You must have come across a sit­u­a­tion where you shot a nice slow-motion video on some con­di­tion­al Xiao­mi smart­phone about how your girl­friend throws autumn leaves into the air. They sent it to her, but she can’t even look at it on her Sam­sung, let alone upload it to sto­ries. It’s most like­ly a codec issue. In fact, codecs, if you know how to work with them cor­rect­ly, can not only cause prob­lems, but can also be very use­ful when edit­ing video. Read more about this in this arti­cle.

Pho­to: www.unsplash.com

What is a codec and how does it work
What are video codecs
Video codecs for edit­ing and their capa­bil­i­ties
What to do if the codecs do not match
Codec sets for Win­dows
Mac Codec Packs
Codec sets for Android

Codec — soft­ware (soft­ware) that com­press­es and decom­press­es dig­i­tal video. This is a deeply tech­ni­cal thing, in fact, the aver­age user becomes inter­est­ed in the codec when some­thing goes wrong with it.

If it’s very sim­ple, then the process of record­ing and play­ing video looks like this: the orig­i­nal video is encod­ed into a file, which then needs to be decod­ed by the phone or com­put­er in order to play it. Why such dif­fi­cul­ties? This is nec­es­sary so that the video files do not take up too much space, and they can be quick­ly trans­ferred and con­ve­nient­ly stored. With­out cod­ing, a one-minute video would weigh not 6 GB, but not 200 MB.

When do prob­lems occur in codecs? If mobile A encod­ed the video in con­di­tion­al Chi­nese, but mobile B only under­stands Eng­lish, then there are prob­lems. In the slow motion video exam­ple, it turns out that dur­ing com­pres­sion, encoder A stuffed more infor­ma­tion into the file than decoder B can digest. There­fore, the video does not play.

For those who are engaged in video shoot­ing and edit­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ly, codecs mat­ter more / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Codecs can be con­di­tion­al­ly divid­ed into two types: view­ing and edit­ing. The first ones you most like­ly use every day: when you watch a movie or take pic­tures of your cat on your phone. Such codecs usu­al­ly com­press the file more strong­ly, so that when you down­load a movie from the Inter­net, you have to down­load 4 GB, not 400. Edit­ing codecs store more infor­ma­tion need­ed, for exam­ple, for high-qual­i­ty video col­or cor­rec­tion and speed­ing up work with it. But at the same time, files encod­ed in this way will weigh sig­nif­i­cant­ly more.

To under­stand what the salt is here, you need to know how video encod­ing takes place. The sim­plest video com­pres­sion option is to remove iden­ti­cal pieces of infor­ma­tion in adja­cent frames. If, for exam­ple, you are shoot­ing a per­son who is run­ning against the back­ground of a lake shore, and the water, the for­est along the shore and the set­ting sun do not change much, then the codec will remove this part of the infor­ma­tion from a part of the frames dur­ing com­pres­sion. And when decod­ing, it will restore from neigh­bor­ing frames.

Of course, the scheme described above is great­ly sim­pli­fied, but it con­veys the gen­er­al prin­ci­ple of lossy encod­ing and decod­ing. When we talk about loss of qual­i­ty here, we are not talk­ing about the col­ors in the video becom­ing some­how acidic, but the video itself will become dark or go square. Mod­ern codecs work quite well — among the loss­es there may be sub­tle shades that the human eye can­not dis­tin­guish, and such things. As a result, the video qual­i­ty will be enough to watch and enjoy the video, but it may not be enough for video post-pro­cess­ing. There­fore, oth­er codecs are used for pro­fes­sion­al edit­ing.

Most pop­u­lar view­ing codecs:

  • H.264 (MPEG‑4);
  • MPEG‑2;
  • H.265 (MPEG‑H, HEVC);
  • .wmv;
  • FLAC;
  • APE.

The most com­mon H.264 codec, with it, as a rule, there are the least prob­lems. H.265 is its updat­ed ver­sion, but bugs often occur with it, because some devices may not have new decoders.

Which codec a par­tic­u­lar device uses in a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion depends on its type and year of man­u­fac­ture. Find infor­ma­tion about the codec on both cam­eras and smart­phones can be found in the video set­tings menu.

This is how it looks on the Xiao­mi Red­mi Note cam­era / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photostore.Expert

Anoth­er option is to look in the instruc­tions for the gad­get.

The most pop­u­lar edit­ing codec is Apple ProRes. The main dis­ad­van­tages of work­ing with it include the fact that the video takes up a lot of space, because the codec allows you to store more infor­ma­tion. Com­pared to pho­to for­mats, it’s about the same as the dif­fer­ence between .JPEG and .TIFF. There­fore, such a video is much bet­ter suit­ed for col­or cor­rec­tion. Includ­ing ProRes allows you to work with the alpha chan­nel dur­ing edit­ing, that is, make part of the video trans­par­ent. This is use­ful, for exam­ple, when work­ing with chro­ma key.

