CODECS IN A NUTSHELL
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.