The world of video editing, transcoding, decoding, rendering, and delivery, is unto itself with its own tools, its own language, and its own processes and workflows. Even to the experienced videographer or compression engineer it can be a lot to keep track of, and there is often confusion defining and using common terms. Codecs and containers are a perfect example of this. They are frequently and mistakenly used interchangeably. Let’s clear up the confusion.
Simply put, a codec is a method for encoding and decoding data and more specifically, a protocol for compressing data, especially video. Selecting the right codec can depend on several factors. Target file size, output quality, and delivery method all factor in. Currently h.264 is the predominant codec on the web.
In comparison, a container is what holds the grouping of compressed video as defined by the codec. A container is also referred to as a format. The container takes care of packaging, transport, and presentation. The container is usually represented by a file extension. For example the MPEG4 container is usually represented by a .mp4 file type.
While there are literally hundreds of container/codec combinations, there are two predominant pairings. The MPEG4 container with the h.264 gained widespread popularity after it was adopted as the leading format for iOS devices. Similarly, Google’s support for the WebM container and the VP8 codec in the chrome browser ushered in an era of popularity for this combo.
As the digital video landscape evolves, so do the types of codecs and containers. This evolution is usually marked by increased quality and lower file sizes. As screen size and resolutions increase, an evolution that makes containers and codecs more efficient is only natural. That’s why we’re working hard to offer support for the latest broadcast codecs including MPEG2 TS, Avid DNxHS, Apple ProResHD, Sony HDCAM/XDCAM, and Panasonic DVCProHD.
So there you have it. Now that you understand the differences between codecs and containers, you can work towards finding one that best suits your video project. Need a hand selecting the right combination? Contact us for a free consultation. Just want to tinker with various container codec combinations? Give our forever free developer account a try.