Mathias Wien, RWTH Aachen University
Convenor of ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29/AG5 MPEG VQA
Tobias Hoßfeld (University of Würzburg, Germany)
Christian Timmerer (Alpen-Adria-Universität (AAU) Klagenfurt and Bitmovin Inc., Austria)
The perceived visual quality is of utmost importance in the context of visual media compression, such as 2D, 3D, immersive video, and point clouds. The trade-off between compression efficiency and computational/implementation complexity has a crucial impact on the success of a compression scheme. This specifically holds for the development of visual media compression standards which typically aims at maximum compression efficiency using state-of-the-art coding technology. In MPEG, the subjective and objective assessment of visual quality has always been an integral part of the standards development process. Due to the significant effort of formal subjective evaluations, the standardization process typically relies on such formal tests in the starting phase and for verification while in the development phase objective metrics are used. In the new MPEG structure, established in 2020, a dedicated advisory group has been installed for the purpose of providing, maintaining, and developing visual quality assessment methods suitable for use in the standardization process.
This column lays out the scope and tasks of this advisory group and reports on its first achievements and developments. After a brief overview of the organizational structure, current projects are presented, and initial results are presented.
MPEG: A Group of Groups in ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29
The Moving Pictures Experts Groups (MPEG) is a standardization group that develops standards for coded representation of digital audio, video, 3D Graphics and genomic data. Since its establishment in 1988, the group has produced standards that enable the industry to offer interoperable devices for an enhanced digital media experience . In its new structure as defined in 2020, MPEG is established as a set of Working Groups (WGs) and Advisory Groups (AGs) in Sub-Committee (SC) 29 “Coding of audio, picture, multimedia and hypermedia information” of the Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1 of ISO (International Standardization Organization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission). The lists of WGs and AGs in SC 29 are shown in Figure 1. Besides MPEG, SC 29 also includes and JPEG (the Joint Photographic Experts Group, WG 1) as well as an Advisory Group for Chair Support Team and Management (AG 1) and an Advisory Group for JPEG and MPEG Collaboration (AG 4), thereby covering the wide field of media compression and transmission. Within this structure, the focus of AG 5 MPEG Visual Quality Assessment (MPEG VQA) is on interaction and collaboration with the working groups directly working on MPEG visual media compression, including WG 4 (Video Coding), WG 5 (JVET), and WG 7 (3D Graphics).
Setting the Field for MPEG VQA: The Terms of Reference
SC 29 has defined Terms of Reference (ToR) for all its WGs and AGs. The scope of AG5 MPEG Visual Quality Assessment is to support needs for quality assessment testing in close coordination with the relevant MPEG Working Groups, dealing with visual quality, with the following activities :
- to assess the visual quality of new technologies to be considered to begin a new standardization project;
- to contribute to the definition of Calls for Proposals (CfPs) for new standardization work items;
- to select and design subjective quality evaluation methodologies and objective quality metrics for the assessment of visual coding technologies, e.g., in the context of a Call for Evidence (CfE) and CfP;
- to contribute to the selection of test material and coding conditions for a CfP;
- to define the procedures useful to assess the visual quality of the submissions to a CfP;
- to design and conduct visual quality tests, process, and analyze the raw data, and make the report of the evaluation results available conclusively;
- to support in the assessment of the final status of a standard, verifying its performance compared to the existing standard(s);
- to maintain databases of test material;
- to recommend guidelines for selection of testing laboratories (verifying their current capabilities);
- to liaise with ITU and other relevant organizations on the creation of new Quality Assessment standards or the improvement of the existing ones.
Way of Working
Given the fact that MPEG Visual Quality Assessment is an advisory group, and given the above-mentioned ToR, the goal of AG5 is not to produce new standards on its own. Instead, AG5 strives to communicate and collaborate with relevant SDOs in the field, applying existing standards and recommendations and potentially contributing to further development by reporting results and working practices to these groups.
