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What Is Video Encoding — The Ins and Outs of Video Encoding

what is video encoding

Video technology has developed immensely over the past few years — from the introduction of Blu-ray discs, new video formats, and 4K video to the development of virtual and augmented reality, we have it all. Alongside that technological progress also came an increased demand for video content. But with the ever-growing size of digital video files, getting videos out there became much more challenging. That is where video encoding proved to be an invaluable solution. But what is video encoding? How does it help with video distribution and the quality of user experience? These are just some of the questions we’re going to answer in this article!

What Is Video Encoding?

The definition of video encoding is that video encoding is the process of video file compression to ensure that the end product is a running video and not a set of individual images. The best way to visualize how videos work is by imagining a flipbook — many consecutive images change so quickly that they simulate motion. Well, the job of encoding is to make that motion as fluid as possible.

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Since the early days of video technology, 30 FPS (frames per second) was the standard for all video content. What does that mean? It means that every second of a video consisted of 30 photos. That left creators with huge files impractical for distribution. So how does one solve that issue? The answer is straightforward — by compressing them!

What Is Video Compression?

Video compression entails encoding a video file to take up less space and becomes easier to distribute over the internet. By compressing your video files, you can reduce their size significantly. But how does video compression even work? The gist is that, by compressing your raw video files before uploading, you can leave out any unnecessary frames and substitute them with references to previous ones. That way, you can maximize your content’s quality and minimize storage requirements

But what about encoding? Didn’t we say that it, by definition, does the same thing? Yes, and no. Namely, regular video compression sacrifices content quality when reducing file sizes, while encoding was developed as a specific type of video compression to prevent that. The different compression standards that dictate the encoding process ensure maximum compression with minimal quality loss.

What Are Video Codecs?

When talking about different compression standards encoding follows, we must mention codecs. Video codecs are a program or device that encodes or decodes a particular data signal or stream, and they dictate the entire encoding process. They are what compresses RAW video and audio files between formats and reduces their size. In other words, they are software that does all the dirty work. Codecs consist of two components:

  1. Encoder — Deals with the compression of RAW audio and video files.
  2. Decoder — Recreates the final video form for playback on an end-device.

Here’s an illustration of how encoders and decoders function in the encoding process.

Illustration of how video codecs work

There are many different video and audio codecs out there, but we’re interested in the former here. Here are a few examples of the most common and advanced video codecs:

  • H.264/AVC
  • H.265/HEVC
  • AV1
  • MPEG-2
  • VP9
  • RV40

Out of all these, perhaps the most commonly used codec in online videos is H.264. It is well-known for its high quality, compression efficiency, and encoding speed. This codec even supports 4K streaming, which is quite impressive for a codec that appeared on the market in 2003. However, all of the other entries are also widely used, some less than others, though.

One last thing — it’s imperative not to mix codecs up with different video file types (MOV, MKV, AVI, etc.). These files (or containers) only store data provided by the codecs to make them compatible with different devices or apps. They in no way dictate how a video was encoded or decoded.

Most Common Compression Techniques

There are many ways codecs compress video files to keep the loss of quality at a minimum, some more noticeable than others. Here are the most common video compression techniques codecs use:

Image Resizing

One of the most common compression techniques is image resizing. This method entails lowering each image’s resolution in a video, which reduces the video’s size.

This process includes shrinking an image and resampling it. That will reduce the number of pixels and the image’s detail quality and significantly reduce its size

However, there is one potential downside to this method — pixelation. That entails diluting the number of pixels (reducing the resolution) so much that the image starts looking blocky. Despite image resizing being an effective way of compressing video file sizes, it can come at a substantial cost of video quality.

There’s one more crucial thing to remember — image resizing is not synonymous with scaling! With scaling, the image resolution shrinks, but the number of pixels remains the same, preserving its original quality. There is no compression applied in scaling.

Image resizing is the cornerstone of adaptive bitrate streaming — a widely used streaming technique that delivers different quality streams based on the end-user’s available bandwidth and device capabilities to ensure smooth and lag-free playback.

Inframe Technique

This video compression technique is highly effective because it relies on reducing any unnecessary information in-between frames. How does it work? It’s quite simple.

Let’s say a video has 30 frames per second. That means it consists of 30 consecutive images or 30 frames. But, as you can likely imagine, a large portion of those 30 images will remain identical when they’re blended. For instance, if you have a steady shot of two people waving, most of the movement on-screen will happen around the two people’s hands. These will be the only parts changing in-between pictures.

The inframe technique compresses video size by not taking into account the motionless parts of the pictures while processing the video. So if you’ve ever wondered why videos with more motion take up more storage, that’s why!

Check out this article if you wish to learn more about the inframe technique.

