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What is video encoding?

Dec 19, 2022

What is video encoding

To visualize the concept, imagine a photo album, where the photos are arranged in a way that, when flipped, they merge and appear to be moving. This is similar to how RAW video files work.

When digital video first appeared, all video files were in this format.

Simply put - they were a set of static photos. That is, for a video recorded at 30 fps, you had 30 photos per second of footage. That's 1800 images per minute of video. The files were huge.

Compressing the video resulted in a loss of quality. Thus, engineers have developed an encoding that allows you to compress files without sacrificing the quality.

How does it work?

Video encoder is a piece of hardware or software that can both compress and decompress a stream of data by discarding information with the ultimate goal of reducing bandwidth or file size. 

The encoding program analyzes the video and finds the necessary and secondary frames. Identical frames are considered secondary. As soon as the program determines which frames can be deleted, it deletes them. Deleted frames are replaced with links to previous similar frames. This reduces the file size by about half.

A variation of this process is used in all types of video compression to reduce file size. However, when we talk about video encoding, we are referring to a certain type of video compression. 

Codecs: what they are and what they do

As mentioned before, codecs are designed to do two things: to compress and to uncompress data. They do this by throwing away bits and pieces of information that, based on the codec and its settings, will not be needed.

Depending on the compression strength, the video quality will vary.

The higher the compression, the worse the final image quality. The lower the compression, the more untouched information is stored in the video file.

Also, the quality of the video will depend on the bitrate (the number of bits used to transmit / process data per unit of time). 

The higher the bitrate, the better the picture and the more information is in this video file. But that also means bigger file size.

The higher the compression, the lower the bitrate. And such a file will take up less space on your hard drive.

The majority of the video we watch every day is compressed. This is done to save media space, and is due to the fact that the volume of video content is constantly increasing.

Compression algorithms are constantly improving, allowing you to stream a 4K HDR picture to phones and TV, without cable technologies.

There are several groups of codecs:

  • Mounting. For video production and processing: DNxHD, Apple ProRes, CineForm

  • Viewing. Video formats for viewing by consumers: H.264, H.265, Mpeg 1,2,4, DivX

  • Filming. To view video on camera: XDCAM (TV), CinemaDNG


Record high quality video quickly. Low decoding and reading speed and low compression.


Slow recording but fast playback due to fast decoding. Small size files due to high compression. 


Retain good quality due to low compression. High speed encoding and decoding.

What is H.264?

It is the most popular codec in the world used for viewing video content.

You watch videos on streaming services, TV shows, YouTube, and even animated GIFs on the Internet compressed by it.

For example, such a GIF has a small file size and has good quality. That saves bandwidth for viewers and space on servers where it is being stored.

What are containers?

Container is a file that stores the encoded video. It contains audio and video codecs, as well as the metadata of the encoded video. Simply put, the container is the actual file format and it is what gives the file extension (.mov, .avi, .mp4, etc.) of the file. The codec is the compression format used for the video data inside the container.

Video containers are different from audio or image containers.

For example, a .wav container will always store a file in that format, and a .jpg file will store an image encoded in that format.

A video container is a bit more complicated.

If you receive a file in .mov format, you won't be able to determine with certainty what encoder the video is encoded with. It can be DNXHD, PRORES or H.264, ANIMATION, etc.

Without special software, you can only open H.264, while the rest will require support for the appropriate codecs.

Different containers are suitable for different codecs and video players. So choose the ones that are compatible with your streaming setup.

What's the difference between encoding and transcoding?

The process of transcoding involves taking an already encoded video, decompressing it, and altering and re-compressing it again. For example, a high-resolution video can be transcoded into a lower-resolution format. Live broadcasts can be transcoded from their original formats into differently formatted streams to reach the largest possible audience across the most devices. 

Transcoding is essentially a conversion of one type of encoded data to another. Most often transcoding is needed because the target device used for playback requires a smaller file size. Think about watching a feature film on a smartphone and you’ll get the idea.

Transcoding is always encoding, but encoding is not always transcoding.

What is adaptive bitrate streaming?

How to ensure that your video is not only delivered to your audience online quickly and without delay, but is also of high quality as well? 

When you watch YouTube or Netflix videos on your smartphone, for example, on the road, you may notice that in some areas with a good signal, the video quality is higher, and in others with a weak signal, the video quality is lower.

This is adaptive streaming. This technology saves from buffering.

Now this technology is available by default. For example, Callaba Cloud has it too and delivers the best possible version of your video to your viewers. 

Do you need a video encoder?

Yes, if you are going to:

  • Make the file size smaller

  • Minimize buffering of your streaming

  • Change resolution or format (aspect ratio)

  • Translate the file into audio or work with quality

  • Digitize outdated file

  • Fit the file to a specific bitrate

  • Adjust the compatibility of your video and computer, tablet, smartphone or other device. This is also possible for an outdated device

  • Configure the compatibility of specific software or platform for streaming

Best video encoding software

In general, the video is encoded in three steps: download and install the program, upload files, encode the video. But on what software to do it?

We have selected 16 services to reduce your time searching for information:

  1. Movavi Video Converter is compatible with Windows, Mac

  2. VLC is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux

  3. NCH Prism is compatible with Windows

  4. DivX Converter is compatible with Windows, Mac

  5. FFmpeg is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux

  6. VideoProc is compatible with Windows, Mac

  7. Permute is compatible with Mac

  8. HandBrake is compatible with Windows

  9. Freemake Video Converter is compatible with Windows

  10. Koyote Free Video Converter is compatible with Windows

  11. Miro Video Converter is compatible with Windows, Mac

  12. Format Factory is compatible with Windows

  13. DVD VideoSoft is compatible with Windows

  14. MPEG Streamclip is compatible with Windows, Mac

  15. AVS Video Converter is compatible with Windows

  16. MacX Video Converter Pro is compatible with Windows, Mac

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