Google's Guetzli Open Source JPEG Encoder Compresses Images by 35 Percent

EnlargeHarry Langdon  Getty Images

In research published Thursday, it details technology called Guetzli that cuts JPEG file sizes by 35 percent in its testing.

"Butteraugli takes into account. properties of vision that most JPEG encoders do not make use of", Google researchers said in a Guetzli research paper (PDF).

Google has several other projects to reduce image sizes on the web, including its Zopfli encoder (which similarly creates smaller PNG files without breaking format compatibility) and WebP (a new image format that supports both lossless and lossy compression for improved file sizes).

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Google has named the new encoder Guetzli, the Swiss German term for cookie. To accomplish this, Guetzli trades visual quality for a smaller file size at the quantization stage of image compression. Uncompressed original on the left. Guetzli strikes a balance between minimal loss and file size by employing a search algorithm that tries to overcome the difference between the psychovisual modeling of JPEG's format, and Guetzli's psychovisual model. As compression increases, the file size reduces but more artifacts enter the image. Smaller files are achieved by blurring together pixels that are similar, but only just enough to not distort the overall image's structure. For example, a multi-megabyte image stored in BMP or PNG format can look nearly exactly the same converted to a JPEG that's only a few hundred kilobytes in size.

That said, it did point out that when humans were shown images compressed by Guetzli and libjpeg, they consistently preferred the quality of the former - even when the size of the libjpeg images was slightly larger.

This potentially would allow webmasters for example to create much more compact websites that take less time (and data) to load - a potential boon to smartphone users surfing the web on mobile devices.

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Guetzli is the product of Google Research Europe, and has been released under the Apache open source license. That's a big deal because right now, many web-based image programs (and even stand alone image processing apps) use the libjpeg encoder because it is free and tends to do a good enough job.

The only downside to Guetzli is that it's slower to encode JPEGs than with libjpeg.

The downside to this methodology is that compression takes significantly longer than now available methods.

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