10.5. Entropy coding#

In transmission and storage of data, it is useful if we can minimize the number of bits needed to uniquely represent the input. With entropy coding, we refer to methods which use statistical methods to compress data. The target is lossless encoding, where the original data can be perfectly reconstructed from the compressed representation. With lossy coding, similarly, we refer to compression where, for example, we have a limited number of bits to use and we try to reproduce a signal as similar as possible to the original, but not necessarily exactly the same. In speech and audio, coding usually refers to lossy coding. The objective is to compress the coded signal such that it remains perceptually indistinguishable from the original or such that the perceptual effect of quantization is minimized. Such coding is known as perceptual coding. Often, perceptual coding is performed in two steps; 1) quantization of the signal such that the perceptually degrading effect of quantization is minimized and 2) lossless coding of the quantized signal. In this sense, even if lossless and lossy coding are clearly different methods, a lossless coding module is often included also in lossy codecs.

Entropy coding operates on an abstract level such that it can operate on any set of symbols as long as we have information about the probabilities of each symbol. For example, consider a integer-valued scalar \(x\), which can attain values -1, 0, and +1, with respecitve probabilities 0.25, 0.5, 0.25. That is, if we repeatedly draw scalars \(x\) from this distribution, then on average, 25% of them are -1’s. It is then irrelevant what the numerical values of \(x\) are, we can equivalently name the distinct elements according to symbols of the alphabet as \(a, b\) and \(c\).
The table on the right demonstrates a possible encoding of these numbers. Clearly we need more than one bit to encode three symbols, and hence this encoding uses 2 bits per symbol. Observe, however, that the bit-string 11 is not used, which means that the encoding is inefficient.

10.5.1. Vector coding#

To take better use of all bits, we can instead of single symbols, consider a vector of symbols \( x_1,x_2,x_3 \) . With 3 possible symbols for each element, we have \(3^{3}=27\) possible combinations. To encode it we thus need \({\mathrm{ceil}}(\log_2(27))=5 \) bits, or 1.66 bits per sample. In comparison to the original 2 bits per sample above, this is a clear improvement. However, we still have 5 unused bit-strings, which shows that this encoding is sub-optimal.

Note that there are immediate parallels with vector quantization (VQ) though the two methods are not the same. In short, vector quantization is lossy coding, which finds the best quantization with a given set of symbols, whereas vector coding is lossless coding of vectors of symbols.

10.5.2. Variable length and Huffman coding#

A central concept in entropy coding variable length coding, where symbols can be encoded with bit-strings of varying lengths. In our above example, an optimal coding (i.e. optimal bit-strings) is listed in the table on the right.

The average number of bits per symbol is then the sum of the length of each bit-string multiplied with the corresponding probability, that is,

\[ E[bits/symbol] = \sum_{k\in\{a,b,c\}}P_k L_k = 0.25\times 2 + 0.5\times 1 + 0.25\times 2 = 1.5. \]

From the bit-strings 00, 01 and 1, we can clearly decode the original symbols; if the first bit is one, then the symbol is \(b\), otherwise the second bit determines whether the symbol is \(a\) or \(c.\)

Such variable length codes can be readily constructed when the probabilities are negative powers of 2. This is a classic approach known as Huffman coding. It is very simple to implement, which makes it an attractive choice when probabilities are negative powers of 2. However, when the probabilities of the symbols are arbitrary, then Huffman coding is no longer applicable without approximations of probabilities, which make the coding suboptimal.

10.5.3. Arithmetic coding#

To further improve on coding efficiency, we can combine vector coding with Huffman coding in a method known as arithmetic coding [Rissanen and Langdon, 1979]. It uses the probability of symbols to jointly encode a sequence symbols. For example, consider the set of symbols 0….5 on the right with corresponding occurrence probabilities \(P_{k}\). Further suppose that we are supposed to encode the string “130”. The first step is to assign every symbol to a unique segment  \( [s_k,\,s_{k+1}] \) of the interval \( [0,\,1] \) such that the width of the segment matches the probability of the symbol \( P_k = s_{k+1}-s_k \) .

The first symbol is “1” whereby we are assigned to the interval 0.40 … 0.67, which we will call the current interval. The central idea of arithmetic coding is that next symbol is encoded inside the current interval. That is, we shift and scale the \(s_{k}\)’s such that they perfectly fit within the current interval 0.40 … 0.67. In mathematical terms, if the current symbol is \(h\), then the current interval is \(s_{h} ... s_{h+1}\), and the intervals of the next symbol are shifted and scaled as

\[ s'_k = s_h + s_k(s_{h+1}-s_h) = s_h + s_kP_k. \]

The second symbol was “3”, such that the current interval is 0.6133 … 0.6349. For the third symbol, the intervals are then shifted and scaled as

\[ s''_k = s'_3 + s'_k(s_4-s_3) = 0.6133 + s'_k\times 0.08\times 0.27. \]

The new intervals are listed on the right. The third symbol is “0” such that the last current interval is 0.6133 … 0.6219, which we will denote as \( s_{left} ... s_{right} \) .

