Unequal Error Protection Techniques Based on Wyner-Ziv Coding
© Liang Liang et al. 2009
Received: 31 May 2008
Accepted: 17 March 2009
Published: 7 June 2009
Compressed video is very sensitive to channel errors. A few bit losses can stop the entire decoding process. Therefore, protecting compressed video is always necessary for reliable visual communications. Utilizing unequal error protection schemes that assign different protection levels to the different elements in a compressed video stream is an efficient and effective way to combat channel errors. Three such schemes, based on Wyner-Ziv coding, are described herein. These schemes independently provide different protection levels to motion information and the transform coefficients produced by an H.264/AVC encoder. One method adapts the protection levels to the content of each frame, while another utilizes feedback regarding the latest channel packet loss rate to adjust the protection levels. All three methods demonstrate superior error resilience to using equal error protection in the face of packet losses.
Channel errors can result in serious loss of decoded video quality. Many error resilience and concealment schemes have been proposed . However, when large errors occur, most of the proposed techniques are not sufficient enough to recover the loss. In recent years, error resilience approaches employing Wyner-Ziv lossy coding theory  have been developed and have resulted in improvement in the visual quality of the decoded frames [3–13]. Other works applied distributed source coding onto error resilience include [14–17].
Wyner and Ziv also proved that equality can be achieved when is Gaussian memoryless source and is mean square error distortion , as well as when the source data is the sum of an arbitrarily distributed side information and independent Gaussian noise . In addition, they derived the rate boundary that can be achieved when , and where and are the variances of the Gaussian noise and the source data .
SLEP, in addition to an MPEG-2 encoder, uses a Wyner-Ziv encoder made up of a coarse quantizer and a lossless Slepian-Wolf encoder that utilizes Turbo coding. The input to the Wyner-Ziv encoder consists of the reconstructed frames obtained from the MPEG-2 encoder. These are initially coarsely quantized and then passed onto a Turbo encoder [18, 19], which outputs selected parity bits. At the receiving end, a Turbo decoder uses the output of the MPEG-2 decoder, as side information, and the received parity bits to recover the lost video data. In the absence of any channel errors, the output of the SLEP decoder will be the same as that of the MPEG-2 decoder. If however, channel errors corrupt the MPEG-2 stream, then SLEP attempts to reconstruct a coarse version of the MPEG-2 stream via the received parity bits, which may have also been corrupted. The quality of the reconstructed version depends on the quantization step used by the coarse quantizer as well as the strength of the Turbo code.
Improvements to SLEP have been proposed in [9, 12], and have resulted in a lower data rate for Wyner-Ziv coding as well as improved decoded video quality. It is noted that the SLEP method has been applied to H.264 in .
Another approach of using Wyner-Ziv coding for robust video transmission was proposed in , in which the Wyner-Ziv encoder consisted of a discrete cosine transform, a scalar quantizer and an irregular repeat accumulate code as the Slepian-Wolf coder.
Our approach to unequal error protection is also based on Wyner-Ziv coding and is motivated by the SLEP approach. The overall goal of our schemes is to correct errors in each frame by protecting motion information and the transform coefficients. The primary codec is an H.264/AVC codec and the Wyner-Ziv codec utilizes coarse quantization and a Turbo codec. Instead of protecting everything associated with the coarsely reconstructed frames, we separately protect motion information, and transform coefficients produced by the primary H.264 encoder. The idea being that since the loss of motion information impacts the quality of decoded video differently from the loss of transform coefficients, both should receive unequal levels of protection that are commensurate with their respective contributions to the quality of the video reconstructed by the decoder . The motion information is protected via Turbo coding whereas the transform coefficients are protected via Wyner-Ziv coding. This approach is referred to as unequal error protection using Pseudo Wyner-Ziv (UEPWZ) coding.
We improve the performance of our unequal error protection technique by adapting the parity data rates for protecting the video information to the content of each frame. This is referred to as content adaptive unequal error protection (CAUEP) . In this scheme, a content adaptive function was used to evaluate the normalized sum of the absolute difference (SAD) between the reconstructed frames and the predicted frames. Depending on pre-selected thresholds, the parity data rates assigned to the motion information and the transform coefficients were varied for each frame. This resulted in a more effective and flexible error resilience technique that had an improved performance compared to the original UEPWZ.
