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The Basics of Streaming: Encoding, Part 2

In part one of this post series you learned about the options on how to capture and prepare your video for on demand streaming. Or maybe you picked out your capture device for a live streaming event and are ready for the next step. Either way, you’ll learn about what encoding is and the basics of how to do it in this post.

First let’s take a look at what the word encoding means:

It’s a term used to describe what a codec does. For example, “The laptop encodes the signal from the camera before uploading to the Internet.”

basics of streaming encoding

Now, you may be wondering what a codec is. In simple terms, a codec describes a method of breaking up a video or audio signal (recording or live) into small compressed chunks so it can be sent over the Internet. There are many formats and various standards used in the conversion. You’ve probably seen format abbreviations such as MP4, FLV (Flash), MOV, H.264 and others. Each format has a bit of software used in the conversion, referred to as codecs.

So if you are trying to live stream a video, you’ll need to use a device to encode the captured video prior to streaming it online. There are software and hardware encoders available. In general, hardware encoders are faster, but expensive and have limited flexibility. Software encoders range from free to hundreds of pounds, but you’ll need a computer able to run the program without any performance issues (or your stream will stop or be reduced in quality). You’ll need to research to find which one works for your situation. If you’re not sure, we recommend starting with Adobe’s free Flash live media encoder (FLME).

For on demand video, the editing software you chose will have options on how to encode the final video (and/or audio which has its own codec) before uploading it for streaming. Again which types of codecs are supported will depend on the software you’ve chosen. Most codecs come with license requirements which may require you to purchase a license or a “pro” version of the software to support all codecs.

But you don’t need every codec. Currently H.264 is becoming the most common codec to use while Flash is still hanging on too (even though Apple products don’t natively support it). Once you’ve encoded and saved your video (for on demand) or chosen which encoder to use for a live feed, you’ll be ready to stream it online. Check out The Basics of Streaming: Streaming, Part 3 to find out all about it.

Oliver Burt

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