In terms of meetings, AG5 adopts the common MPEG meeting cycle of typically four MPEG AG/WG meetings per year, which -due to the ongoing pandemic situation- so far have all been held online. The meetings are held to review the progress of work, agree on recommendations, and decide on further plans. During the meeting, AG5 closely collaborates with the MPEG WGs and conducts experts viewing sessions in various MPEG standardization activities. The focus of such activities includes the preparation of new standardization projects, the performance verification of completed projects, as well as support of ongoing projects, where frequent subjective evaluation results are required in the decision process. Between meetings, AG5 work is carried out in the context of Ad-hoc Groups (AhGs) which are established from meeting to meeting with well-defined tasks.
Due to the broad field of ongoing standardization activities, AG5 has established so-called focus groups which cover the relevant fields of development. The focus group structure and the appointed chairs are shown in Figure 2.
The focus groups are mandated to coordinate with other relevant MPEG groups and other standardization bodies on activities of mutual interest, and to facilitate the formal and informal assessment of the visual media type under their consideration. The focus groups are described as follows:
- Standard Dynamic Range Video (SDR): This is the ‘classical’ video quality assessment domain. The group strives to support, design, and conduct testing activities on SDR content at any resolution and coding condition, and to maintain existing testing methods and best practice procedures.
- High Dynamic Range Video (HDR): The focus group on HDR strives to facilitate the assessment of HDR video quality using different devices with combinations of spatial resolution, colour gamut, and dynamic range, and further to maintain and refine methodologies for measuring HDR video quality. A specific focus of the starting phase was on the preparation of the verification tests for Versatile Video Coding (VVC, ISO/IEC 23090-3 / ITU-T H.266).
- 360° Video: The omnidirectional characteristics of 360° video content have to be taken into account for visual quality assessment. The groups’ focus is on continuing the development of 360° video quality assessment methodologies, including those using head-mounted devices. Like with the focus group on HDR, the verification tests for VVC had priority in the starting phase.
- Immersive Video (MPEG Immersive Video, MIV): Since MIV allows for movement of the user at six degrees of freedom, the assessment of this type of content bears even more challenges and the variability of the user’s perception of the media has to be factored in. Given the absence of an original reference or ground truth, for the synthetically rendered scene, objective evaluation with conventional objective metrics is a challenge. The focus group strives to develop appropriate subjective expert viewing methods to support the development process of the standard and also evaluates and improve objective metrics in the context of MIV.
Ad hoc Groups
AG5 currently has three AhGs defined which are briefly presented with their mandates below:
- Quality of immersive visual media (chaired by Christian Timmerer of AAU/Bitmovin, Joel Jung of Tencent, and Aljosa Smolic of Trinity College Dublin): Study Draft Overview of Quality Metrics and Methodologies for Immersive Visual Media (AG 05/N00013) with respect to new updates presented at this meeting; Solicit inputs for subjective evaluation methods and objective metrics for immersive video (e.g., 360, MIV, V-PCC, G-PCC); Organize public online workshop(s) on Quality of Immersive Media: Assessment and Metrics.
- Learning-based quality metrics for 2D video (chaired by Yan Ye of Alibaba and Mathias Wien of RWTH Aachen University): Compile and maintain a list of video databases suitable and available to be used in AG5’s studies; Compile a list of learning-based quality metrics for 2D video to be studied; Evaluate the correlation between the learning-based quality metrics and subjective quality scores in the databases;
- Guidelines for subjective visual quality evaluation (chaired by Mathias Wien of RWTH Aachen University, Lu Yu of Zhejiang University and Convenor of MPEG Video Coding (ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29/WG4), and Joel Jung of Tencent): Prepare the third draft of the Guidelines for Verification Testing of Visual Media Specifications; Prepare the second draft of the Guidelines for remote experts viewing test methods for use in the context of Ad-hoc Groups, and Core or Exploration Experiments.
AG 5 First Achievements
Reports and Guidelines
The results of the work of the AhGs are aggregated in AG5 output documents which are public (or will become public soon) in order to allow for feedback also from outside of the MPEG community.
