Digital Video Files

Codecs on the move

Digital video hasn't been around quite as long as digital audio, but – since the H.261 codec in 1990 – digital video has revolutionized the way we surf the web. While audio codecs have been around since long before 1990, wouldn't you rather be able to see and hear your favorite band, comedian, or cartoon? All of this is possible by using digital video, and once you've completed our guide to their technical details, you'll be more than prepared to effectively integrate them into your everyday surfing experience.

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The codec, the codec!

A codec is a program capable of coding or encoding a piece of data with a digital signal. Sound complicated? It isn't so bad. The word "codec" is really just a combination of compression and decompression -- the act of shrinking and expanding a file. This process is a necessity on the Internet and in the general tech universe, since many files are simply to massive (and must be reduced in size to avoid download times that could last days or weeks).

If the idea of compression and decompression is still a bit fuzzy, think of the entire process as if it were the drive-thru at a local fast-food joint. As you'll learn, many of the codecs associated with this method of manipulating file size are called "lossy" formats, meaning some quality is dropped during the compressing and decompressing of a file. It's a lot like ordering a burger while still in your car: although cheaper and faster, it won't be the best product available.

Think of compression like a
drive thru for media files

So, what's the purpose of a codec?

There are a variety of different codecs and each serves a different purpose. Many codecs have been developed at different periods in audio and video history, meaning that some possess simple features while others offer the user a host of complex and practical elements. Many of the early video codecs, like AVI, were developed to display very basic flashing images on the first Windows operating system (dating back to 1992).

Other codecs have popped up in the last fifteen years. Some of these include:

Stay tuned! We'll explain each one of these codecs and explain how they're changing the face of video.