CODECS IN A NUT­SHELL

Maximum PC - - R&D -

Video codecs are the for­mats that com­press raw video into some­thing smaller and eas­ier to han­dle. Al­though many kinds have ex­isted, it all re­ally started with MPEG (Mov­ing Pic­ture Ex­perts Group) back in 1988. Ad­vances in pro­cess­ing power meant video com­pres­sion al­go­rithms be­came more so­phis­ti­cated, so you could squeeze more video qual­ity into a smaller file size. DVD’s MPEG-2 was a big step up over MPEG-1, and video file shar­ing re­ally kicked off in the early 2000s when DiVX/MPEG-4 was able to squeeze near-DVD qual­ity video on to a sin­gle CD.

How­ever, each ma­jor step in video com­pres­sion re­quires hard­ware to ad­vance with it. MPEG-4 re­quired a de­cently beefy PC back in the day, but even­tu­ally hard­ware MPEG-4 de­cod­ing was built into ba­sic con­sumer de­vices, such as DVD play­ers and even car stereos. Like­wise, it took some time for the hard­ware to catch up with the H.264 codec that’s mainly in use these days, but even some­thing as hum­ble as a Rasp­berry Pi can play high-def­i­ni­tion H.264 video without break­ing into a fruity smelling sweat.

The next big thing is H.265, which needs any­thing from 3 to 10 times the pro­cess­ing power as H.264, but with the ben­e­fit of out­putting at ap­prox­i­mately half the file size. Once main­stream con­sumer hard­ware catches up with this new stan­dard, H.265 prom­ises to de­liver gen­uine high-def­i­ni­tion video stream­ing over even mod­est In­ter­net con­nec­tions.

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