The remaining step is to translate the last interval into a string of bits. Let us divide the whole interval 0 … 1 into \(2^{B}\) quantization levels on a uniform grid. such that the \(k\)th level is \( k 2^{-B}. \) We then find the largest \(B\) such that there is a \(k\) with which \(k2^{-B}\) is inside the last current segment \( s_{left} ... s_{right} \) that is, \( s_{left} \leq k2^{-B} \leq s_{right} \) . Then \(k\) is the index to our quantization position, that is, it uniquely describes the interval and thus uniquely describes the sequence of symbols “130”. Specifically, with \(B=7\), we find that \(k=79\), fulfills the criteria

\[ s_{left}=0.6133 \leq k2^{-B} = 0.6172 \leq s_{right} = 0.6219. \]

Decoding the sequence is then straightforward at the decoder.

A few additional points:

  • The average bit-rate is \( -\sum_k P_k \log_2 P_k \approx 2.2 \) bits per sample. In the example above we needed B=7 bits to encode 3 samples, which gives 2.3 bits per sample. The actual number of bits thus does not perfectly coincide with the average bit-rate.

  • In a practical implementation of a decoder, we need to either know the number of symbols or bits, transmit the number of symbols or bits separately, or we need to use a special symbol which signifies end-of-string.

  • Usually the last current segment does not exactly align with \(k2^{-B}\) , which means that there are small unused spaces in between the bitstring and the last current segment. This is an inherent inefficiency of arithmetic coding. Heuristically it is easy to understand that we must send an integer number of bits, but the data might not be exactly an integer number of bits. The loss is always less than 1 bit for the whole string, which is acceptable when we send a large amount of symbols in a string.

  • Direct implementation of the above description would be cumbersome since the intervals rapidly become smaller than what can be expressed by discrete arithmetic (fixed or floating point). Usually therefore algorithms are designed to use an intermediate interval, from which we output bits once they become known. For example, in the above example, after the first symbol we already know that the interval is above 0.5, such that the first bit has to be 1, corresponding to the interval 0.5 … 0.1.

  • The specific implementation is rather involved and sensitive to errors.

  • Algorithmic complexity of an arithmetic coder is usually reasonable, provided that the probabilities \(P_{k}\) are readily available. If the probabilities need to be calculated online (parametric probability model), then complexity increases considerably.

10.5.4. Parametric coding#

In the examples above, we used a table to list the probabilities of each symbol. That leads to a rigid system, which cannot adapt to changes in the signal. If we want to, for example, use a perceptual model to choose the quantization accuracy of different samples, we need the ability to adapt quantization bin widths and consequently, to adapt the probabilities of each quantization bin. A simple approach is to model the probability distribution of the signal and calculate probabilities of each symbol on-line. We thus use a parametric model of the probability distribution and correspondingly, we call a coding with parametric models a parametric coding.

In speech coding, parametric coding is typically used in frequency-domain coding to encode individual spectral components. We can then assume that spectral components follow a Laplacian distribution and derive the probabilities \(P_{k}\) using that distribution. More refined alternatives include for example Gaussian mixture models (GMMs).

10.5.5. Algebraic coding#

Suppose we would like to encode a string like “00010000”, where “0”s happen with a high likelihood and there is only a single “1”. We could then use arithmetic and parametric coding to encode the probabilities of 0’s and 1’s to develop an output string. It quickly becomes awfully complex, when it would be much simpler to just encode the position of the single “1”. In this case, if the first position is 0, then the single “1” is at position 3. There are a total of 8 positions, such that we need 3 bits to encode the position. Very simple.

This approach can be readily extended to encompass for example both +1 and -1’s. Just encode the sign with a single extra bit. There exists straightforward algorithms to include multiple non-zero elements as well, as long as the number of non-zeros is small.

Such encoding algorithms are known as algebraic coding, where we use an algebraic rule or explicit algorithms to encode strings. This is one type of vector coding, since it encodes jointly a string of symbols. Usually algebraic coding is fixed bitrate coding, since the number of bits is decided in advance.

Algebraic coding works efficiently when there are a low number of non-zeros and the number of quantization levels is very low. Unfortunately these methods become increasingly complicated when higher accuracy is required. Moreover, for higher accuracy quantization, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the best quantization of a given vector \(x\). Still, due to its simplicity and efficiency at low bitrates, algebraic coding is so popular in speech coding that the most commonly used codec type is known as Algebraic code-excited linear prediction (ACELP), since it uses algebraic coding to encode the residual signal. [Bäckström et al., 2017]

10.5.6. References#


Tom Bäckström, Jérémie Lecomte, Guillaume Fuchs, Sascha Disch, and Christian Uhle. Speech coding: with code-excited linear prediction. Springer, 2017. URL: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-50204-5.


Jorma Rissanen and Glen G Langdon. Arithmetic coding. IBM Journal of research and development, 23(2):149 – 162, 1979. URL: https://doi.org/10.1147/rd.232.0149.