Codecs: What Are They In Video?

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

Codecs are an important part of the video production process. Codecs are a set of algorithms that are used to compress and decompress video and audio files. A codec is crucial for reducing the size of the files, allowing you to transfer and store them more quickly.

In this article, we will be introducing what codecs are, how they work, and their importance in the video production process.

What are codecs

Definition of a Codec

A codec is a technology that encodes video, audio and data streams in digital form. Codecs compress the data so it takes up less space in storage or for transmission, and also enhance the quality of a video or audio stream by improving its visuals or sound.

Codecs are used extensively in the online distribution of film, TV and music. Online streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Spotify use codecs to compress their content without compromising on quality. Encoding videos with advanced codecs can make them smaller in size while still preserving the quality of the original source material. This allows streaming services to easily distribute videos to customers without imposing huge bandwidth costs on their networks or infrastructure.

In addition to enabling efficient storage and transmission, codecs can provide several other benefits to online streaming providers such as:

  • Faster loading times
  • Improved energy efficiency
  • Better scalability
  • Increased device compatibility

Codecs can also be used for security purposes by encrypting content files so that only authorized users can access them.

The Role of Codecs in Video

Codecs, an abbreviation of “coder-decoder”, are algorithms responsible for compressing and decompressing video and audio files. By using specialized compression techniques, codecs are able to minimize the size of video and audio files without significantly losing quality. This enables faster upload and download speeds – whether you’re streaming a movie or playing a game online- as well as taking up a lot less space on your hard drive.

Additionally, codecs are also used when recording and post-processing video data to create the highest resolution images possible with varying frame rates, bitrates, color depths etc. Codecs determine which type of recording technology will be used – e.g., 4K resolution or HD – in order to optimize the viewing experience. Depending upon the specific requirements for each application, there are several different types of codecs available such as:

  • H264/AVC
  • .265/HEVC
  • VC-1/WMV9
  • MPEG4
  • VP8/VP9

A codec works by compressing an input stream (i.e.,video or audio) into smaller file sizes that can be managed more efficiently over networks or stored on local drives; this is known as encoding. Conversely on playback (for example when streaming videos online), the compressed files have to be converted back into their original high quality format which is achieved by decoding the encoded information from before; this process is known as decoding. With the help of appropriate hardware (such as graphics cards etc.), hardware assisted encoding can improve encoding speed massively at minimal loss in quality – which makes them suitable for applications with high frame rate requirements such as real-time streaming services or cloud gaming.

Types of Codecs

Codecs are the lifeblood of video content – they determine how videos are compressed, decompressed and transmitted. They enable us to watch videos of different sizes and resolutions on nearly any device. There are many different types of codecs available, each playing a different role in the process of watching video content.

Getting started with your own stop motion storyboards

Subscribe to our newsletter and get your free download with three storyboards. Get started with bringing your stories alive!

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

In this article, we will take a deeper look at the most common types of codecs:

Lossy Codecs

Lossy codecs are compression standards that reduce the quality of the original video, sacrificing image quality and data for the sake of file size. The goal is to make a video stream small enough so it can be viewed or downloaded quickly and efficiently. When compared to lossless codecs, lossy codecs typically produce smaller files with less data, but this comes at the expense of acuity and overall fidelity.

The two most common types of lossy codecs are intraframe or constant bitrate (CBR) and interframe or variable bitrate (VBR). Intraframe coding records an entire content frame as a single unit within each compressed file; this results in large files but fewer artifacts between each frame and higher quality images overall. Interframe coding divides content frames into sections to allow for more compressed sections without noticeable change between frames; resultant files tend to have smaller sizes than intraframes but also more artifacts between frames.

Popular examples of lossy codecs include MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, MPEG-2 and H.265/HEVC, Windows Media Video 9 (WMV9), RealVideo 9 (RV9), DivX, XviD and VP8/VP9. These have become increasingly popular in video streaming applications such as YouTube due to their ability to compress large amounts of data quickly without significant sacrifice in picture quality – visitors can watch long videos with a relatively low bandwidth connection while retaining reasonable visual clarity.

Lossless Codecs

Video codecs are a type of computer software used for digital video data compression, or encoding. This process is necessary when working with large digital files in order to reduce the size of the file and increase how quickly the file is downloaded, transferred or streamed. Codecs are divided into two distinct categories: lossy and lossless codecs.

