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encoderAt its most basic, an encoder is something that converts information between formats. Encoders used in online streaming can be either hardware or software based. They take audio and video information from cameras, computers, or even mobile devices and convert it into a format that can be streamed on the web. That final format is defined by the codecs chosen during the encoding.

Many people who take video on their mobile phones, then upload to YouTube, Facebook or other online service don’t realise they are using an encoder. The software used to upload the video selects a default encoder and settings based on the destination of the video. So a video being sent to YouTube might be encoded differently than one uploaded to Facebook. But that all depends on the settings of the app being used.

In the above example, the people are using a software encoder. Software encoders provide a lot of flexibility and quality. As new codecs are developed the software can be updated to take advantage of the latest choices. These types of encoders are usually affordable, and some are even free.

Depending on their needs, some people choose hardware encoders. They have the benefit of being faster than software. This is because they are machines dedicated to encoding. They don’t have to share resources with other applications. The downside is that they are not always easy to update if changes are made to the codecs. They also often restrict the options available for the codecs because they have only so much room available. Hardware encoders are often more expensive than software options, unless you include the cost of the computer or device needed to run the software.

Some video cameras come with built-in encoders, eliminating the need for either type discussed above. However, battery life and connectivity need to be factored in to any decision on which type of encoder to choose.

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