What Is a Codec and Why Do I Need It?

What Is a Codec and Why Do I Need It?

A codec — the term is a mashup of the words code and decode — is a computer program that uses compression to shrink a large movie file or convert between analog and digital sound. You might see the word used when talking about audio codecs or video codecs.

Why Codecs Are Necessary

Video and music files are huge, which means they are usually difficult to transfer over the internet. To speed up downloads, algorithms encode, or shrink, a signal for transmission and then decode it for viewing or editing. Without codecs, downloads of video and audio would take three to five times longer than they do now.

How Many Codecs Do I Need?

  1. There are hundreds of codecs in use on the internet, and you will need combinations that specifically play your files.
  2. There are codecs for audio and video compression, for streaming media over the internet, speech, video conferencing, playing MP3s, and screen capture.
  3. To make matters more confusing, some people who share their files on the web choose to use obscure codecs to shrink their files. This frustrates people who download these files but don't know which codecs to use to play them.
  4. If you're a regular downloader, you'll probably need 10 to 12 codecs to play all the different types of music and movies you have.

Common Codecs

Some common codecs are MP3, WMA, RealVideo, RealAudio, DivX, and XviD, but there are many others. AVI is a common file extension you see attached to lots of video files, but it is not in itself a codec. Instead, it is a container format that many different codecs can use. Hundreds of codecs are compatible with AVI content, so it can be confusing which codecs you need to play your video files.

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