Video Codecs and the Free World

How codecs are hurting multimedia, how Linux is dealing with it, and why free codecs can save it.
Video Codecs and the Free World

The fact is, and will remain, that open-source tools are the saving grace of video professionals and system administrators working in a multiplatform multimedia world. FFmpeg and VLC Player have both been trusted playback, video-analyzing and video-conversion programs in my video toolkit for years, and they solve postproduction problems that proprietary, overpriced editing packages introduce with exclusive codec licenses and incompatibility.

Here are two contrasting examples:

  • A recent update to Final Cut Suite, Apple's premier video production suite, dropped support for a number of codecs while adding support for Apple's proprietary ones. Being a closed system, there is no solution to this problem, only the work-around of transcoding the source material.

  • The open-source application Blender supports any codec that its host system supports, and updates can be requested of programmers on Blender's IRC channel, often resulting in a patch within days. Final Cut Studio is well over a thousand dollars per client license. Blender, of course, is free.

As long as the primary market for codecs are the companies that continue to desire to protect their digital content, new codecs will continue to be developed that will require a separate license to use. This will result in myriad codecs on the Web and in the video production world. And, as long as licenses are required to use proprietary codecs, the more divided and convoluted the delivery methods will become.

Utilize free codecs fearlessly and unify video production as well as delivery. The Open Source movement is stronger than ever, and the Creative Commons ideals in the art world are getting serious press for encouraging freely distributed works by big-name acts like Radiohead and Prince, adventurous independents like the movie Rune, bountiful pod-safe music, the Internet Archive and so on. The climate is such that free codecs have the unique opportunity to become the popular choice for maximized compatibility and end-user freedom.

Seth Kenlon is a film and video editor, systems consultant and software trainer. Concurrently with all of that, he is a Linux user, supporter and promoter.



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In later version of ffmpeg

Fanta's picture

In later version of ffmpeg you need to prefix
the video codec with lib

e.g libxvid and not xvid

great explanation

Anonymous's picture

This whole codecs business always felt like a big scam to me, and now I know why- because it is! Thanks for a detailed and helpful article.

Video Codecs

Anonymous's picture

Yes i agree! I would be also happy, if you have explained which kind of video codec is best in current scenario. e.g H.264, MPEG-4, xvid etc

for instance i came across to one blog called: video codecs :pros & Cons

Video codecs

alphakamp's picture

Video codecs in linux and windows have always been a hassle for me. I go so far as to not even bother unless the video format is flash. As far as DVDs I'll put it in a regular DVD player thank you.

As far as DVDs I'll put it

Torres's picture

As far as DVDs I'll put it in a regular DVD player thank you.

Yes it is true.