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I'm trying to understand how video compression through dense optical flow works (I'm a newbie with video compression).

I easily understood what optical flow is, the thing I can't understand is why a simple video compression could not just send the parts of a frame marked with a "motion vector" (as you would send only the parts that have moved to or from a position from frame to frame).

I mean: MPEG is way more complex than that, what's the catch with sending parts of a frame that have changed to "stick them over it to get the next one"? Is this a technical flaw (i.e. too much data to be transferred) or is there something else involved that invalidates this simple reasoning?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't understand what you're referring to. "Just transmitting changes" is one of the many things that MPEG does; motion vectors play a large role. But first, you'd have to detect changes. You assume that's easy. It's not. And, you might be overestimating how much of a scene actually stays unchanged. Notice that you'll have to take lighting, camera imperfections, and everything else that might change a scene into account – across the JPEG-typical block boundaries, too! $\endgroup$ – Marcus Müller Feb 25 '17 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ @MarcusMüller Thanks for answering! What I really meant is: what stops me from doing an optical flow calculation in frame A and just re-transmit all of the parts that my optical flow detected as "changed" and then put them as a mask on the old frame A? $\endgroup$ – Dean Feb 25 '17 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ nothing. It's, as I said, among the things MPEG does. $\endgroup$ – Marcus Müller Feb 25 '17 at 18:16
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You could do that, in theory, if you knew "what are the parts" (or objects) frame-to-frame in a video. But:

  • objects move, change scale, rotate, have color changes, they even can be occluded.
  • the segmentation is a complicated task in general.

MPEG 4, at least, allows to manipulate objects instead of pixels, see MPEG-4 Natural Video Coding - An overview. If objects and backgrounds are already decoupled, like filmed with a green screen:

green screen

then the object contents can be processed separately. Otherwise, what is more important is that, visually, the representation is accurate enough. Thus, a block from some object in a frame can be cast to another block of a different object in a different frame, as long as the result is satisfactory. Thus, in a lot of cases, the block matching is sufficient, and more importantly, relatively fast to compute.

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Video codecs tries to find apparent movement (akin to optical flow) first. Bits have to be allocated to describe that motion. Then the residual is coded using a lossy transform/quantazation that tends to leave mainly a few coefficients close to "DC", and run-length coding or similar of those.

-k

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