What Is a Codec?
Most of the video you’ll come across is compressed, meaning its been altered to take up less space on your computer. For example, a regular Blu-Ray disc usually takes up around 30 or 50GB of space—which is a lot for a normal person to download or store on their hard drive. So, we usually compress movies to make them more manageable, usually with some loss in video quality.
A codec compresses and decompresses data. It interprets the video file and determines how to play it on your screen. Your computer comes with many codecs pre-installed, though you can install codec packs for wider support, or a program like VLC or PotPlayer which have lots of codec support built-in (which we prefer).
Some examples of codecs include:
- FFmpeg (which includes formats like MPEG-2, the format in which DVDs are stored, and MPEG-4, the format Apple uses for movies in the iTunes store)
- DivX, which works with a certain type of MPEG-4 file, and was often used to rip DVDs in the pre-HD era
- XviD, an open source version of DivX, popular among movie pirates
- x264, which compresses H.264 videos (Also known as MPEG-4 AVC), and is very popular for high definition videos
There are a lot of different codecs out there, and it can get really confusing with all the different versions of MPEG standards. These days, you really only need to concern yourself with a few—which we’ll talk about in a moment.
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