OT: Online Image Quality

Apple-MacIntoshI’ve been involved in computer graphics all my adult life. That may seem a bit counter-intuitive as I was schooled in the technology of music and recording. However, I’ve spend my working life in video and broadcast production.

The one time I took a bit of a sabbatical from the  world of television I went to work for a small magazine, where I was still involved in print layout and production using early MacIntosh computers. That’s when I discovered that I like to write. It’s also where I first encountered Adobe Photoshop and Quark Xpress.

This finally brings me to the topic of this little-thing-that’s-quickly-devolving-into-a-rant. I simply cannot believe how often I encounter poor-quality images as aspects of otherwise professionally created online properties. I’m surprised that design professionals would submit shoddy work, not-quite-so-surprised that customers accept it.

Here’s an example from a web site that I’ve visited a number of times. Tely Labs are makers of the TelyHD video conferencing/calling appliance for use with an HDTV. Introduced a couple of years ago as  consumer appliance for making Skype video calls they are now re-positioning themselves to address a more corporate market. I find the product to be genuinely interesting.

The image below contains two instances of their TelyHD device. The upper instance was from a simple screen capture of their web site. It’s full resolution and has only been cropped. The lower instance is a version that I created. Can you see the difference?


The upper instance shows marked aliasing artifacts. This could be the result of using a larger image and merely asking the browser to display it at a smaller size. It could also be the result of a poor-quality scaling process. Whatever the cause, the upper image is simply faulty.

I created the lower image by Googling for an image of the device. I searched for a “large” image, which in this case was more than 4x the dimensions of the image I was trying to match. I then opened the file up in Photoshop and re-sized it, being careful to match the final size of the nasty looking version.

In Photoshop you can choose the scaling algorithm to use when processing an image. The “Bicubic” option is the preferred routine to use in most cases, although there are “smoother” and “sharper” tweaks to that routine as well.

There are many other scaling algorithms. Most of them harken from a time when such processing was very taxing for the computer. Given assumptions about available computer resources the various scaling routines typically trade-off the ability to act on larger images, or work faster, for image quality.

Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the halls carrying Palm Pilots, in the time of DOS and Windows NT, I used a tool called Image Alchemy. It was a command line tool that could perform batch conversions between dozens of different file types. It could also re-size images, giving you the option of which of a number of scaling algorithms to use in the process.

Back then computers were limited both in processing power and available memory. To re-size a very large image on a DOS system with only 4 MB of memory was an exercise in patience. You know the old adage: time, money or quality…pick any two.

These days CPUs are fast and memory plentiful. Further, the images used online are so small that any reasonably current CPU can re-size images with optimal results nearly instantly. That makes the appearance of such imagery online something of a surprise to me, especially where a commercial site is concerned.

In my own efforts online I always try to include some kind of image in every post. In so doing I usually spend some time in Photoshop to create exactly what I need. Sometimes that may building a complex composite image, but often it’s just a matter of scaling the image that I have to the required size.

I try to ensure that the final presentation looks good. When sites run by friends exhibit image quality issues I’ll usually make a discreet inquiry, occasionally even help them out. Perhaps I’m too picky, or merely compulsive.

In the case of a commercial site, like Tely Labs, I really take notice. It’s a bit like going to a shareholders meeting and noticing that the CEO has a great big grease spot on his tie. It’s not the end of the world, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.

Incidentally, I have repeatedly inquired with Tely Labs about appearing as a guest on a VUC call. They have consistently ignored my inquiries.