Moving Pictures: Codecs
The first time I ran into a video on the internet was at
a Star Trek site. I scanned the photos and pictures, read
the fan fiction and looked at the drawings of Kirk and Picard.
I was moving pretty rapidly through the site and was just
about to surf somewhere else when I noticed a hyperlink
with a small movie camera next to it.
This looked intriguing. I clicked on the link, not knowing
what to expect, and I got an error code. Something about
an invalid codec? What the heck was this, I wondered? A
codec? I thought I was going to get to look at a movie clip.
I looked on the web and found out that a
codec was some software that, simply put, was needed to
view the movie. Now the hard part came - which codec to
install? I soon learned from my research that there are
literally dozens, if not hundreds, of different codecs.
Let's back up a minute and it should all become clear. What
is a movie, anyway? Well, a movie is simply a series of
still pictures. Each picture is a frame of the movie. The
frame is changed several times per second (anywhere from
a dozen to fifty times or so), and this gives the illusion
The problem is that pictures and images are big, and the
internet is based upon, at it's root, dialup connections.
These connections are slow and it will generally take quite
a while for even one of them to download to your computer.
Add to that a couple of dozen per second, and you've got
something that takes more than a second (or a hundred seconds)
This is the basic problem that the codec attempts to solve.
How to compress and decompress (hence the word codec) moving
pictures so they do not take half the afternoon to download.
To give you an idea of how big a movie without using a codec
really is - a one second clip of 24 frames can require over
a dozen megabytes on disk (or more, depending upon the size
and quality of each frame). For those people still on a
dialup line, it is generally impossible or impractical at
least to view one of these movies.
So what happens is the codec is a method
whereby the movie is compressed into a smaller size, stored,
transmitted, and then decompressed as it is being viewed
on your PC.
There are many different codecs because people from all
over the world have created new and different ways to do
this compression. Some codecs are very good at maintaining
quality, but they require extreme amounts of CPU to decompress.
Others are grainy but fast. Some might be good for color
and others for black and white. Thus, there are different
codecs for different applications.
So what does this mean to you? Well, many people use a product
such as Windows Media Player to view their videos. This
application will automatically see if the proper codec has
been installed for the video that you want to watch. If
so, the movie can be displayed. Otherwise, the Media Player
will check it's library to see if it can download the proper
codec. If it finds it, the codec will be installed and the
movie will play. Otherwise, you will have to search for
and install the codec yourself.
Where do you find codecs?
Codec Central - List of Codecs
How do you install them manually? The old
way was to use the Multimedia control panel (also known
as the Sounds And Multimedia control panel). Just download
the codec as instructed and add the codec using the control
panel (there are instructions on Codec Central and other
sites which explain precisely how to do this - installation
varies by codec and most codecs will have installation programs
that handles this automatically).
Once you install the codec you can play the movie - assuming
you have the movie player - yes, you need a player in addition
to the codec. Windows Media Player will play many kinds
of movies. QuickTime Player and Real Player are examples
of other brands of player.
I hope that clears up a little of the mystery about video
Discuss Codecs in the Movie Makers Forums
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