The AhG on “Quality for Immersive Visual Media” maintains a report “Overview of Quality Metrics and Methodologies for Immersive Visual Media”  which documents the state-of-the-art in the field and shall serve as a reference for MPEG working groups in their work on compression standards in this domain. The AhG further organizes a public workshop on “Quality of Immersive Media: Assessment and Metrics” which takes place in an online form at the beginning of October 2021 . The scope of this workshop is to raise awareness about MPEG efforts in the context of quality of immersive visual media and to invite experts outside of MPEG to present new techniques relevant to the scope of this workshop.
The AhG on “Guidelines for Subjective Visual Quality Evaluation” currently develops two guideline documents supporting the MPEG standardization work. The “Guidelines for Verification Testing of Visual Media Specifications”  define the process of assessing the performance of a completed standard after its publication. The concept of verification testing has already been established MPEG working practice for its media compression standards since the 1990ties. The document is intended to formalize the process, describe the steps and conditions for the verification tests, and set the requirements to meet MPEG procedural quality expectations.
The AhG has further released a first draft of “Guidelines for Remote Experts Viewing Sessions” with the intention to establish a formalized procedure for ad-hoc generation subjective test results as input to the standards development process . This activity has been driven by the ongoing pandemic situation which forced MPEG to continue its work in virtual online meetings since early 2020. The procedure for remote experts viewing is intended to be applied during the (online) meeting phase or in the AhG phase and to provide measurable and reproducible subjective results in order to be input to the decision-making process in the project under consideration.
With Essential Video Coding (EVC) , Low Complexity Enhancement Video Coding (LCEVC)  of ISO/IEC, and the joint coding standard Versatile Video Coding (VVC) of ISO/IEC and ITU-T , a significant number of new video coding standards has been recently released. Since its first meeting in October 2020, AG5 has been engaged in the preparation and conduction of verification tests for these video coding specifications. Further verification tests for MPEG Immersive Video (MIV) and Video-based Point Cloud Compression (V-PCC)  are under preparation and more are to come. Results of the verification test activities which have been completed in the first year of AG5 are summarized in the following subsections. All reported results have been achieved by formal subjective assessments according to established assessment protocols  and performed by qualified test laboratories. The bitstreams were generated with reference software encoders of the specification under consideration using established encoder configurations with comparable settings for both, the reference and the evaluated coding schemes. It has to be noted that all testing had to be done under the constrained conditions of the ongoing pandemic situation which induced an additional challenge for the test laboratories in charge.
MPEG-5 Part 1: Essential Video Coding (EVC)
The EVC standard was developed with the goal to provide a royalty-free Baseline profile and a Main profile with higher compression efficiency compared to High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) . Verification tests were conducted for Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) and high dynamic range (HDR, BT.2100 PQ) video content at both, HD (1920×1080 pixels) and UHD (3840×2160 pixels) resolution. The tests revealed around 40% bitrate savings at a comparable visual quality for the Main profile when compared to HEVC, and around 36% bitrate saving for the Baseline profile when compared to Advanced Video Coding (AVC) , both for SDR content . For HDR PQ content, the Main profile provided around 35% bitrate savings for both resolutions .
MPEG-5 Part 2: Low-Complexity Enhancement Video Coding (LCEVC)
The LCEVC standard follows a layered approach where an LCEVC enhancement layer is added to a lower resolution base layer of an existing codec in order to achieve the full resolution video . Since the base layer codec operates at a lower resolution and the separate enhancement layer decoding process is relatively lightweight, the computational complexity of the decoding process is typically lower compared to decoding of the full resolution with the base layer codec. The addition of the enhancement layer would typically be provided on top of the established base layer decoder implementation by an additional decoding entity, e.g., in a browser.
