Video codec is a software or hardware that compresses and/or decompresses digital video. Put another way, it converts raw or uncompressed video to a compressed format, or vice versa. It essentially makes file sizes smaller so storage and distribution of videos are easier.
Video encoding refers to the process of converting raw video into a digital format that’s compatible with many devices. When it comes to streaming, videos are often compressed from gigabytes of data down to megabytes of data. Video encoding is essential to video streaming, helping to ensure quick delivery and playback. Content distributors use a video compression technology called a codec to shrink a video into a streamable size. Codecs allow us to tightly compress bulky streams down for delivery and storage.
Streaming requires the use of both audio and video codecs. H.264, also known as AVC (Advanced Video Coding), is the most common video codec, because of its widespread device support. AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) is the most common audio codec.
The most common encoding technologies in 2022:
- H.264/AVC: Because of its widespread device support, H.264 remains the most commonly used option.
- VP9: Google developed VP9 as a royalty-free, open-source alternative to H.265. The Google-owned YouTube platform and Chrome browser support VP9, as well every Android phone, Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and all new iOS devices.
- H.265/HEVC: Industry leaders like Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla had no interest in adding support for the costly codec to Chrome, Edge, and Firefox. As a result, only ~18.08% of browsers accept H.265-encoded video. One place where H.265 remains a better option than VP9 or H.264 is 4K and HDR video delivery to living room devices, as it’s almost universally supported on Smart TVs.
- AV1: Frustrated about the royalties associated with H.265, Amazon, Netflix, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and Mozilla formed the Alliance for Open Media. The goal? Create an open-source, royalty-free alternative called AV1. While the codec has been finalized, this initiative to democratize high-quality video delivery and playback is still playing out.