Thursday, March 17, 2011

Median Filtering in OpenCV

I was just browsing through the OpenCV source to learn more about how it implements smoothing. I noticed a few interesting things that say something more general about how OpenCV2 is structured.

In OpenCV1 there is cvSmooth(), which lets you pass a parameter like CV_GAUSSIAN or CV_MEDIAN to specify what kind of smoothing you want. In OpenCV2, this function coexists with CV2-style functions like cv::medianBlur() and cv::GaussianBlur() (note that Gaussian is capitalized because it is a proper name). If you scroll to the very bottom of smooth.cpp, you'll find cvSmooth(), where it becomes evident that the newer cv::medianBlur and cv::GaussianBlur() are the implementations, while cvSmooth() is a wrapper that simply calls them.

Reading the documentation, I was surprised to find that many of the blurring functions support in-place processing. Due to the way median filtering works, in-place operation is a non-trivial property. Digging into cv::medianBlur(), you'll find:

void medianBlur(const Mat& src0, Mat& dst, int ksize) {
 dst.create( src0.size(), src0.type() );
 cv::copyMakeBorder( src0, src, 0, 0,
  ksize/2, ksize/2, BORDER_REPLICATE );

First, it calls Mat::create() on the dst Mat (in CV1, this would be an IplImage*). Mat::create() ensures that dst is the right size and type. If you pass it an unallocated Mat then this step allocates it for you, which makes it easy to use but less efficient. Then it does a copyMakeBorder(), which makes it safe to run the median filter on the edges of the image. So even if you give medianBlur() an allocated dst Mat, it's still going to be allocating a big working image for doing the blur! Finally, there's this mess of an if statement:

double img_size_mp = (double)(size.width*size.height)/(1 << 20);
if( ksize <=
  3 + (img_size_mp < 1 ? 12 : img_size_mp < 4 ? 6 : 2)*
  (MEDIAN_HAVE_SIMD && checkHardwareSupport(CV_CPU_SSE2) ? 1 : 3)) {
 medianBlur_8u_Om( src, dst, ksize );
} else {
 medianBlur_8u_O1( src, dst, ksize );

This is actually a really pleasant surprise. There are two things that might happen here: medianBlur_8u_Om() or medianBlur_8u_O1(). The _Om() function takes as long to run as your image is big (called O(n) time, or linear time) while the _O1() function takes a constant amount of time to run, regardless of how big your image is (O(1) time, or constant time). The O(1) implementation isn't trivial, and was only implemented in a 2007 paper. If the O(1) function is available, why not just always use that? The answer is in the if statement above: sometimes when your kernel size is smaller (relative to your total image size) it's actually faster to use the O(n) function. OpenCV has gone to the trouble of figuring out where that cutoff is, and this if statement encodes that cutoff — automatically switching between the implementations for us.

In conclusion, if you need the most blazingly-fast median filtering code ever, first you need to figure out which side of the if statement you're on (O(n) or O(1)). Then you should prepare a reusable buffer for yourself using cv::copyMakeBorder(), and call medianBlur_8u_O1() or medianBlur_8u_Om() directly.


Blogging the Blog said...

Sorry what is in-place processing ?

Toan Nguyen said...

Hi there, can you give a detailed tutorial of how you use that o(1) function directly from OpenCV? Thanks!