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V ideo codecs confuse a lot of people. But
understanding codecs is critical to just about every
element of video production, editing and distribution.
Codec is an acronym that stands for “COmpressor/
DECompressor.” It is easy to get intimidated by all the
technical jargon surrounding codecs, but, at their core, a
codec is the math that converts the light we see and the
sound we hear into ones and zeros that can be stored
and displayed on a computer. The “compressor” part
converts light and sound into ones and zeros, while the
“decompressor” part converts the ones and zeros into light
Codecs are the key element in determining file size and
image/sound quality. Common codecs include:
* JPEG, PNG and TIFF for still images
* MP3, AAC, and AIF for audio
* H.264, MPEG-2 and ProRes for video
However, that is only a small sample of the codecs
available. The last time I checked, there were more than
400 codecs in active use! Why so many? Because there is
no one codec that works well for all situations.
by Larry Jordan
For example, there are codecs that are optimized to create
small file sizes - JPG or H.264 - while other codecs are
optimized for editing - PNG or ProRes. Some codecs
are designed to retain maximum exposure and color
data - TIFF or 12-bit RAW files - while others reduce color
information to maximize download speeds - GIF or H.265.
The question isn’t “what’s the best codec?” Instead the
question is “what’s the best codec for what I want to do?”
A THREE-CODEC ENVIRONMENT
In the past, when we were shooting and editing standard-
definition video, we shot DigiBeta (or DV), edited DigiBeta
(or DV) and output DigiBeta (or DV). The format we shot
was the format we edited was the format we output.
Those days are long gone. Sigh…
Now, codecs are optimized for specific functions: shooting,
editing and distribution. We need to convert between
codecs as our project moves through to completion.
Understanding the differences between these three types of
codecs will help you better understand your options.
42 | KITPLUS - THE TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 99 MARCH 2015