ProRes does­n’t com­press video as much as view­ing codecs, so the proces­sor does­n’t have to decode it on the fly. Thanks to this, you can even edit 4k video even on medi­um-sized com­put­ers. For exam­ple, with an Intel Core i5 12400 or Ryzen 7 3700X proces­sor and a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti or Xiao­mi Red­mi G video card. But since large amounts of infor­ma­tion will need to be trans­ferred to work, you need a fast SSD with a capac­i­ty of 512 GB or more.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, a more pro­fes­sion­al codec allows you to work with more afford­able equip­ment / Pho­to: unsplash.com

There are advanced cam­eras designed for video that can imme­di­ate­ly shoot video encod­ed in Apple ProRes. For exam­ple, the Pana­son­ic Lumix GH6 can write ProRes direct­ly to a mem­o­ry card, although this requires a fast CFex­press Type B mem­o­ry card. More ver­sa­tile cam­eras, such as the Nikon Z6 II, can also work with this codec, but you will have to write video through the HDMI out­put cam­era to an exter­nal recorder.

Even more infor­ma­tion will be stored in the RAW video. It is used by spe­cial­ized film cam­eras. These for­mats will vary from man­u­fac­tur­er to man­u­fac­tur­er, ProRes RAW being con­sid­ered the most stan­dard. For exam­ple, Sony Alpha 7S III can shoot such a video.

What is a codec, how it works, what they are, we found out. But what to do if every­thing does not work because of them? The video either sim­ply does not play, or the play­er gives errors like “the required codec is miss­ing”.

With the same slow motion video from Xiao­mi, the eas­i­est option is to run the video through the video edi­tor built into the smart­phone (usu­al­ly you can find it through the “edit video” com­mand direct­ly from the image gallery) and save it with a stan­dard num­ber of frames. Of course, this advice sounds some­thing like “Bug­gy? Restart!”, but most often works. As, how­ev­er, and reboot.

If you filmed on a cam­era, and then uploaded it to a com­put­er, and he does not want to read, you need to find out which codec a par­tic­u­lar mod­el uses. Usu­al­ly this infor­ma­tion can be found in the instruc­tions for the cam­era or on the man­u­fac­tur­er’s web­site.

If the instruc­tion is lost, and it is not clear on the manufacturer’s web­site how to search, try enter­ing the name of the cam­era and the word “codecs” into the search engine / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Then the desired codec must be found and installed. Read more in the instruc­tions for Win­dows here. For com­put­ers run­ning on MAC — here.

You can try installing one of the uni­ver­sal codec sets. There are sev­er­al dozen of them from dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers, each has its own adher­ents, haters and fans. It is impor­tant to under­stand that whether a video will work with a par­tic­u­lar set of codecs depends on many fac­tors. You may have to try sev­er­al dif­fer­ent options to find the best for your­self. We list sev­er­al pop­u­lar codec packs.

Codec sets for Windows

Portable codecs for Win­dows 10. A fair­ly ver­sa­tile set aimed at seam­less play­back of audio and video on a com­put­er, includ­ing sub­ti­tles. Able to work with MP4 with mul­ti­ple audio tracks.

X Codec Pack 2.7.4. Suit­able for old­er Win­dows — up to ver­sion 7 inclu­sive. The kit comes with a basic video play­er and a spe­cial util­i­ty that allows you to see which codecs are already in the sys­tem.

K‑Lite Codec Pack. One of the most com­mon and pop­u­lar codec sets avail­able for free. The pack is not too big, but it solves most of the prob­lems and tasks of the aver­age user.

Com­bined Com­mu­ni­ty Codec Pack: CCCP. A set of codecs for Win­dows cre­at­ed by a team of sub­ti­tled ani­me fans. Users praise it for its abil­i­ty to work with dif­fer­ent sub­ti­tle for­mats. One prob­lem — it has not been updat­ed for a long time. Does not sup­port video for­mats such as Quick­Time .QT and .MOV.

Media Play­er Codec Pack for Microsoft Win­dows. A very exten­sive set that includes many dif­fer­ent codecs, includ­ing those used for edit­ing. The pack­age also includes a uni­ver­sal video play­er.

Star­Codec. The lat­est set of codecs in the selec­tion, so it is well com­pat­i­ble with the lat­est ver­sions of Win­dows. The kit comes with a util­i­ty that allows you to see which codecs you already have and not install them.

Mac Codec Packs

Divx. The most pop­u­lar, most com­plete set of codecs, which is suit­able for dif­fer­ent devices of the sys­tem.

MPlay­erX. In fact, this is not a set of codecs, but a con­ve­nient omniv­o­rous play­er in which these codecs are pre-built. Copes well with audio and video play­back, includ­ing sub­ti­tles.

Codec sets for Android

AC3 Codec for Android. Imple­ment­ed as an appli­ca­tion for a smart­phone, which, among oth­er things, has a built-in video play­er. Works on almost any smart­phone or tablet with Android 4.1 or high­er. There are not too many codecs, they do not work with all play­ers.

DDB2 Codec Pack. A more com­plete set of codecs, includ­ing codecs for Apple smart­phones. Comes with a uni­ver­sal video play­er. Users praise this pack for its sta­bil­i­ty and lack of glitch­es.