It’s easy to overlook compression options, but before you start recording, you should understand the fundamentals of codecs, containers, file types, and bitrates.

It’s easy to forget the importance of selecting the right compression method when making video content. If you’re just getting started, you might believe that you can simply save the video and everything will be fine. Since compression is such an essential part of your final video, you can spend some time learning the basics so that you can make an educated decision. You can find that one compression method works better for you than another.

Although the full ins and outs of compression are complicated (and beyond the scope of a single article), we’re here to provide an overview and assist you in understanding video compression.

Why is it necessary to compress video?

Wouldn’t it be easier if we just had video and didn’t have to think about compression? Yes, it would be easier in theory. Unfortunately, because of the sheer scale of video content, it will end up being more difficult in reality and make many of the ways we use video unlikely. Compression algorithms were created in order for digital video to be practical.

Uses of Video Compression

You may be wondering why you should compact your videos in the first place. Before you post your videos to several sites (including social media), you’ll need to compress them. More video compression applications are listed below.

Chart summarizing codec options

What Is Video Compression and How Does It Work?

Video compression is accomplished using a codec, which is named for its role of compressing and decompressing video. In a nutshell, it analyzes the video to see if there are any ways to remove data without impacting the final playback results.

The algorithms used in codecs are incredibly complex, but consider taking a video of a person standing in front of a solid white background as an example of how they work. Rather than storing data for every pixel that will eventually be white, a codec can identify the region of video that is devoid of the subject and instruct the video player to fill any pixels in that region with white. Alternatively, if there are areas in your video that don’t change for a long time, the codec can record those areas and tell you to maintain the same signal for a certain period of time.

The efficiency in which codecs operate is determined by the algorithms for that particular codec, and there are often trade-offs made between how much a codec can reduce the size of the video file while maintaining the video’s quality. The more original video data that is taken away, the more likely the video will degrade.

Codecs, on the other hand, build on previous algorithms, and as computational power increases, codecs become more powerful. Newer codecs can minimize file size without sacrificing video quality more than older codecs do.

Codecs for Video

There are actually a wide variety of codecs to choose from. Although newer codecs provide improved compression and video quality, not every file format or video player is compatible with every codec. It can take time for a newer codec to gain enough traction to gain widespread acceptance if it isn’t compatible with a common video player.

H.264, MPEG-4, and DivX are still some of the most common codecs, with the newer H.265 quickly becoming a popular option due to the demands of 4K video. Despite their success, more are being produced all the time, with at least three more expected to be published in 2020.

Codecs and Containers for File Formats

When it comes to video compression, the relationship (and separation) between codecs and file formats is a source of uncertainty.

In a nutshell, file formats are made up of two components: a codec and a container. The container, for which the file format is called, is basically a package that includes not only the video codec, but also the audio stream, subtitles, metadata, and other components that come together to form the final video.

What is the best codec to use?

What codec do you use in light of all of this? In the end, it all boils down to how you’re going to distribute the video. Codecs that are compatible with disc readers are used on DVDs and Blu-Ray disks. If you’re watching it on a device, you may want to use a codec that has less compression and better video quality.

Video is shared and consumed by a large number of people through online platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. For use on the internet, Because of its high quality, small file size, and almost universal compatibility, mp4 containers with H.264 are perhaps the most widely used file format.

Formats for Video Compression

Are you trying to figure out which video compression format is right for your project? Take a look at this list of the most common video compression formats.

Chart summarizing file format types

Bitrates and Compression

The bitrate of your video hasn’t been mentioned yet in this discussion of video compression.


What is the concept of Bitrate?

The bitrate of a video is simply a calculation of how much data is transmitted every second. Megabits per second is the unit of measurement (Mbps). In general, the higher the bitrate, the more information is transmitted and the higher the video quality.

Bitrates, on the other hand, are highly reliant on the quality of the codec used to compress the video. Different bitrates from the same codec produce different video quality, however newer, more powerful codecs may reduce the bitrate without sacrificing quality.


What Bitrate Do You Use?

Since bitrates are determined by the data being transmitted, the final bitrate will be determined by the resolution, frame rate, high vs. normal dynamic range, and other video characteristics, in addition to the codec and encoding settings.

Bitrate should be judged based on how the video is shown. If you’re streaming online, you’ll want to think about your audience’s internet link speed as well as your upload speed if you’re live streaming. As a general rule, expect your bitrate to be in the range of 5-10mbps when streaming Full HD videos online. The higher the bandwidth, the higher the bitrate you will achieve. Upload speeds of at least 5 Mbps are ideal. There are several bitrate calculators available online.

Video is becoming increasingly popular. Compression is required for video to be manageable. Although it’s easy to forget compression methods when making content, you should at least be aware of the basics so you can choose the right settings when encoding your video.