Another approach to improve the proposed unequal error protection is to send feedback regarding the current channel packet loss rates to the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder, in order to correspondingly adjust the amount of parity bits needed for correcting the corrupted slices at the decoder . This approach is referred to as feedback aided unequal error protection (FBUEP). At the decoder, the current packet loss rate is estimated based on the received data and sent back to the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder via the real-time transport control protocol (RTCP) feedback mechanism. This information is utilized by the Turbo encoders to update the parity data rates of the motion information and the transform coefficients, which are still protected independently. At the Wyner-Ziv decoder, the received parity bits together with the side information from the primary decoder are used to decode and restore corrupted slices. These in turn are sent back to the primary decoder to replace their corrupted counterparts. It is to be noted that simply increasing the parity bits when the packet loss rate increases is not applicable, since it will exacerbate network congestion . Instead, the total transmission data rate should be kept constant, which means that when the packet loss rate increases, the primary data transmission rate should be lowered in order to spare more bits for parity bits transmission.
Our proposed error resilience schemes aim to improve both the rate distortion performance as well as the visual quality of the decoded video frames when video has been streamed over data networks such as wireless networks that experience high packet losses. In our experiments, we only consider packet erasures whether due to network congestion or uncorrected bit errors. The main focus of our scheme is for applications such as video conferencing, especially in a wireless network scenario, where serious packet losses will result in unpleasant distortion during real time video streaming.
In this paper, UEPWZ is described in Section 2, and the details of CAUEP and FBUEP as well as the improvement in performance achieved are presented in Section 3. The experimental results of the three techniques are compared and analyzed in Section 4, showing the significant improvement the CAUEP and the FBUEP achieved in rate distortion performance and the visual quality of the decoded frames. Finally, the conclusion is provided in Section 5.
2. Unequal Error Protection Based on Wyner-Ziv Coding
In H.264/AVC, there are modes used for predicting a block in an I frame and modes for predicting a block from its neighbors [25, 26]. The mode index and the transform coefficients are critical for proper frame reconstruction at the decoder. In the case of P and B frames, the H.264/AVC standard allows the encoder the flexibility to choose among different reference frames and block sizes for motion prediction. In particular, the standard permits block sizes of , , , , , , and . Since motion vectors belonging to neighboring blocks are highly correlated, motion vector differences (MVD) are encoded and transmitted to the decoder side, together with the reference frame index, mode information and the residual transform coefficients.
In the unequal error protection scheme, the important video information are protected through the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv coder. In the case of I frames, mode information (MI) as well as the transform coefficients are protected whereas motion vector differences, mode information and reference frame index (RI) are protected for P and B frames. These are scanned and used to create long symbol blocks that are sent to the Turbo encoder.
In order to mitigate the mismatch between the transform coefficients input to the Wyner-Ziv encoder and the corresponding side information at the Wyner-Ziv decoder, an inverse quantizer, identical to the one used in the H.264/AVC decoder, is initially used to de-quantize the coefficients. These are then coarsely quantized by a uniform scalar quantizer with levels ( ), and used to form a block of symbols that is passed onto the Turbo encoder. The quantization step size for processing the transform coefficients is therefore . In all cases, the output of the Turbo encoder is punctured to reduce the overall data rate.
Because of the independent processing of the motion data and the transform coefficients in the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder, the parity data rates in the corresponding Turbo encoder can be assigned separately.
The Turbo encoder we used consists of two identical recursive systematic encoders (see Figure 5) , each having the generator function: . The input symbols sent to the second recursive encoder are interleaved first in a permuter before being passed to it. The puncture mechanism is used to delete some of the parity bits output from the two recursive encoders, in order to meet a target parity data rate. Only parity bits are transmitted to the decoder side. The first branch of data, symboled by the dashed line in Figure 5, is not transmitted. The error correction capability of the Turbo coder also depends on the length of the symbol blocks. In our scheme, the symbol block length is in the unit of a frame instead of a slice. For the transform coefficients, the symbol block length is 25344 for a QCIF sequence. In the proposed scheme the motion vectors are obtained for each blocks, which makes the symbol block length of 3168. The experiment results also show that the Turbo encoder still maintains strong error correction ability for such a symbol block length.
