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TMMI recently announced that it is dropping its lawsuit against Dimension regarding ownership of fractal video technology, because it is pursuing a different approach.

This is a welcome development, and hopefully Dimension will follow suit and also cease promoting fractal technology, as it has long been known to be stillborn, especially for video. We all benefit from closing the book on a technology that never really went anywhere.

Why are fractals hopeless? Because of one simple reason: the inverse problem has no solution in practical time. This was known from the outset, but TMMI kept — and Dimension still keeps beating — a dead horse.

What is the inverse problem? In fractal imaging, a picture with self-similar features (e.g. small and large circles) can be efficiently described using simple formulas that are repeatedly applied. The problem lies with determining what the exact formulas are, given only the original image. The image must be painstakingly searched with subregions compared to other regions. Hence, the inverse problem. Decoding a fractal file is easy and relatively fast, but encoding? Anything but.

Barnsley’s graduate student Arnaud Jacquin simplified the inverse problem by dividing the image into smaller pieces, but this introduced quality issues: when the size of the blocks is large enough to make compression efficient, the seams between adjacent blocks becomes more visible. Also, the range of efficient fractal formulas goes down enormously, so the full power of fractal compression never gets utilized. Even with his method, encoding time is still too long. Finally, fractals are a poor method for general-purpose image compression, because they rely so heavily on self-similarity, and there is no guarantee that enough such frames will exist in a video.

So it is good that at least one vendor has woken up and finally admitted what everyone else already knew. If the other can too, we can move on and stop wasting investor’s time and money.