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Group of Pictures - Everything You Need To Know

Group of Pictures - Everything You Need To Know

December 15, 20236 min read


Group of Pictures | Cover Image.png


GOP in video conferencing refers to the "Group of Pictures," a sequence of video frames that starts with an I-frame (intra-coded picture) and is followed by P-frames (predicted pictures) and B-frames (bidirectional pictures). It is essential in video compression, as it determines the rate of refresh and quality of the video by dictating how often a full frame is sent and how much predictive coding is used. The GOP structure plays a key role in balancing video quality with bandwidth and storage efficiency, making it crucial for efficient video streaming and conferencing.

What does it really mean?

Imagine a GOP in video conferencing as being similar to a comic strip.

  1. I-frame (Intra-coded frame): This is like the first panel of a new comic strip scene, providing a full, detailed image. It sets the scene and is a reference for what follows.
  2. P-frame (Predicted frame): These are like the subsequent panels in the comic strip that only show changes from the first panel. Instead of redrawing the entire scene, only the characters' movements or dialogue bubbles are added, building upon the initial panel.
  3. B-frame (Bidirectional frame): Think of these as panels that are even more efficient. They are like filling in small details or changes based on both the previous and the upcoming panels in the comic strip. They predict movements or changes by referencing both what came before and what's about to happen next.

In this analogy, the entire comic strip represents the GOP. Just as the strip uses the first detailed panel and then builds on it with minimal updates to tell a story, the GOP uses the I-frame as a reference and then efficiently transmits changes through P-frames and B-frames to convey the video sequence. This approach conserves the amount of information needed to be transmitted or stored, much like how a comic strip conveys a story without redrawing each scene completely.

Group of Pictures

History of Group of Pictures?

The history of the Group of Pictures (GOP) concept is closely tied to the development of digital video compression techniques. Understanding its evolution requires a look at the broader history of video compression.

Early Video Compression

The need for video compression emerged with the advent of digital video in the late 20th century. Early digital video formats consumed vast amounts of data, making storage and transmission challenging. The initial efforts in video compression focused on reducing this data in a way that maintained an acceptable level of video quality.

MPEG Standards and Introduction of GOP

A significant milestone in video compression history was the formation of the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) in 1988. This group was responsible for developing standardized digital video formats. The introduction of the MPEG-1 standard in 1993 marked the first widespread use of the GOP structure. MPEG-1 was revolutionary, providing a framework for compressing video efficiently by only storing changes from one frame to the next, rather than each frame in its entirety.

GOP in MPEG Standards

The concept of GOP became integral to MPEG standards, including MPEG-2, used for DVD and television broadcasting, and later MPEG-4. These standards refined the use of I-frames, P-frames, and B-frames, which are the building blocks of GOP. I-frames provide reference points for the following P and B frames, which record changes from these reference frames, significantly reducing the amount of data required.

Advancements and Adaptation

Over the years, the use of GOP has evolved with advancements in technology. The introduction of High Definition (HD) and later Ultra HD (4K and 8K) required adaptations in GOP structure to balance the increased data from higher resolutions with the efficiency of compression. Additionally, the rise of internet video streaming services and advancements in video conferencing technologies brought new challenges and innovations in GOP configurations, optimizing them for various bandwidth and quality requirements.

Today, the principles of GOP remain foundational in modern video codecs like H.264 (AVC) and H.265 (HEVC), which are widely used in streaming services, video conferencing, and broadcasting. These codecs offer more sophisticated algorithms for predictive frames, enhancing compression efficiency while maintaining quality. The ongoing research and development in video compression continue to evolve the application of GOP, especially with the increasing focus on virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and AI-driven video applications.

How does the GOP work?

The Group of Pictures (GOP) is a fundamental concept in video compression that plays a crucial role in how digital video is processed, stored, and transmitted. Understanding how GOP works requires diving into its structure and the function of each type of frame within it.

GOP Structure and Frame Types

A GOP starts with an I-frame (Intra-coded frame) and is followed by a series of P-frames (Predicted frames) and B-frames (Bidirectional frames). The I-frame is a complete image and serves as a reference point for the frames that follow. P-frames contain only the changes in the image from the previous frame, while B-frames store the differences between the current frame and both the previous and following frames. This structure reduces the amount of data needed to represent a sequence of video frames.

I-frames (Intra-coded frames)

I-frames are key to the GOP. They are self-contained and do not rely on any other frames for their information. Because they contain all the data needed to display a complete image, they require more data than P or B-frames. I-frames are used as starting points for decoding sequences and allow videos to be cut or accessed at specific points without needing to decode the entire video.

P-frames (Predicted frames)

P-frames enhance the efficiency of the video stream. They record only the changes from the previous frame (which can be either an I-frame or another P-frame). By only storing information about the differences from one frame to the next, P-frames significantly reduce the amount of data compared to storing each frame as a complete image. However, to decode a P-frame, the decoder needs the previous I or P-frame.

B-frames (Bidirectional frames)

B-frames are the most data-efficient elements within a GOP. They reference both the preceding and following frames (which can be I, P, or other B-frames) to determine what has changed in the current frame. This bidirectional prediction allows for even greater data compression since B-frames typically store the least amount of new information.

Functioning and Efficiency

The effectiveness of GOP in reducing data size lies in its ability to exploit temporal redundancy in video sequences. Most video content contains segments where little to no change occurs from one frame to the next. By encoding only differences and referencing other frames, GOP significantly reduces the amount of data required to represent a video, facilitating more efficient storage and transmission.

Application in Different Contexts

The specific structure of a GOP (like the number of P and B-frames between I-frames) can vary depending on the application. For example, a shorter GOP might be used in video conferencing for lower latency, while a longer GOP might be preferred in streaming services for better compression. The choice of GOP structure influences the video quality, compression rate, and the ease of editing the video.

Impact on Video Quality and Bandwidth

The use of GOP directly affects video quality and bandwidth requirements. A balance must be struck between the frequency of I-frames and the use of P and B-frames. Frequent I-frames ensure higher quality and resilience to errors but require more bandwidth. Conversely, longer sequences of P and B-frames reduce bandwidth requirements but can lead to quality degradation over time, especially in scenes with fast motion.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between IDR and GOP?

An IDR (Instantaneous Decoder Refresh) frame is a type of I-frame that ensures no reference to frames before it, effectively resetting the decoding process, while a GOP (Group of Pictures) is a sequence of frames including I-frames, P-frames, and B-frames used together for efficient video compression. Essentially, IDR frames are points within a GOP where decoding can safely begin without prior context.

What is the GOP size of AV1?

The GOP size in AV1 (AOMedia Video 1) can vary significantly based on encoder settings and content, with no fixed default size. It's often dynamically adjusted for optimal efficiency and quality, accommodating a wide range of applications and use cases.

What is M and N in GOP?

In GOP terminology, 'M' refers to the distance between P-frames, indicating how many B-frames are between P-frames, while 'N' represents the distance between I-frames, defining the length of the GOP itself.


  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_of_pictures
  • https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/media/part-1-back-to-basics-gops-explained/
  • https://www.researchgate.net/post/What-is-the-difference-between-Group-of-Pictures-GOP-and-video



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