Explaining the difference between codecs and containers is relatively simple, but hard part is attempting to understand each format. The lines start to get blurred when you realize that most common codecs aren’t exclusive, and can make use of multiple compression technologies in order to get the job done. The blurred line becomes nearly invisible when you start to talk about formats like MPEG-4 which could be classified as a bit of a container and a bit of a codec, but that’s a rather complicated classification that’s best left for another time.
So, how do you teach yourself the difference between dozens of codec and container options? Don’t. There is only a handful of technologies that are used for online video, and the bulk of your effort will be spent understanding how these work, as well as understanding the trade-offs you’re faced with when deciding on what to use.
You could spend weeks studying technologies that are only used for a relatively small number of applications, so instead we’re going to focus our attention on what technologies you’ll use for most of your video encoding and playback needs.
What Is a Codec?
A codec – or coder/decoder – is an encoding tool that processes video and stores it in a stream of bytes. Codecs use algorithms to effectively shrink the size of the audio or video file, and then decompress it when needed. There are dozens of different types of codecs, and each uses a different technology in order to encode and shrink your video file for the intended application.
By Bryan Clark
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