Tech Report CS-10-03

A Quantitative Analysis of Current Practices in Optical Flow Estimation and the Principles Behind Them

Deqing Sun, Stefan Roth and Michael J. Black

January 2013


The accuracy of optical flow estimation algorithms has been improving steadily as evidenced by results on the Middlebury optical flow benchmark. The typical formulation, however, has changed little since the work of Horn and Schunck. We attempt to uncover what has made recent advances possible through a thorough analysis of how the objective function, the optimization method, and modern implementation practices influence accuracy. We discover that ``classical'' flow formulations perform surprisingly well when combined with modern optimization and implementation techniques. One key implementation detail is the median filtering of intermediate flow fields during optimization. While this improves the robustness of classical methods it actually leads to higher energy solutions, meaning that these methods are not optimizing the original objective function. To understand the principles behind this phenomenon, we derive a new objective function that formalizes the median filtering heuristic. This objective function includes a non-local smoothness term that robustly integrates flow estimates over large spatial neighborhoods. By modifying this new term to include information about flow and image boundaries we develop a method that can better preserve motion details.

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