The Turbo decoder utilizes the received parity bits and the side information from the H.264/AVC decoder, to perform the iterative decoding using two BCJR-MAP decoders . The error corrected information is then sent back to the H.264/AVC decoder to replace the error corrupted data. In this process, the decoded error-prone transform coefficients are first sent to a coarse quantizer, which is the same as the one used at the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder side. The reason is that at the encoder side, in order to save data rate usage by the Wyner-Ziv coding, a coarse version of the transform coefficients is Turbo encoded. However, Only the output parity bits are transmitted to the decoder side. The video data u output from the Turbo encoder is not transmitted. Instead, the H.264 decoded transform coefficients are used as it, together with the received parity bits of the Turbo encoded coarse-version transform coefficients, to decode the error corrected coarse version of the transform coefficients. When using the real-time transport protocol (RTP), packet loss can be inferred at the decoder easily by checking the sequence number field in the RTP headers. Wyner-Ziv decoding only performs when the decoder detects packet losses. When no packet loss happens, the H.264 decoded transform coefficients are used for decoding the residual frames. However, when packet loss happens, the coarser version of the transform coefficients decoded by the Turbo decoder is used to limit the maximum degradation that can occur. In the parallel process, the error corrupted motion information received by the H.264/AVC decoder was sent directly to the corresponding Turbo decoder, together with the received corresponding parity bits, to decode the error corrected motion information. It is then sent back to the H.264/AVC decoder to replace the error-corrupted motion information. The reconstructed frames can be further used as the reference frames in the following decoding process. Therefore, the final version of the decoded video sequence are obtained based on the error corrected motion information and the transform coefficients, which resulted in good quality decoded frames as shown in Section 4. However, in the case of serious channel loss and/or limited available data rate for error protection, the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv coder might not have enough strength to recover all the lost video information. Also there is no fall back mechanism in use to ensure the correct turbo decoding. On this point, the UEPWZ takes the advantage of allocating different protection level on different protected video data elements depending on their overall impact on the decoded video sequence. The experiments showed that by assigning unequal data rate for protecting motion information and the transform coefficients, the rate distortion performance can be improved compared to the equal parity data rate allocation case.
3. Improved Unequal Error Protection Techniques
In this section, the two approaches developed to improve UEPWZ technique are introduced in detail. Content adaptive unequal error protection (CAUEP) improves UEPWZ from the encoder side by analyzing the content of each frame while feedback aided unequal error protection (FBUEP) utilizes channel loss information conveyed from the H.264 decoder side. Both approaches improved the original UEPWZ in a different aspect, which results in further efficiency on data rate allocation and the significant improvement on the visual quality of the decoded frames.
3.1. Content-Adaptive Unequal Error Protection
In UEPWZ, the parity data rates for Turbo coding the motion information and the transform coefficients are always set in advance and fixed throughout. However, in a video sequence, different video content in each part of the sequence may require different amounts of protection for the corresponding video data elements. The amount of the motion contained in each frame may change over time, which means part of the video sequence may contain a large amount of motion while some other parts may only contain slow motion content. For this type of video sequences, fixed parity data rate assignment may result in inefficient error protection. When motion content increases in the video sequence, the pre-assigned parity data rate may become insufficient to correct the errors while it may result in sending redundant parity bits when the motion content decreases in the same video sequence.
The goal of developing an efficient error resilience technique is to make the algorithm applicable to all types of video sequences. Therefore, a function needs to be embedded in the Wyner-Ziv coder to analyze the video content, such as the amount of the motion, in each frame. CAUEP improves UEPWZ by adapting the protection levels of different video data element, to the content of each frame.
In order to achieve this goal a content adaptive function (CAF) that utilizes the normalized sum of absolute difference (SAD) between each reconstructed frame and its predicted counterpart is used. This is given by , where denotes the reconstructed pixel value at position , is the value of the predicted pixel at position , and represents the normalized total value of SAD of the n th frame in the sequence.
3.2. Feedback Aided Unequal Error Protection
Another approach to improve the unequal error protection is to exploit the feedback information of the channel loss rate from the decoder side. The parity data rates assigned for Turbo encoding the protected video information can accordingly be adjusted.
It is to be noted that data networks suffer from two types of transmission errors, namely random bit errors due to noise in the channels and packet losses due to network congestion. When transmitting a data packet, a single uncorrected bit error in the packet header or body may result in the whole packet being discarded [28–33]. In the current work, we only consider packet losses, whether due to network congestion or uncorrected bit errors. When using the real-time transport protocol (RTP), determining which packets have been lost can be easily achieved by monitoring the sequence number field in the RTP headers [24, 34]. Therefore, the packet loss rate of each frame can be easily obtained at the decoder.
At the decoder, the packet loss rate of each frame is evaluated based on the received video information. It is then sent back to the two Turbo encoders via the RTCP feedback packets. Depending on the channel packet loss rates conveyed, the two Turbo encoders adjust the parity data rates for encoding the motion information and the transform coefficients of the current frame.
