Video Encoding vs Video Transcoding: What's the Difference?

11 min read
July 6, 2023

In today's digital era, videos have become an essential aspect of our online engagement, taking over social media and streaming platforms. However, the creation and distribution of videos require technical procedures, specifically video encoding and transcoding.

Although video encoding and transcoding may seem similar, they serve distinct and vital purposes in the multimedia realm. In this article, we will delve into the disparities between these two processes, shedding light on their individual functions and importance.

Table of Contents 

  1. Video encoding: compressing raw video into a manageable format
  2. The compression process and codecs
  3. File formats and video containers
  4. Video, audio, and metadata in video containers
  5. The encoding process
  6. Optimising video encoding
  7. What are some examples of encoding?
  8. The importance of video encoding
  9. Video transcoding: altering compressed footage
  10. Optimising video quality
  11. What are some examples of transcoding?
  12. Difference between encoding and transcoding
  13. What is transmuxing?
  14. Transforming video conferencing with cutting-edge video encoding and transcoding

What is video encoding?

Video encoding serves as the crucial first step in preparing video content for widespread distribution. By compressing raw video files into a more manageable format, it becomes possible to efficiently transmit and store them. Utilising video encoding techniques, the file size is reduced without compromising the overall quality, resulting in smoother streaming and faster downloads, particularly in scenarios with limited bandwidth.

The compression process and codecs

The compression process utilised in video encoding relies on codecs. Codecs, short for coding-decoding, employ algorithms to analyse the video content and discard visual and audio data that won't significantly impact the overall appearance of the video. By eliminating redundant or less perceptible information, codecs achieve a balance between file size and video quality.

Various video codecs are available, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Popular codecs such as H.264, H.265 (also known as High-Efficiency Video Coding or HEVC), VP9, and AV1 offer different compression capabilities, enabling you to select the most suitable option based on their specific requirements.

File formats and video containers

Video encoding is closely linked to file formats and video containers. Video containers play a vital role in the storage and delivery of video content. They are like a nicely wrapped box that holds video, audio, and relevant metadata, providing a standardised structure for organising and presenting multimedia data. Let's explore what a video container is and how it holds video, audio, and metadata.

A video container, also known as a multimedia container or file format, is a digital file that contains various elements of a multimedia presentation, including video, audio, subtitles, and metadata. It acts as a wrapper that encapsulates the compressed video data and ensures compatibility with different playback devices and software applications.

Video containers are designed to store and organise multiple streams of data, allowing for efficient playback and manipulation of multimedia content. They enable the seamless integration of video and audio tracks, subtitles, and additional metadata into a single file.

Video, audio, and metadata in video containers

Video containers provide a structure to hold different components of multimedia data:

Furthermore, video containers support additional features like subtitles, chapter markers, and alternate audio tracks. Subtitles enable the display of text overlays, providing translations or closed captions. Chapter markers allow users to navigate specific sections of the video, while alternate audio tracks enable multiple language options or audio commentaries. Video containers make it easy to add voiceover to video.

Some common video container formats include MP4 (MPEG-4 Part 14), MOV (QuickTime), AVI (Audio Video Interleave), and MKV (Matroska). Each container format has its own set of features, compatibility, and support across different devices and platforms.

The encoding process

Video encoding typically involves several steps to compress the raw video into a more manageable format. Let's outline the general encoding process:

Source analysis

In this initial step, the video encoder analyzes the source video to gather information about its properties, such as resolution, frame rate, and colour space.


Using codecs, the video encoder applies compression algorithms to reduce the file size while maintaining an acceptable level of video quality. Codecs achieve this by discarding visual and audio data that is less perceptible or won't significantly impact the viewing experience.

Bitrate allocation

The encoder determines the appropriate bitrate for the compressed video. Bitrate refers to the amount of data transmitted per unit of time. Higher bitrates result in better quality but larger file sizes, while lower bitrates reduce file size but may sacrifice some quality.

Encoding parameters

The video encoder adjusts various parameters such as keyframes, frame rate, and colour profiles. Keyframes are complete frames that are encoded independently, while subsequent frames only store the differences from the keyframes. This technique, known as inter-frame compression, further reduces file size.

Encoding profiles

Different encoding profiles, such as baseline, main, or high profiles, define specific settings and features supported by the codec. These profiles ensure compatibility with different playback devices and platforms.
Optimising video encoding

To optimise video encoding, you need to consider several factors:

  • Video quality: Balancing file size and video quality is crucial. By adjusting encoding parameters, bitrate allocation, and codec selection, you can find the optimal balance for their specific needs.
  • Resolution: Determining the appropriate resolution for the target audience and platform is essential. Higher resolutions provide better visual clarity but also require more bandwidth and storage space.
  • Adaptive bitrate streaming: Implementing adaptive bitrate streaming techniques allows video players to dynamically adjust the quality based on the viewer's internet connection. This ensures a smooth playback experience, even under varying network conditions.

What are some examples of encoding?

Regarding video encoding, there's a whole array of techniques and tools at our disposal. Let's take a peek at some popular examples that showcase the art of video compression and encoding.

