When it comes to video, the terms "encoding" and "transcoding" are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually different processes. Below is an overview of how they differ and advice on which you should use for your video projects.
To dig deeper, read our complete guide to video content management systems.
Before delving into transcoding versus encoding, it’s important to understand how they’re similar. With both, the ultimate goal is to process a video file (or an audio one), usually by turning it into a different file type. What determines whether you encode or transcode depends on the original file and what happens during the process.
Video encoding is the process of compressing raw video files so they take up less space on your hard drive, memory card, or cloud storage. If you’ve been working with video for a while, you likely know that raw video files from a primary capture device—such as an iPhone or DSLR camera—tend to be rather large in size. As a result, storing, uploading, and generally working with them can be cumbersome.
When you encode a video file, you essentially compress it—inevitably sacrificing some quality in the process—to create a smaller file. This file can then be uploaded or emailed more quickly and seamlessly than its original raw counterpart.
Video transcoding is the process of converting compressed (encoded) video from one format into another. The word “compressed” is important because that’s what denotes you’re transcoding and not encoding. With transcoding, raw video files have already been processed and are no longer in their original forms.
Video transcoding is done for various reasons, including fixing compatibility issues, reducing file sizes, changing resolutions, and creating new files with different formats.
During the transcoding process, video files are decompressed (decoded) and then altered before being recompressed and saved.
Transcoding enables you to take your existing videos and make them compatible with any device or platform. This is particularly important if you want to distribute your content on over-the-top (OTT) platforms, as they don’t all have the same requirements when it comes to video format, quality, or bitrate. By not transcoding your video, you stand to exclude a proportion of your potential viewers. Fortunately, there are solutions that enable you to take a single video input stream and transcode it for distribution across multiple OTT platforms, native apps, and more endpoints with the click of a button.
Another term you’ll likely come across when working with video is transmuxing, which is often confused with transcoding and encoding.
How transmuxing differs is that it changes a video’s container and delivery format without encoding or transcoding the original content. It's a way of repackaging a video file to make it compatible with whatever platform or medium you want to use it on, without changing what's in it.
The main benefit of transmuxing is that it takes less time and requires fewer computing resources, meaning it can be done on lower-spec systems.
When deciding between encoding and transcoding, it’s not a question of which you should use, but rather which you need to use. Remember: Encoding only deals with raw, uncompressed files. If those are the type of files you need to process, then encode them. If the files have already been processed from their original forms, you need to transcode them.
It's important to use a video content management system (CMS), like Zype’s platform, that enables you to transcode and encode your videos with just a few clicks so they’re compatible with any device or platform—allowing you to focus on creating great content without worrying about technical details.
If you want to learn more about transcoding, encoding, and other terms, download our digital video infrastructure guide, which explores how to effectively manage, distribute, and optimize content across channels and platforms.