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Research in light field (LF) processing has heavily increased over the last decade. This is largely driven by the desire to achieve the same level of immersion and navigational freedom for camera-captured scenes as it is currently available for CGI content. Standardization organizations such as MPEG and JPEG continue to follow conventional coding paradigms in which viewpoints are discretely represented on 2-D regular grids. These grids are then further decorrelated through hybrid DPCM/transform techniques. However, these 2-D regular grids are less suited for high-dimensional data, such as LFs. We propose a novel coding framework for higher-dimensional image modalities, called Steered Mixture-of-Experts (SMoE). Coherent areas in the higher-dimensional space are represented by single higher-dimensional entities, called kernels. These kernels hold spatially localized information about light rays at any angle arriving at a certain region. The global model consists thus of a set of kernels which define a continuous approximation of the underlying plenoptic function. We introduce the theory of SMoE and illustrate its application for 2-D images, 4-D LF images, and 5-D LF video. We also propose an efficient coding strategy to convert the model parameters into a bitstream. Even without provisions for high-frequency information, the proposed method performs comparable to the state of the art for low-to-mid range bitrates with respect to subjective visual quality of 4-D LF images. In case of 5-D LF video, we observe superior decorrelation and coding performance with coding gains of a factor of 4x in bitrate for the same quality. At least equally important is the fact that our method inherently has desired functionality for LF rendering which is lacking in other state-of-the-art techniques: (1) full zero-delay random access, (2) light-weight pixel-parallel view reconstruction, and (3) intrinsic view interpolation and super-resolution.
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