Buffering remains the top problem users encounter when watching streaming video. Moreover, 80% of people prefer to watch a video about a brand instead of reading an ad, while 90% of users mark video quality as the most important feature in social media video content.
With this scenario unfolding, more websites are looking for solutions to give their users a quality experience, and smooth streaming video. One solution to mitigate this issue is using video transcoding. Transcoding allows you to create multiple versions of the same video, which means you can have a version for mobile, desktop and for different browsers. You can optimize the video according to the speed of the user’s Internet connection, thus, minimizing buffering. You can transcode a video on-premises or in the cloud.
In this post, we are going to review the basics of video transcoding and compare the locally-hosted and cloud-based options.
What Is Video Transcoding?
Transcoding refers to the conversion of a video from one format to another. This means translating the video, file format, resolution and audio, creating versions optimized for different users. You can adapt the quality and size of the video to the internet speed of the user, thus preventing buffering from occurring.
This technique is essential when streaming to multiple device formats, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, as well as different connections. Video files are usually data-heavy, thus requiring a large bandwidth and memory. Therefore, it is imperative to compress video files to prevent buffering problems.
Why Is Video Transcoding Important?
Nowadays the popularity of video streaming across multiple devices is widespread. More people are “cutting the cord”, choosing to watch streaming video content through their computers, smart TVs, smartphones and tablets. Video encoding allows you to adapt the streaming to the target device.
Common applications of transcoding include converting files to upload to websites such as Vimeo or YouTube, requiring you to transcode the video into a format supported by the website. Transcoding allows the user to reduce the size of the video through compressing and at the same time keeping the quality. You can optimize the bitrate thus conserving bandwidth and storage space.
The process of transcoding involves two steps. First, the program decodes the file, which means uncompressing the original compressed data. Next, the software re-encodes the file, transferring it to the new device in the desired format.
While in the beginning, this technology allowed to only convert video files from one device to another, the appearance of cloud video transcoding has changed the game. The ability to transcode the video right in the cloud is one of the forces behind the growth of video streaming. That being said, software developers quickly caught up, and several open-source and enterprise solutions appeared in the market.
For the enterprise level, there are many cloud video transcoding solutions and apps that allow transcoding videos in real time and transform a single file into a hundred different versions.
Popular Codecs and Formats
Video transcoding works by using what is called a video codec. A video codec is a device or software that compresses video files. It works by removing redundant data from the file while trying to keep as much quality as possible. Codecs compress the frames by using algorithms and can compress each frame independently or across frames.
Popular video codec types include:
- Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG)—the most popular category, uses the compression standard H.264. This compression standard was recently added to Apple’s QuickTime and Flash. Most smartphones, consumer-grade and professional cameras record video in this format, allowing for compression in real-time while the camera is recording. However, this compression is often not sufficient to play the video online.
- VP9—a Google supported codec, is available under a BSD License.
- Theora—this is a lossy video compression format, suitable for compressing large files, it is open source, and derived from VP3 codec.
The format is what tells devices how to play the video and audio file. The format should be compatible with the streaming platform, so it is often required to transcode the video into a supported format.
The most common file formats include:
- MP4—the most widely used format, it is supported by all browsers and video players.
- QuickTime File Format—This is Apple’s multimedia format.
- FLV—this format was very popular at the beginning of streaming video technology, but has since decayed in popularity. The reason behind that is that requires a plugin to play the video, a feature that is not required with the HTML5 video component.
- WebM—not as widely popular, it is a Google open-source video container format.
- Advanced Systems Format—Microsoft’s video container format, specially designed for video streaming.
Local vs Cloud Transcoding
You can transcode your video on-premises on in the cloud. While cloud transcoding is gaining popularity, there are benefits and setbacks to each approach. Generally speaking, local video transcoding is slower. Cloud transcoding, on the other hand, may entail subscription fees.
Local transcoding involves using a video editing and compression software installed in your system. A cloud video solution allows you to upload the master file to the platform, and then select the version options for that file, thus transcoding your file in as many versions as you need.
Let’s have a brief comparison between on-premise vs cloud video transcoding:
- It is usually slower—it also produces a single file for each version that you have to upload and manage separately.
- Requires a compression software—to transcode a video.
- No subscription fees—you pay for the software, install it and get to work without extra fees.
- Fast and user-friendly—once the master file is uploaded, you select the options for the file and the platform transcodes it to as many versions you need.
- No need for installing software—since all transcoding is done by the platform.
- Subscription fees—you pay for the use of their cloud infrastructure, usually as monthly or annual fees.
Transcoding means making the video as available as possible for different devices and formats. Thus, video transcoding is essential to provide users with a quality streaming experience. Using a cloud video transcoding solution makes it easier to manage several files, with most platforms automatically transcoding the videos for streaming. Such video transcoding solutions allow you to seamlessly adapt your video content to the needs of the user.