Codecs are used encode and decode a digital data stream. Codecs may or may not compress the data in order to reduce bandwidth or storage requirements. However, codecs are almost always used for video streaming. You want to choose the right video codec, because slight improvements in compression and data delivery rates will have significant improvements when multiplied by thousands or millions of consumers. But what are the best video codecs for video streaming?
H.264 is the most widely used video codec. It is popular because it can run on every existing device. That is why it is a good choice if you’re doing online video or live streaming. However, you also need to choose from a variety of H.264 “profiles”. There are three major H.264 codecs: baseline, main and high. Baseline and main were designed for low-powered devices. The “high” profile is suitable for live video broadcasts.
As the name implies, H.265 is the next generation video codec and successor to H.264. It is supposed to double the efficiency ratio of H.264. H.265 is also known as High Efficiency Video Coding or HEVC. It exists to handle high quality video at a manageable bit rate. This is why HEVC is often used with 4K videos, whereas H.264 codecs can’t really handle that. H.264 is mostly limited to “standard definition” video streaming.
Another issue with HEVC is that it was developed by the same people who brought you MPG3 and MPG4, the Moving Picture Experts Group or MPEG. To use their video codecs, you have to pay a licensing fee.
AOMedia Video 1 or AV1 for short is an open-source alternative to H.265. It was developed by the Alliance for Open Media. It is in theory up to 30% more efficient than HEVC. Since it was developed by an open-source consortium led by Mozilla, anyone can use it to compress and decode videos and they don’t have to pay the licensing fees like users of MPG3 and MPG4 do. Note that their other factors in video encoding to consider, if you need to choose a video codec for use on your platform.
This video codec was developed by Google. It gets points for being free and open source. It has better performance than H.264. The downside is that it isn’t widely supported for livestreaming. Yet it is now used by YouTube for deploying 4K videos. Unlike HVEC, VP9 is supported by most browsers. Of course, being a creation of Google means it automatically works with Android devices, too. Apple only supports standards-based codecs like HEVC and MPEG4.
MP3 continues to be used for music and other audio files due to how long it has been in use. Note that if you’re dealing with video wrappers, it will probably have an MP4 file extension. MP4 is a digital multimedia format. And that’s why it is one of the most popular video codecs. It is compatible with most devices. For example, MPG4 meets ISO/IEC 14496-14, and that means that Apple is willing to use it.