Transparency (data compression)

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In data compression and psychoacoustics, transparency is the result of lossy data compression accurate enough that the compressed result is perceptually indistinguishable from the uncompressed input. In other words, transparent compression has no perceptible compression artifacts.

A transparency threshold is a given value at which transparency is reached. It is commonly used to describe compressed data bitrates. For example, the transparency threshold for MP3 to linear PCM audio is said to be between 175 and 245 kbit/s, at 44.1 kHz, when encoded as VBR MP3 (corresponding to the -V3 and -V0 settings of the highly popular LAME MP3 encoder).[1] This means that when an MP3 that was encoded at those bitrates is being played back, it is indistinguishable from the original PCM, and the compression is transparent to the listener.

Transparency, like sound or video quality, is subjective. It depends most on the listener's familiarity with digital artifacts, their awareness that artifacts may in fact be present, and to a lesser extent, the compression method, bit-rate used, input characteristics, and the listening/viewing conditions and equipment. Despite this, sometimes general consensus is formed for what compression options "should" provide transparent results for most people on most equipment. Due to the subjectivity and the changing nature of compression, recording, and playback technology, such opinions should be considered only as rough estimates rather than established fact.

Judging transparency can be difficult, due to observer bias, in which subjective like/dislike of a certain compression methodology emotionally influences their judgment. This bias is commonly referred to as placebo, although this use is slightly different from the medical use of the term.

To scientifically prove that a compression method is not transparent, double-blind tests may be useful. The ABX method is normally used, with a null hypothesis that the samples tested are the same and with an alternative hypothesis that the samples are in fact different.

All lossless data compression methods are transparent, by nature. However, a double-blind comparison could still yield claims of perceived differences and thus lack of transparency, even though such claims would be in error.

See also[edit]


  • Bosi, Marina; Richard E. Goldberg. Introduction to digital audio coding and standards. Springer, 2003. ISBN 1-4020-7357-7
  • Cvejic, Nedeljko; Tapio Seppänen. Digital audio watermarking techniques and technologies: applications and benchmarks. Idea Group Inc (IGI), 2007. ISBN 1-59904-513-3
  • Pohlmann, Ken C. Principles of digital audio. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2005. ISBN 0-07-144156-5
  • Spanias, Andreas; Ted Painter; Venkatraman Atti. Audio signal processing and coding. Wiley-Interscience, 2007. ISBN 0-471-79147-4
  • Syed, Mahbubur Rahman. Multimedia technologies: concepts, methodologies, tools, and applications, Volume 3. Idea Group Inc (IGI), 2008. ISBN 1-59904-953-8

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