A multiple description (MD) joint source-channel (JSC) encoder in accordance with the invention encodes n components of a signal for transmission over in channels of a communication medium. In illustrative embodiments, the invention provides optimal or near-optimal transforms for applications in which at least one of n and m is greater than two, and applications in which the failure probabilities of the m channels are non-independent and non-equivalent. The signal to be encoded may be a data signal, a speech signal, an audio signal, an image signal, a video signal or other type of signal, and each of the m channels may correspond to a packet or a group of packets to be transmitted over the medium. A given n.times.m transform implemented by the MD JSC encoder may be in the form of a cascade structure of several transforms each having dimension less than n.times.m. The transform may also be configured to provide a substantially equivalent rate for each of the m channels.
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