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What is a codec and why should I care
Understanding a codec
By Russell Kibbee
(more articles from this author)
2000-09-24
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All of the material we have been discussing in this topic (music, voice, video) have two things is common. First, they are constructed of small bits of data. Secondly, the size of this data in its final form is very large. This material is fueling the explosion of the Internet, but how that material gets around efficiently is what is very important. You should be aware of what is happening to this data as it travels around the Internet.

Step 1: Using an Internet analogy
The best analogy for the Internet is that of a series of rivers and pipes eventually flowing to your computer. The water is analogous to the flow of data that travels through this system.

Step 2: Sending a message in a bottle
When data such as voice or video is streamed, it is like sending a message in bottle where people along the way can hear the message. This poses some problems for those who create large messages because the bottle is too small.

Step 3: Compression to the rescue
When data such as voice or video is streamed, it is like sending a message in a bottle down a roaring river. People along the riverbanks can read the message in the bottle as it goes by if its "just the right size." But putting large messages in a bottle creates a problem since the bottle will be too small for the message to be understood by the recipients. Therefore, a method of putting more data into the bottle must be employed.

Step 4: Decompression completes the cycle
If you want to be able to understand the compressed message, then you must have a way to uncompress it so that the end result is an understandable message. Once uncompressed, the message will be close enough to the original to be understood without any additional tools.

Step 4: Getting smarter in steps
You now know the concepts behind the growth in data transmission on the Internet. The process of compressing data and the subsequent decompression to hear, view or read it is called a "codec" (Compression/Decompression).


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