For verification testing, LCEVC was evaluated using AVC, HEVC, EVC, and VVC base layer bitstreams at half resolution, and comparing the performance to the respective schemes with full resolution coding as well half-resolution coding with a simple upsampling tool. For UHD resolution, the bitrate savings for LCEVC at comparable visual quality were at 46% when compared to full resolution AVC and 31% when compared to full resolution HEVC. The comparison to the more recent and more efficient EVC and VVC coding schemes led to partially overlapping confidence intervals of the subjective scores of the test subjects. The curves still revealed some benefits for the application of LCEVC. The gains compared to half-resolution coding with simple upsampling provided approximately 28%, 34%, 38%, and 33% bitrate savings at comparable visual quality, demonstrating the benefit of LCEVC enhancement layer coding compared to straight-forward plain upsampling .
MPEG-I Part 3 / ITU-T H.266: Versatile Video Coding (VVC)
VVC is the most recent video coding standard in the historical line of joint specifications of ISO/IEC and ITU-T, such as AVC and HEVC. The development focus for VVC was on compression efficiency improvement at a moderate increase of decode complexity as well as the versatility of the design . Versatility features include tools designed to address HDR, WCG, resolution-adaptive multi-rate video streaming services, 360-degree immersive video, bitstream extraction and merging, temporal scalability, gradual decoding refresh, and multilayer coding to deliver layered video content to support application features such as multiview, alpha maps, depth maps, and spatial and quality scalability.
A series of verification tests have been conducted covering SDR UHD and HD, HDR PQ and HLG, as well as 360° video contents . An early open-source encoder (VVenC, ) was additionally assessed in some categories. For SDR coding, both, the VVC reference software (VTM) and the open-source VVenC were evaluated against the HEVC reference software (HM). The results revealed bit rate savings of around 46% (SDR UHD, VTM and VVenC), 50% (SDR HD, VTM and VVenC), 49% (HDR UHD, PQ and HLG), 52%, and 50-56% (360° with different projection formats) at a similar visual quality compared to HEVC. In Figure 3, pooled MOS (Mean Opinion Score) over bit rate points for the mentioned categories are provided. The MOS values range from 10 (imperceptible impairments) down to 0 (everywhere severely annoying impairments). Pooling was done by computing the geometric mean of the bitrates and the arithmetic mean of the MOS scores across the test sequences of each test category. The results reveal a consistent benefit of VVC over its predecessor HEVC in terms of visual quality over the required bitrate.
This column presented an overview of the organizational structure and the activities of the Advisory Group on MPEG Visual Quality Assessment, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29/AG 5, which has been formed about one year ago. The work items of AG5 include the application, documentation, evaluation, and improvement of objective quality metrics and subjective quality assessment procedures. In its first year of existence, the group has produced an overview on immersive quality metrics, draft guidelines for verification tests and for remote experts viewing sessions as well as reports of formal subjective quality assessments for the verification tests of EVC, LCEVC, and VVC. The work of the group will continue towards studying and developing quality metrics suitable for the assessment tasks emerging by the development of the various MPEG visual media coding standards and towards subjective quality evaluation in upcoming and future verification tests and new standardization projects.
 MPEG website, https://www.mpegstandards.org/.
 ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29, “Terms of Reference of SC 29/WGs and AGs,” Doc. SC29N19020, July 2020.
 ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29/AG5 MPEG VQA, “Draft Overview of Quality Metrics and Methodologies for Immersive Visual Media (v2)”, doc. AG5N13, 2nd meeting: January 2021.
 MPEG AG 5 Workshop on Quality of Immersive Media: Assessment and Metrics, https://multimediacommunication.blogspot.com/2021/08/mpeg-ag-5-workshop-on-quality-of.html, October 5th, 2021.
 ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29/AG5 MPEG VQA, “Guidelines for Verification Testing of Visual Media Specifications (draft 2)”, doc. AG5N30, 4th meeting: July 2021.
 ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29/AG5 MPEG VQA, “Guidelines for remote experts viewing sessions (draft 1)”, doc. AG5N31, 4th meeting: July 2021.
