The performance bound on the encoding rate of an information source, as defined by the source entropy, pertains only to the lossless encoding of the data. In many practical situations, a certain degree of irreversible image degradation can be tolerated. This level of degradation is usually controlled by the user by adjusting a set of parameters, e.g., quantization intervals. A relevant question is: What is the minimum bit rate required to encode a source while keeping the resulting degradation below a certain level? This fundamental question is addressed by a branch of information theory known as rate-distortion theory . Rate-distortion theory establishes theoretical performance bounds for lossy data compression according to a fidelity criterion. For a broad class of distortion measures and source models, the theory provides a rate-distortion function R(D) that has the following properties:
- For any given level of distortion D, it is possible to find a coding scheme with rate arbitrarily close to R(D) and average distortion arbitrarily close to D.
- It is impossible to find a code that achieves reproduction with distortion D (or better) at a rate below R(D).
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