Lossless codecs provide an exact digital replica of a file after encoding by providing complete data accuracy, which allows for exact digital duplication during decompression. It takes up more space than lossy compression but also doesn’t involve its own distortion as well as easily allowing audio/image edits without any compromise in quality. Lossless codecs include algorithms such as:

  • LZW
  • FLAC
  • ALAC
  • MPEG-4 ALS

Hardware Codecs

Hardware codecs are codecs that use dedicated hardware resources to encode and decode video signals. Some relatively new computer systems, such as laptops, include a hardware-based video encoder unit which can be used to accelerate the encoding process. These units are very efficient and can provide significant performance benefits over software-based codecs. In addition, some standalone hardware codecs exist that offer professional quality results for broadcast/streaming applications.

The two main types of hardware codecs are Compression/Encoding and Decoding Codecs:

  • Compression/Encoding Codecs: These devices often come with their own proprietary software, though other options may be available as well. They use specialized components to perform video encoding at very high speed without consuming much power or CPU power relative to software encoders. Like software encoders, they will usually produce a variety of output formats such as H.264 or MPEG-2/4 formats.
  • Decoding Codecs: Also known as decoding cards or decoding accelerators, these devices feature powerful dedicated chips designed specifically for decoding compressed video signals in real time without consuming too much system resources (CPU power). Dedicated decoding cards are commonplace in professional environments where large numbers of videos need to be uncompressed quickly with minimal impact on system performance and stability.

Popular Codecs

Codecs are essential for anyone who works with video media. They are the ingredients of your video file, the ingredients that let the video player discern between video and audio, and the methods of compressing the data to make it easier to store and stream. There are a variety of codecs available, and the right one for your project needs to be chosen.

In this section, we’ll be discussing the most popular codecs:


H.264 (also known as MPEG-4 AVC) is one of the most popular codecs for encoding digital video files for use in a variety of applications – from streaming services to Blu-ray players to smartphones. Its ability to compress high quality video into relatively small file sizes makes it one of the most widely used and versatile codecs on the market today.

H.264 works by breaking down digital frames into 8×8 pixel blocks and then compressing them with a range of different algorithms. Because H.264 is so efficient, it can create very high quality digital video even at very low bitrates, making it ideal for a wide range of applications from HDTV broadcasts to consumer media players and smartphone/tablet streaming services.

H.264 provides support for both progressive scan (where all lines of an image start scanning all at once) and interlaced scan video, although most modern codecs support only progressive scan because they are more efficient in terms of file size size and bandwidth utilization. H.264 is also capable of handling resolutions up to 4K (4096×2160 pixels), making sure it remains relevant as more content creators move towards larger resolutions over time.

Along with its efficiency, one of H.264’s main advantages is the fact that it has been adopted by many device manufacturers already which makes it easier for users to send content between devices without having to worry about compatibility issues or incompatible software/hardware configurations. For this reason, H.264 continues to remain an important codec for a wide variety of devices and applications today, despite newer options available such as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding).


H.265, also known as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), is a video compression standard that provides more efficient coding than its predecessor, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC (Advanced Video Coding). It supports 8K resolution and can compress video files up to twice as efficiently as the previous standard – with up to 40 percent more quality retention than its predecessor.

H.265 is the natural successor to H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, providing greater compression capabilities with minimal complications and smoother playback on playback devices such as televisions, smartphones, laptops and tablets. It is an open-source format suitable for all types of content – from TV broadcasts to streaming videos over the internet and Blu-ray discs – allowing content creators to deliver maximum video quality while minimizing bandwidth costs.

The flexibility of H.265 enables it to be used in a wide range of applications such as:

  • Broadcast television (including 4K or even 8K)
  • Streaming and communications services including those for mobile and satellite devices
  • Virtual reality experiences
  • Healthcare applications
  • The new HEIF image format – making it possible for images captured from digital still cameras or camera phones to be compressed further than ever before without loss of image detail.


VP9 is an open and royalty-free video codec created by Google. Developed for use in web apps, it offers state-of-the-art technology with improved compression for streaming and downloading at lower bitrates.

VP9 also features various features that are useful for video applications:

  • high dynamic range and color spaces,
  • lossless encoding mode,
  • adaptive streaming and encoder scalability.

It supports non-square pixels, overlapping squares of different colors or luminance values, temporal prediction coding methods (such as motion compensation) as well as intra prediction coding methods (such as discrete cosine transforms). VP9 also has the capability to encode images with up to 8 bits of color depth per pixel. The format enables better picture quality through visual details like reduced noise levels and sharper edges over other prior codecs.

