[whatwg] Proposal: downsample while decoding image blobs in createImageBitmap()

David Flanagan dflanagan at mozilla.com
Tue Dec 17 16:31:30 PST 2013

This is a proposal for changes to ImageBitmap and createImageBitmap()
to enable the memory-efficient display of large images on small screens.


The camera resolution on mobile devices has grown (and is continuing
to grow) much faster than the screen size and memory of those
devices. In my work with FirefoxOS, I work with devices that have
camera sensors that can capture 5 megapixels images but have 320x480
pixel (0.15 megapixel) screens. This means that photos from the
camera are 33 times as large as the screen.

An RGBA image format requires 4 bytes per pixels for decoded image
data, so if I want to decode one of these 5mp images for display on my
0.15mp screen, I have to allocate 20mb of memory. This particular
low-end device I'm talking about has 256mb of RAM, and less than 200mb
available for apps, so displaying a single photo requires more than
10% of available memory.

To make this work in the initial releases of FirefoxOS, we've limited
the camera resolution to 2 or 3mp on low-memory devices and have
ensured that our Camera app includes screen-sized EXIF preview images
in the photos it captures. We use JavaScript to extract the EXIF
preview from the photo and display that, when we can, instead of the
actual image. So initial display of a photo does not actually require
us to decode the full-size photo. But as soon as the user zooms in,
we have do have to decode it and take the memory hit. The result is
that on low-end FirefoxOS phones background apps (including the
homescreen) are commonly killed while using the Gallery app.

The web platform has two mechanisms for decoding images: the <img>
element and the new window.createImageBitmap() function. Native
libraries exist that can downsample an image while decoding it, but
the web platform does not expose this feature. This is a fundamental
shortcoming: Web apps will not be able to achieve parity with native
photo display and processing apps until they are able to decode and
downsample a large image into a smaller bitmap.

With that as background, I'd like to propose changes to the
createImageBitmap() factory method and also related changes to
ImageBitmap itself.


(Note createImageBitmap() can take any ImageBitmapSource object as its
first argument. I am primarily concerned with case where the first
argument is a Blob and image decoding is involved, though I think that
the changes I am proposing will also work for the various other
ImageBitmapSource types, but obviously no image decoding will be
required for those other types.)

1) My main proposal is to add dw and dh (destination width,
destination height) arguments to createImageBitmap() to specify the
desired size of the resulting ImageBitmap. dw and dh could be
restricted to be less than or equal to sw and sh, so that image
enlargement is never required. Note that it is not necessary to
specify that an implementation be memory efficient. Desktop
implementations that are not memory constrained might decode in one
step and then downsample in a separate step. It is enough here to have
an API that allows memory-efficient implementations on devices that
need it.

2) There are times when we want to downsample and decode the entire
image rather than a region of it, and having a string of 6 optional
arguments to createImageBitmap() is awkward, so I'd like to suggest
that we convert the method so that it takes an ImageBitmapSource as
the first argument and an options Dictionary as the second argument
to hold the various optional (sx, sy, sw, sh, dw, dh, etc.) arguments.

3) Sometimes we want to decode and downsample a Blob but do not know
the pixel size or aspect ratio of the original image, so we cannot
specify exact dw, dh values.  My main use case here is to obtain a
decoded image that is no bigger than necessary but maintains the
aspect ratio of the original.  One way to get this would be to allow
maxWidth and maxHeight properties in the options dictionary.  If those
properties were defined, then createImageBitmap() would maintain the
aspect ratio and create an ImageBitmap that is no wider than maxWidth
and no higher than maxHeight.  Another, more flexible, solution would
be to allow a size property in the dictionary. If size was omitted,
then the dw and dh properties would be the actual size of the
ImageBitmap, even if that resulted in distortion. If size was set to
"contain", then the image would be downsampled to be as large as
possible while still being contained within dw and dh and while
preserving aspect ratio. (This is equivalent to the maxWidth and
maxHeight properties).  And if size was "cover", then aspect ratio
would be preserved, the resulting ImageBitmap would be exactly dw by
dh pixels, but the image would be cropped along the top and bottom or
the left and right edges to fit. Note that the names "cover" and
"contain" come from the CSS background-size property.

4) Even when we downsample an image while decoding it, we may still
need to know the full size of the original. In a photo gallery app,
for example, we need to know how big the original is so that we know
how far we can allow the user to zoom in to the image. It is possible
to determine this by parsing the image file ourselves in JavaScript,
but it would be much more convenient if the web platform provided a
way to determine the full size of an image without having to decode
the entire thing at the cost of 4 bytes per pixel.  Therefore I
propose that the ImageBitmap include fullWidth and fullHeight
properties that specify the full size of the ImageBitmapSource from
which it was derived.  I suspect (but do not have an explicit use case
for) that it might also be helpful to include the sx, sy,
sw, and sh arguments that are passed to createImageBitmap on the
returned ImageBitmap.

5) Once a large image is decoded and downsampled into a smaller
ImageBitmap, the only thing that we can do with that ImageBitmap is to
copy it into a Canvas, either for display to the end user (as an
alternative to an <img>) or for re-encoding with Canvas.toBlob() (when
creating thumbnails for large images). The motivation for this
downsampling feature is memory use. But having to copy an ImageBitmap
into a canvas in order to use it immediately doubles the amount of
memory required. So for this reason, I also want to propose that
ImageBitmap have a transferToCanvas() method akin to the
transferToImageBitmap() and transferToImage() methods proposed at
http://wiki.whatwg.org/wiki/WorkerCanvas.  transferToCanvas would
transfer the image data into a new Canvas object and would neuter the
ImageBitmap so that it could no longer be used.

6) Finally, because image data can take up so much memory, I would
like to propose that ImageBitmap have a release() method to explicitly
free the memory that holds the decoded image when that decoded image
data is no longer needed. This gives web applications more precise
control over memory allocation without having to wait for garbage

   David Flanagan
   FirefoxOS developer, Mozilla

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