These examples represent just a few of the many video encoding options out there. Each codec has its strengths and characteristics, catering to different needs and scenarios. The goal of video encoding is to strike a delicate balance between video quality and file size, ensuring that we can enjoy our favourite videos seamlessly, whether we're streaming them online or saving them for later.

So, next time you're enjoying a smooth video playback experience or marvelling at the high-quality visuals on your favourite streaming platform, remember that it's all thanks to the magic of video encoding, harnessing the power of codecs like H.264, H.265, VP9, and AV1 to bring your videos to life in a compact and efficient way.

The importance of video encoding

Video encoding plays a vital role in delivering content to an online audience. With the proliferation of video streaming platforms and the increasing demand for high-quality video content, efficient encoding is crucial for optimal streaming experiences. By compressing raw video into a more manageable format, encoding allows for faster loading times and seamless playback.

Video encoding also significantly impacts file size. Compressed videos take up less storage space, making it easier to manage and distribute content. This is especially important in scenarios where bandwidth or storage capacity is limited. Additionally, smaller file sizes enable faster video uploads and downloads, contributing to a smoother user experience.

Video encoding - compressing raw video into a manageable format

What is video transcoding?

While video encoding focuses on compressing raw video, video transcoding involves altering already-compressed footage. Transcoding is commonly used when there is a need to convert videos to different formats, resolutions, or bit rates.

One of the primary reasons for video transcoding is compatibility. Different devices and platforms may have varying requirements for video formats and codecs. Transcoding allows you to adapt their videos to ensure seamless playback across a wide range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, computers, and smart TVs.

Optimising video quality

Another important aspect of video transcoding is optimising video quality. Different platforms and network conditions may require adjustments to ensure an optimal viewing experience. For example, a high-resolution video intended for streaming on a large display may need to be transcoded to a lower resolution to accommodate devices with smaller screens or limited bandwidth.

Transcoding also allows for the adjustment of other video parameters, such as bit rate, frame rate, and colour space. These modifications help maintain video quality while adapting it to specific platforms or network constraints. By fine-tuning these parameters, you can deliver videos that look their best on various devices and under different network conditions.

What are some examples of transcoding?

When it comes to online video transcoding, there are several nifty examples that demonstrate its versatility and usefulness in adapting videos to different formats, resolutions, or bit rates. Let's explore a few exciting examples that showcase the power of transcoding!

These examples illustrate just a glimpse of the diverse applications of video transcoding. Whether it's adapting videos for mobile devices, optimising streaming experiences, ensuring multi-platform compatibility, or fine-tuning bitrates, transcoding plays a vital role in tailoring videos to specific needs and delivering the best viewing experience possible.

Difference between encoding and transcoding

Encoding and transcoding are both essential processes in digital media, but they serve different purposes. Encoding is the process of converting raw data, such as video or audio content, into a digital format. This involves compressing the data into a specific codec or format, such as MP4, MP3, or AAC, making it suitable for storage, playback, or transmission. The primary goal of encoding is to reduce the file size while maintaining an acceptable level of quality, which is crucial for efficient distribution and storage.

On the other hand, transcoding refers to the process of converting an already encoded digital file from one format to another. This is often necessary when a file needs to be compatible with different playback devices or platforms that require specific formats or when adjusting the quality or resolution of the media. Transcoding involves decoding the original file to an intermediate uncompressed format and then re-encoding it into the new desired format. This double conversion process can potentially lead to a loss in quality, especially if the transcoding is done multiple times or in significantly different formats. Therefore, transcoding is used when necessary for compatibility and distribution purposes, whereas encoding is the initial step of converting raw media into a usable digital format.

What is transmuxing?

Transmuxing, also known as container format conversion, is a nifty process that allows us to change the container format of a multimedia file without messing with the underlying audio and video streams. It's like giving a video file a new outfit while keeping its essence intact.

The main reason we resort to transmuxing is to ensure compatibility across different playback devices and platforms that might have preferences for specific container formats. Let's say we have a video file in the Matroska (MKV) format, but we want it to be easily playable on devices that prefer the MPEG-4 Part 14 (MP4) format. Transmuxing comes to the rescue!

During the transmuxing process, we carefully extract the audio and video streams from the original container file. We then work our magic by separating these streams into individual components and seamlessly repackaging them into the desired container format. The best part? We achieve this without tampering with the actual audio and video data themselves.

Transmuxing ensures that the audio and video streams, along with any accompanying metadata or subtitles, remain untouched and unaltered. The focus is solely on swapping out the container format, making it more compatible and suitable for playback on different devices or platforms.

Picture this: you have a video file that plays beautifully on your laptop, but when you try to watch it on your smart TV, it stubbornly refuses to cooperate. That's when transmuxing swoops in to save the day. By converting the container format, you can enjoy your video on a wider range of devices without losing any of the original audio and video goodness.

In a nutshell, transmuxing is like giving a video file a new wardrobe, making it look dashing and ready to mingle with different devices and platforms. It's the secret sauce that ensures your multimedia content can strut its stuff without any compatibility hiccups. So go ahead and let your video shine in any container format it desires!

What is transmuxing

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