Interpolation

As mentioned before, interpolation schemes are often used to increase the accuracy of table lookup. Here we will give a somewhat simplified account of the effects of table sizes and interpolation schemes on the result of table lookup.

To speak of error in table lookup, we must view the wavetable as a sampled version of an underlying function. When we ask for a value of the underlying function which lies between the points of the wavetable, the error is the difference between the result of the wavetable lookup and the ``ideal" value of the function at that point. The most revealing study of wavetable lookup error assumes that the underlying function is a sinusoid (Page ). We can then understand what happens to other wavetables by considering them as superpositions (sums) of sinusoids.

The accuracy of lookup from a wavetable containing a sinusoid depends on two factors: the quality of the interpolation scheme, and the period of the sinusoid. In general, the longer the period of the sinusoid, the more accurate the result.

In the case of a synthetic wavetable, we might know its sinusoidal components from having specified them--in which case the issue becomes one of choosing a wavetable size appropriately, when calculating the wavetable, to match the interpolation algorithm and meet the desired standard of accuracy. In the case of recorded sounds, the accuracy analysis might lead us to adjust the sample rate of the recording, either at the outset or else by resampling later.

Interpolation error for a sinusoidal wavetable can have two components: first, the continuous signal (the theoretical result of reading the wavetable continuously in time, as if the output sample rate were infinite) might not be a pure sinusoid; and second, the amplitude might be wrong. (It is possible to get phase errors as well, but only through carelessness.)

In this treatment we'll only consider polynomial interpolation schemes such as
rounding, linear interpolation, and cubic interpolation. These schemes amount
to evaluating polynomials (of degree zero, one, and three, respectively) in the
interstices between points of the wavetable. The idea is that, for any index
, we choose a nearby reference point , and let the output be calculated
by some polynomial:

Usually we choose the polynomial which passes through the nearest points of the wavetable. For 1-point interpolation (a zero-degree polynomial) this means letting equal the nearest point of the wavetable. For two-point interpolation, we draw a line segment between the two points of the wavetable on either side of the desired point . We can let be the closest integer to the left of (which we write as ) and then the formula for linear interpolation is:

which is a polynomial, as in the previous formula, with

In general, you can fit exactly one polynomial of degree through any points as long as their values are all different.

Figure 2.11 shows the effect of using linear (two-point) interpolation to fill in a sinusoid of period 6. At the top are three traces: the original sinusoid, the linearly-interpolated result of using 6 points per period to represent the sinusoid, and finally, another sinusoid, of slightly smaller amplitude, which better matches the six-segment waveform. The error introduced by replacing the original sinusoid by the linearly interpolated version has two components: first, a (barely perceptible) change in amplitude, and second, a (very perceptible) distortion of the wave shape.

The bottom graph in the figure shows the difference between the interpolated waveform and the best-fitting sinusoid. This is a residual signal all of whose energy lies in overtones of the original sinusoid. As the number of points increases, the error decreases in magnitude. Since the error is the difference between a sinusoid and a sequence of approximating line segments, the magnitude of the error is roughly proportional to the square of the phase difference between each pair of points, or in other words, inversely proportional to the square of the number of points in the wavetable. Put another way, wavetable error decreases by 12 dB each time the table doubles in size. (This rule of thumb is only good for tables with 4 or more points.)

Four-point (cubic) interpolation works similarly. The interpolation formula
is:

where is the fractional part of the index. For tables with 4 or more points, doubling the number of points on the table tends to improve the RMS error by 24 dB. Table 2.1 shows the calculated RMS error for sinusoids at various periods for 1, 2, and 4 point interpolation. (A slightly different quantity is measured in [Moo90, p.164]. There, the errors in amplitude and phase are also added in, yielding slightly more pessimistic results. See also [Har87].)

The allowable input domain for table lookup depends on the number of points of interpolation. In general, when using -point interpolation into a table with points, the input may range over an interval of points. If (i.e., no interpolation at all), the domain is from to (including the endpoint at but excluding the one at ) assuming input values are truncated (as is done for non-interpolated table lookup in Pd). The domain is from - to if, instead, we round the input to the nearest integer instead of interpolating. In either case, the domain stretches over a length of points.

For two-point interpolation, the input must lie between the first and last points, that is, between and . So the points suffice to define the function over a domain of length . For four-point interpolation, we cannot get values for inputs between 0 and 1 (not having the required two points to the left of the input) and neither can we for the space between the last two points ( and ). So in this case the domain reaches from to and has length .

Periodic waveforms stored in wavetables require special treatment at the
ends of the table. For example, suppose we wish to store a pure sinusoid of
length . For non-interpolating table lookup, it suffices to set, for
example,

For two-point interpolation, we need points:

In other words, we must repeat the first () point at the end, so that the last segment from to reaches back to the beginning value.

For four-point interpolation, the cycle must be adjusted to start at the point
, since we can't get properly interpolated values out for inputs less than
one. If, then, one cycle of the wavetable is arranged from to , we
must supply extra points for (copied from ), and also and ,
copied from and , to make a table of length . For the same sinusoid
as above, the table should contain: