video compression, and developed several innovative techniques and applications that are being enthusiastically used by partners we work with,' (Texas Instruments is among them) Kollman relates.

'We saw there was a great market in developing improvements in the area of digital still photos, which few developers were bothering with, and we began developing the technology for Hipix in 2007,' he adds. They focused on a still compression system based on the H.264 video codec, which is very common in chips used for mobile phones. This is the market Human Monitoring is aiming to conquer initially.

'By taking advantage of a chip that is already built into many devices for the compression Hipix does, we make it easy for device manufacturers to use our technology, building it directly into devices,' Kollman relates, and indeed, cell phone service providers who have seen Hipix in action have been very enthusiastic - to the extent that several in the Far East, such as Innoace, a leading Korean mobile solution provider, have already partnered with Human Monitoring, installing Hipix in phones used by their customers.

'We're working in Japan, where seven out of every 10 people take at least one photo with their phones every day, and five of them are sent by e-mail or SMS. We are also talking with service providers in the US and Europe as well, and expect to be deployed in both markets within the next year,' Kollman asserts, adding that the company has begun talking to handset and chip manufacturers as well, looking at the possibility of installing Hipix directly on the hardware.

Human Monitoring is currently self-funded, with some angel investors providing funds - but next year, the company is likely to seek a larger round of funding. And there is plenty more work to do in the photo game.

'Picture quality is getting better, which means that photo size will grow, and soon we will begin seeing 3D cameras, which use sophisticated software to view photos from different angles and compose them into a single image. Those photos, of course, will be even larger.' The level of data crowing networks is only going to increase, says Kollman, 'but with Hipix, networks will be able to take these improvements in stride.'" (source)

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