 ISO/IEC 23094-1:2020, “Information technology — General video coding — Part 1: Essential video coding”, October 2020.
 ISO/IEC 23094-2, “Information technology – General video coding — Part 2: Low complexity enhancement video coding”, September 2021.
 ISO/IEC 23090-3:2021, “Information technology — Coded representation of immersive media — Part 3: Versatile video coding”, February 2021.
 ITU-T H.266, “Versatile Video Coding“, August 2020. https://www.itu.int/rec/recommendation.asp?lang=en&parent=T-REC-H.266-202008-I.
 ISO/IEC 23090-5:2021, “Information technology — Coded representation of immersive media — Part 5: Visual volumetric video-based coding (V3C) and video-based point cloud compression (V-PCC)”, June 2021.
 ITU-T P.910 (2008), Subjective video quality assessment methods for multimedia applications.
 ITU-R BT.500-14 (2019), Methodologies for the subjective assessment of the quality of television images.
 Fraunhofer HHI VVenC software repository. [Online]. Available: https://github.com/fraunhoferhhi/vvenc.
 K. Choi, J. Chen, D. Rusanovskyy, K.-P. Choi and E. S. Jang, “An overview of the MPEG-5 essential video coding standard [standards in a nutshell]”, IEEE Signal Process. Mag., vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 160-167, May 2020.
 ISO/IEC 23008-2:2020, “Information technology — High efficiency coding and media delivery in heterogeneous environments — Part 2: High efficiency video coding”, August 2020.
 ITU-T H.265, “High Efficiency Video Coding”, August 2021.
 ISO/IEC 14496-10:2020, “Information technology — Coding of audio-visual objects — Part 10: Advanced video coding”, December 2020.
 ITU-T H.264, “Advanced Video Coding”, August 2021.
 ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29/WG4, “Report on Essential Video Coding compression performance verification testing for SDR Content”, doc WG4N47, 2nd meeting: January 2021.
 ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29/WG4, “Report on Essential Video Coding compression performance verification testing for HDR/WCG content”, doc WG4N30, 1st meeting: October 2020.
 G. Meardi et al., “MPEG-5—Part 2: Low complexity enhancement video coding (LCEVC): Overview and performance evaluation”, Proc. SPIE, vol. 11510, pp. 238-257, Aug. 2020.
 ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29/WG4, “Verification Test Report on the Compression Performance of Low Complexity Enhancement Video Coding”, doc. WG4N76, 3rd meeting: April 2020.
 Benjamin Bross, Jianle Chen, Jens-Rainer Ohm, Gary J. Sullivan, and Ye-Kui Wang, “Developments in International Video Coding Standardization After AVC, With an Overview of Versatile Video Coding (VVC)”, Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 109, Issue 9, pp. 1463–1493, doi 10.1109/JPROC.2020.3043399, Sept. 2021 (open access publication), available at https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9328514.
 Benjamin Bross, Ye-Kui Wang, Yan Ye, Shan Liu, Gary J. Sullivan, and Jens-Rainer Ohm, “Overview of the Versatile Video Coding (VVC) Standard and its Applications”, IEEE Trans. Circuits & Systs. for Video Technol. (open access publication), available online at https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9395142.
 Mathias Wien and Vittorio Baroncini, “VVC Verification Test Report for Ultra High Definition (UHD) Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) Video Content”, doc. JVET-T2020 of ITU-T/ISO/IEC Joint Video Experts Team (JVET), 20th meeting: October 2020.
 Mathias Wien and Vittorio Baroncini, “VVC Verification Test Report for High Definition (HD) and 360° Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) Video Content”, doc. JVET-V2020 of ITU-T/ISO/IEC Joint Video Experts Team (JVET), 22nd meeting: April 2021.
 Mathias Wien and Vittorio Baroncini, “VVC verification test report for high dynamic range video content”, doc. JVET-W2020 of ITU-T/ISO/IEC Joint Video Experts Team (JVET), 23rd meeting: July 2021.