When decoding a VP9 stream, the user’s device does all the work to decode it back into a single frame of video. This makes it fast to access and allows for faster playback than with some other codecs due to its low memory requirements. This applies particularly when online users are accessing multiple streams at once from multiple sources; they can do so without having all their computing resources tied up in decoding each one separately. Additionally, delivery using a common file format such as MP4 helps enable compatibility between devices or platforms that might otherwise not be able to view content encoded in other formats like WebM or MKV.

Codecs and Video Quality

Codecs are an important part of encoding and decoding video, which can affect the quality of the video. Codecs are used to compress and decompress video files, and the type of codec you choose can affect the size and quality of the video.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of codecs and how they can affect the quality of a video:


Bitrate is a measure of how much information a codec needs to represent a given video. Measured in bits per second, the bitrate can affect both the quality of the video and how large its file size will be.

The higher the bitrate, the more detail can be included in the encoding (or compression) process and thus the better picture quality you’ll get. However, it also means that larger files will need to be stored or transmitted. If you’re sending your video over any kind of digital network (like the internet), you might find that higher bitrates cause noticeable increase in latency or buffering time.

Another factor that affects bitrate is resolution – as resolutions increase, so does file size – but this depends on other characteristics like codecs used, frame rate and frame sizes. In general, lower bitrates tend to give poorer quality videos even if other factors like resolution are high.

Codecs all have their own suggested ideal range for best picture quality and least data usage so be sure to look into your preferred encoders during the compression process.


Resolution is the measure of a video’s information in terms of pixels, and it is one of the primary factors that determine video quality. It’s important to understand that higher resolutions will always produce better looking videos because there are simply more pixels crammed into each frame. The most common resolutions used in online streaming are 1920×1080 (Full HD) and 1280×720 (HD).

The higher resolution video requires more processing power, which can cause compatibility issues if the user’s system isn’t up to date. Higher resolution videos also mean larger files which require a better codec to be able to play properly on all devices. Common industry codecs used for online streaming include H.264 or AVC, VP8, VP9 and HLS or Apple HLS (HTTP Live Streaming).

Depending on your application and the type of device you are planning on delivering your content to will determine which codec is best for you.

Ultimately, if you have an appropriate encoding setup that features the best codec available then you should have no problem delivering high-quality videos at any resolution that won’t suffer from buffering or other playback issues while still preserving a good level of visual fidelity.

Frame Rate

Frame rate is a key factor when it comes to video quality and codecs. It is the measure of how many individual frames are captured in one second, usually measured in frames per second (FPS). The higher the frame rate, the smoother the footage will appear. Low frame rates result in choppy video, while higher frame rates are more effective in providing a fluid image.

For example, when recording with an 8 FPS camera vs a 30 FPS camera, an 8 FPS camera will produce choppier footage due to its lower number of frames per second. On the other hand, a 30 FPS camera produces smoother footage with more motion blur between them than an 8 FPS camera does since there would be three times as many captured frames.

On top of that, different codecs require different minimum or maximum frame rates for optimal results. If used improperly or without knowing your codec’s requirements for frame rate compatibility, your video quality may suffer. The most common standard frames rates for most current video formats and viewing experiences are 24 fps (films) and 30 fps (TV shows). However, some codecs can support higher ones as well – such as 48 fps or even 60 fps – while providing superior visuals and smoothness compared to their lower counterparts.


In conclusion, understanding codecs is an important part of creating and viewing videos on our digital devices. Knowing the basics of audio and video codecs, their definitions, and the significant differences between them can help us make a better-informed decision when choosing and viewing digital media. Additionally, having a general overview of the most popularly used video codecs can also provide us with more understanding of how different codecs can change the look and sound of video.

Finally, it’s helpful to keep in mind that not all video codecs are cross-compatible—meaning that certain videos that require one codec may not play properly on another device if it doesn’t recognize that particular type. Luckily, we now have more options than ever when it comes to viewing our favorite digital content—including better compatibility across multiple platforms. So take your time researching the right format for you and find out which one works best for your needs!

Hi, I'm Kim, a mom and a stop-motion enthusiast with a background in media creation and web development. I've got a huge passion for drawing and animation, and now I'm diving headfirst into the stop-motion world. With my blog, I'm sharing my learnings with you guys.