Chroma Subsampling

Another effective compression technique relies on reducing the amount of color information needed to represent an image. This technique is called chroma subsampling.

Chroma subsampling works by reducing the color quality of the video by eliminating chroma information and emphasizing luminance. That is because the human eye has an easier time detecting the latter than chroma info.

Chroma subsampling might lead to harsher colors in your video, but it will compensate for that by saving a lot of storage space.

Why Encode Videos?

There are two primary reasons you want to encode your videos:

  1. Video encoding is what makes online video viewing possible — Without compressing your videos, you’d never be able to stream them over the internet from your home. The same applies to live video streamingencoding reduces the bandwidth requirements for live streams, so video streaming would be impossible without it.
  2. Video encoding allows for compatibility between different devices — Encoding reduces video file sizes and will enable you to change video file types to fit different kinds of devices (transcoding). That way, you can ensure your content will be compatible with computers, tablets, mobile, and other devices. 

These reasons clarify encoding’s primary goal: to provide the best quality and performance for the broadest audience and variety of devices possible

Now that you know why you should encode your videos, we must also address the transcoding process. After all, it also plays an essential role in the encoding process.

Encoding vs. Transcoding — How They Differ

People often use these terms interchangeably, but wrongfully so; there is a minor difference between them. In contrast to encoding, video transcoding is the process of decompressing (or decoding) one codec and compressing it into another. In layman’s terms, it entails converting one codec format to another. The reason you’d want to do that is to make your video viewable on multiple different platforms.

an image illustrating how video transcoding works

Encoding occurs only during the initial recording process when the video is converted into digital form for the first time and is still uncompressed. All other changes are just switching formats through transcoding.

Here are a few reasons transcoding is essential to the video delivery process:

  • It lets you change your video’s resolution or aspect ratio.
  • It allows you to convert old or unused formats into more modern ones.
  • Transcoding makes your clips compatible with various devices.
  • You can use it to change audio or video format or quality.

As you can see, the purpose of transcoding is to help broadcasters deliver optimal user experience and make their content accessible to the widest number of users possible. 

How to Get Started With Encoding

Getting started with encoding might seem daunting for beginners, but it doesn’t have to be. Due to the rapid development of online video technology, handling video encoding is easier than ever. Let’s look at the two most common cases when you need to consider encoding your videos and how to get started.

Online Video Encoding

Since online video is bigger than ever, and online publishers and content creators must encode their videos before distributing them, the demand for online video encoding services is high. Luckily, there is an efficient and seamless way to handle video encoding nowadays.

The best way to handle video encoding in the digital world is to find a reliable online video platform and let it take care of the entire process for you. The best part is that most video platforms include encoding in their services! Whether you want to use a free video platform like YouTube or one of many YouTube alternatives, you’ll be covered in the encoding department.

Most free and premium OVPs rely on remote cloud encoding, meaning you won’t need to dedicate your computer’s resources to do it. This feature can prove incredibly useful for businesses and creators who publish a lot of video content daily.

Live Stream Encoding

Unlike with online video, live streaming takes a different approach to video encoding. In the former, all encoding occurs before video distribution, while in live streaming, the two happen simultaneously. That is why publishers and content creators will need a dedicated video encoder for live streaming to handle the process. 

Streaming enthusiasts have two primary options when choosing a video encoder for streaming:

  • Software Encoder — Software encoders are programs installed on users’ computers to handle the encoding process during live broadcasts. Most live streaming software apps will have this feature integrated into their kits, so they’re likely the best solution if you want to opt for a software encoder.
  • Hardware EncoderHardware encoders are dedicated encoding devices (usually in the shape of a box) with their own hardware. These video encoders are an excellent choice for professional and large-scale broadcasters as they are substantially more potent than their software counterparts. However, they are also much pricier, meaning they’re not particularly suited for inexperienced or small-scale streamers.

Once you pick your video encoder of choice, all that’s left to do is find a professional live streaming platform and start broadcasting!

Encoding and Transcoding at Brid.TV’s Video Platform

If you’re looking for a reliable online video and live streaming platform to handle all your encoding and transcoding needs, we at Brid.TV can help you. Our video platform sports a state-of-the-art HTML5 video player and an intuitive video CMS while taking care of all your encoding and transcoding needs.

We do all our encoding on remote cloud servers, which allows us to quickly and efficiently encode large files that would otherwise consume a considerable amount of processing power. That is something in-house setups can hardly manage. So instead of spending a small fortune on setting up an in-house video encoding system, it’s much more cost-effective to let a third-party handle all your encoding needs. After all, our encoding services are free for all our premium users, so you won’t have to cover any extra maintenance fees or hire additional staff to handle the encoding process.

Are you interested in trying our platform out and all of its features for free? Send us an email and sign up for a free premium trial today!

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