3.2.1. RTCP Feedback
In the decoder, the channel packet loss rate is obtained based on the received data and sent back to the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder. If the available bandwidth for transmitting the feedback packets is above a certain threshold then an immediate mode RTCP feedback message is sent, otherwise the early feedback RTCP mode is used . The two Turbo encoders update the parity data rates for encoding the motion information and the transform coefficients based upon the received RTCP feedback conveying the packet loss rates. This way the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder attempts to adapt to the decoder's needs, while avoiding blindly sending a large number of parity bits that may not be needed when the packet loss is low or zero. In the case of high channel packet loss rate, the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder enhances the protection by allocating more data rates to the Turbo encoded data, especially the motion information, while decreasing relatively the data rate used for encoding the main data stream by the H.264/AVC encoder. In this way, the total data rate is kept as a constant so that it will not exacerbate the possible congestion over the network transmission.
In the RTCP protocol profile , it was assumed that percent of the the RTP session bandwidth is available for RTCP feedback from the decoder to the encoder. For example, for a kbits/s stream, kbits are available for transmitting the RTCP feedback. If we assume an average of bytes ( bits) per RTCP packet and a frame rate of frames/second, then by (1), we can conclude that . In this case, the RTCP immediate mode can be used to send one feedback message per frame to the encoder.
When , the available bandwidth is not sufficient for transmitting a feedback message via the immediate mode. In this case, the early RTCP mode is turned on. In this mode, the feedback message is scheduled for transmission to the encoder at the earliest possible time, although it can not necessarily react to each packet loss event. In this case, a received feedback message at the encoder side may not reflect the latest channel loss rate. We therefore propose to send an estimate average channel packet loss rate based on packet loss rates of the previous k frames. It gives a better estimate of the recent channel packet loss rate. This scheme is detailed in Section 3.2.2.
When the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder does not receive feedback regarding the current packet loss rates (the feedback packet got lost during transmitting back to the Turbo encoders or the available bandwidth is not sufficient for immediate mode feedback), the Turbo encoders keep using the last received channel packet loss rate to decide the parity data rates for encoding the motion information and the transform coefficients of the current encoded frame.
3.2.2. Delay Analysis
Delay must be considered when feedback is used. In our system, a RTCP feedback message is transmitted via the immediate mode, if the available RTCP transmission data rate is above the threshold as defined in (1). Through this mechanism the decoder reports the packet loss rate associated with each received frame to the encoder. The Pseduo Wyner-Ziv encoder then utilizes this information to select the parity data rates for encoding the motion information and the transform coefficients of the current encoded frame.
Furthermore, in the frame by frame based feedback strategy, if the packet loss rate of the current decoded frame is the same as the previous frame's, no feedback message needs to be sent back to the encoder. In the same way, if the average channel packet loss rate of the current received frames ( ) is equal to the average packet loss rate of the past frames ( ), no feedback is needed to be sent back to the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder. In other words, the feedback message is only sent back to the encoder when the packet loss rate is changed. Therefore, there are three scenarios when no feedback is received by the Turbo encoders. One is that the channel packet loss rate is kept as a constant at the moment. Another case is that the feedback packet got lost during transmitting back to the Turbo encoders. The third case is that the available bandwidth is not sufficient for immediate mode feedback. Accordingly, the Turbo encoders only update the parity data rates for encoding the motion information and the transform coefficients when they received the updated feedback regarding the latest packet loss rate.
3.2.3. Data Rate Assignment between Primary Encoding and the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv Encoding
When packet loss rates increase, simply increasing the parity data rates for Turbo encoding the motion information and the transform coefficients while keeping the same data rate for the primary video data coding would only exacerbate channel congestion . A better way would be to reduce the data rate allocated to the primary video data transmission slightly and correspondingly increase the data rate allocated to the transmission of parity bits, so that the total transmission data rate at any packet loss rate is kept constant. Furthermore, more efficient use of the data rate can be achieved by assigning different protection levels to the motion data and the transform coefficients in the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv encoder at different channel packet loss rate.
To evaluate the proposed techniques, experiments were carried out using the H.264/AVC reference software. The frame rate for each sequence was set at frames per second with an structure. In our experiment, each QCIF frame is divided into 9 slices. The primary encoded video data output from the H.264 encoder are packetized into 9 packets per frame, each containing the video information of one slice. The Turbo encoded parity bits of the motion information and the transform coefficients corresponding to each slice are also sent in separate packets. All three types of the packets are subjected to random losses over the transmission channel. We did not attempt to make all packets the same size. Since the packets containing the parity bits of the motion information or the transform coefficients are much smaller in size comparing to the H.264 packets, the possibility of getting lost over a wireless network transmission is therefore much smaller. All the experiments results were averaged over lossy channel transmission realizations.
