If you’re new to shooting video, you’ve probably found there is quite a bit of jargon to get your head around. From bitrates to frame rates, there is a lot of new terminology that can take some time to understand. With this in mind, you’ve probably asked yourself the question, What is a codec? when hearing people talk about video production. The codec you use – and there are several to choose from – is all about how you compress your file while preserving quality.
Below we’ll answer your question of ‘What is a codec’, list the most popular codecs people use and the pros and cons of each.
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What is a codec?
A codec is an algorithm used to digitally encode and decode video and audio data. The codec is used to compress digital audio and video files so they can be stored and sent more efficiently over the Internet. A codec can be software, hardware, or a combination of both. It translates the data from the digital format into a format that is easier to transmit.
In short: codecs allow your video to be compressed and played back without any noticeable loss of quality.
What are the best codecs to use?
How do you know which codecs to use to compress your video file? For the most part, it depends on where you intend to host your file and what sort of project you’re working on. For small personal projects or videos you’re sharing with family and friends on YouTube and social media, you’ll probably want a codec that prioritises saving space at the expense of a bit of image quality.
However, if you’re a budding documentary filmmaker and want the absolute best image quality possible and have ample space to store your files – along with a backup or three – then you probably want a codec that prioritises image quality over space-saving credentials. Below are your top options.
Why use Quicktime codecs?
One of the most popularly used codecs is Quicktime, which is a proprietary codec developed by Apple. It is widely used in both professional and consumer video production and can be used to compress video in a variety of formats, such as H.264 and H.265. Quicktime is popular for its ability to compress video files to a small size, while still maintaining a good level of quality.
Why use MPEG4 codecs?
Another popular codec is MPEG4, which is a widely-used standard for compressing video. MPEG4 is used by many digital cameras and camcorders, as well as streaming services such as YouTube. This codec is great for compressing video into a small file size. But while it’s handy for sharing files and saving space on your memory card, it does not offer the same level of quality as some of the other codecs.
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Why use H.264 and H.265 codecs?
H.264 and H.265 are two of the most popular codecs used in high-end video production. These codecs offer a higher level of compression and quality than MPEG4, but they also require more processing power to decode the video.
H.264 is a very popular codec used for streaming video because it offers good compression rates and high resolutions. It is also well-suited for streaming on mobile devices, due to its low bitrate requirements. However, it is not as efficient as some of the other codecs, so it may result in larger file sizes.
While H.264 is the most widely-used codec in modern video production, H.265 is its successor and offers even better compression and quality. It is fast becoming the standard.
Why use the ProRes codec?
ProRes is a high-quality video codec developed by Apple. It offers a much higher level of quality than H.264 and H.265, but the files are much larger and require more processing power to decode. ProRes is popular among professional video producers for its high quality, but it is not suitable for streaming or mobile devices because it is not widely supported.
Why use the AVCHD codec?
AVCHD is another popular codec used in video production. It is used in many consumer-level camcorders and offers good quality with a relatively small file size. AVCHD is not suitable for streaming, as it’s not as efficient and produces bigger file sizes, but it is a good choice for archiving video files.
Why use the HEVC codec?
HEVC is a relatively new codec that is gaining popularity in video production. It offers better compression than H.264 and H.265, while still maintaining a good level of quality. Many new consumer cameras now offer HEVC as a recording format, and it’s increasingly popular in lower budget video productions. HEVC is ideal for streaming, as it requires less data to be sent, resulting in faster streaming speeds.
What is raw video?
Raw video is a type of video that has not been compressed by a codec. This makes it ideal for editing, as it provides the highest quality possible. Raw video is often used by professional videographers because of its high level of quality, but raw video files are much larger and require more processing power to decode. Raw video is ideal for archiving and editing, but it is not suitable for streaming or mobile devices.