As has been mentioned in Section 3.2, data networks suffer from two types of transmission errors: random bit error and packet drop. In our experiments, we only consider the case of packet erasures, whether due to network congestion or uncorrected bit errors. Lower the total data rate to reduce the network congestion is a realistic solution when packet loss is very high. However, since our main application is for video streaming over wireless networks in which case the packet loss situation is more complicated, we did not consider it in our current experiments. It is to be noted that simply increasing the parity bits when the packet loss rate increases is not applicable, since it will exacerbate network congestion (see ). Instead, the total transmission data rate should be kept constant, which means that when the packet loss rate increases, the primary data transmission rate should be lowered in order to spare more bits for parity bits transmission.
In our experiments, channel packet loss is simulated by using uniform random number generators. Our algorithm focuses on wireless network application in which case severe packet loss could happen. In the case of wireless network transmission, the probability that the packet arrives in error is approximately proportional to its length . Assume the length of the H.264 data packet is , and the lengths of the parity bits packets containing the motion information and the transform coefficients are and , respectively. If the probability of the packet loss of H.264 data is , then the probabilities of the packet loss of the motion information and the transform coefficients packets are and , respectively. This is implemented in our packet loss simulation.
In our Wyner-Ziv based schemes, different parity data rate settings have been tested extensively for different types of video sequences. For the tested sequences, the final decision on the parity data rate assignments that are given in the paper can achieve a better rate distortion performance, the visual quality of the decoded frames and the overall data rate usage comparing to other values of the parity date rates.
As can be observed from the figures, CAUEP has the best performance, outperforming UEPZW by around 0.2 dB in the case of foreman sequence and by around 0.3 to 1 dB in the case of carphone and stefan. When using EEPWZ the motion information and the transform coefficients were provided the same protection level. The EEPWZ is a similar case of SLEP since the motion information and the transform coefficients are protected at the same parity data rate. The difference is that in the EEPWZ case, the parity bits of the motion information and the transform coefficients are sent in individual packets. This makes the experiment results comparable with our unequal error protection based methods. The curve of H264 + ER + EC shows the result of the H.264 using slice group feature for error resilience in the encoding process and the previous colocated slice replacement for the error concealment strategy in the decoding process. All four schemes use the same amount of total data rate. Wyner-Ziv based methods allocated part of the total data rate budget to transmit the information protected via the Pseudo Wyner-Ziv codec. In the H.264 with error concealment, the total data rate is all allocated for transmitting the H.264 encoded video information. We think this is a fair comparison since the total data rate is the same for all the tested schemes. It can be seen from the experiment results that the rate distortion performance and the visual quality can both be improved by sparing certain amount of total data rate for protecting the important video information by Pseudo Wyner-Ziv coding.
In general, channel conditions change over time, resulting in variable packet loss rates. In the following experiments, the channel packet loss rates were varied during the transmission time of the video sequences. In our simulation, the lowest packet loss rate is while the highest possible packet loss rate is . The mean of the overall channel packet loss is at . The parity data rates allocated to the motion information and the transform coefficients, in the case of FBEUP, are shown in Table 2.
Figure 18 compares the results from using EEP and the H.264/AVC with error concealment applied to the decoded frames. Both the visual quality and the PSNRs are much worse than those of UEPWZ, CAUEP and FBUEP.
This paper described and compared three error resilience techniques each utilizing a Pseudo Wyner-Ziv codec to protect important video information produced by an H.264/AVC codec. In each scheme the motion information and the transform coefficients are protected independently. In the first scheme, unequal error protection using Pseudo Wyner-Zive coding (UEPWZ), motion information and the transform coefficients are provided fixed albeit different protection levels for the entire video sequence. In the second method, content adaptive unequal error protection (CAUEP), the protection afforded motion information and the transform coefficient were updated each frame according to frame content. The third technique, feedback aided unequal error protection (FBUEP), utilized packet loss rates sent from the decoder to the encoder to choose the parity data rates allocated to encode the motion information and the transform coefficients. It was demonstrated that UEPWZ, CAUEP, and FBUEP are more error resilient to packet losses than equal error protection techniques and provide more visually pleasing images. It was also shown that FBUEP is better suited for handling time varying losses while CAUEP has better performance in the presence of fixed losses. This paper aims to show the different amount of contribution that could be obtained from each algorithm. Future work will focus on combining both CAUEP and the FBUEP to develop a more efficient error resilient technique. In addition, we will carry out a study on the system's complexity.
This work was supported by a grant from the Indiana Twenty-First Century Research and Technology Fund.
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