Tips & Tricks

Encoding vs. Transcoding: What’s the Difference?

5 min read
transcoding vs encoding

Encoding and transcoding are very common terms in the world of video streaming. Since both terms are related to converting digital video files, they are often used interchangeably. When you are new to the field, it can be confusing to understand the difference between encoding and transcoding.

In its simplest form, encoding compresses raw data like a video file to make them smaller in size without sacrificing quality. On the other hand, in transcoding technology, an encoded media file is unencoded and then re-encoded into a different format with different settings. This process can change video file formats like resolution, bitrate, container, or codec.

In this article, we will dive into the details of both technologies and understand the critical differences between encoding and transcoding.

Video Encoding vs. Transcoding: The Main Differences

  • Encoding compresses video data to reduce file size, while transcoding converts video from one format to another.
  • Encoding is typically done once, while transcoding may need to be done multiple times depending on the final destination of the video.
  • Encoding can be done in real-time, while transcoding requires more time.
  • Encoding is typically done at the beginning of the video workflow, while transcoding is done later in the process.

What is Video Encoding?

Encoding is the process of transforming information from one file format to another. In video, encoding refers to compressing digital video files to make them smaller and more manageable. Without encoding, digital video files would be enormous, making them impractical for most uses. The most common form of encoding is MPEG, which stands for Motion Picture Experts Group. MPEG compression works by removing repetitious information from a video signal.


For example, suppose a particular image only contains small changes from one frame to the next. In that case, the MPEG video codec will only encode the changed information, resulting in a smaller file size. In addition to reducing file size, encoding can also improve video quality. Increasing the bitrate, or data rate, of an encoded video signal makes it possible to produce a higher-quality video.

However, this comes at the expense of increased file size. As a result, finding the right balance between quality and file size is an important consideration when encoding video files.

When You Need to Encode Video

It’s always hard to handle large and uncompressed video files. So, encoding is the best solution to make the video smaller without losing quality. It also offers the ability to improve video quality. When you are a live streamer, you need to encode the video signal to make it compatible with the internet and the viewer’s devices.

A large-size video always requires high bandwidth, which is impossible for many internet users. So, you need to encode the video to make it compatible with their network connection. Otherwise, you may lose some of your viewers.

How does Video Encoding Work?

To understand video encoding, you need to know the fundamentals of digital video files. A digital video file is a collection of individual images or frames. These frames are strung together to create the illusion of motion. The number of frames per second, or fps, determines the smoothness of the video. The more frames per second, the smoother the video will appear. In video streaming technology, raw videos are captured and sent to a server. Video streaming protocols encode the video into a digital signal in the server that media players can read. The encoded videos are then placed in media containers that store the video data so the media player can read it.


There are two types of video encoding: lossy and lossless. Lossy video compression reduces the file size by discarding some data, while lossless compression retains all data. Lossy compression is more common because it results in smaller file sizes. In video encoding, data is compressed using codecs. Codecs are algorithms that encode and decode digital data. There are many different codecs available, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The most common video codecs used for streaming are H.264, H.265, VP8, and VP9.

How Encoding Affects Quality

Encoding is the most important part of making a great video. During encoding, raw video footage is turned into a digital file that can be played on a screen. The resolution, bitrate, and codec used will affect the quality of the encoded video, among other things.

Resolution is the number of pixels that make up the video image, usually expressed as width x height. The higher the resolution, the sharper the image will be. The bitrate is the amount of data encoded per second, which can greatly affect the quality of a video. A high bitrate makes a video better quality, but it also makes files bigger and harder to store and transmit.


Codecs are algorithms that compress and decompress digital data and play a vital role in video quality. Some codecs are more efficient than others, so choosing one that strikes the right balance between file size and quality is important. When encoding a video, you must also choose the resolution, bitrate, and codec. The quality of the encoded video will depend on these three things. Use a high resolution, bitrate, and codec to make a high-quality video. To make a smaller video file, keep a balance between quality and file size.

What is Video Transcoding?

An encoded video file can be transcoded, which means it is converted from one codec to another. Transcoding improves compatibility or changes a video’s resolution, bitrate, or other properties. It can also reduce the file size of a video without losing quality.

For changing the higher bitrate to a lower one or to change the frame rate, it’s highly recommended that you transcode the video.

When Transcoding Video is Necessary

Video streaming is always a challenging task. You must ensure that all your viewers can watch the video without issues. Transcoding is often necessary to ensure adaptive streaming, device compatibility, and quality. Since the video streaming industry is evolving and new devices are constantly released, it’s important to quickly adapt your video streams to the latest standards. Transcoding allows you to adjust that.


Transcoding is also necessary for device compatibility. Different devices have different screen sizes and capabilities. So, it’s important to encode your videos to be compatible with as many devices as possible. Finally, transcoding can also be used to improve video quality. By transcoding a video to a higher bitrate or resolution, you can improve the quality of the video without increasing the file size too much.

Let’s wrap up

Successful streamers never ignore any single step that can affect their stream quality. Video encoding and transcoding are two of the most important steps ensuring viewers can watch your stream without issues. You can use these technologies to reduce your file size, improve quality, and transcode to be compatible with more devices. Thus, proper video encoding and transcoding can save you time, storage, and bandwidth while ensuring that your viewers have the best experience possible.

Join 200,000+ satisfied streamers

Still on the fence? Take a sneak peek and see what you can do with Castr.

No Castr Branding

No Castr Branding

We do not include our branding on your videos.

No Commitment

No Commitment

No contracts. Cancel or change your plans anytime.

24/7 Support

24/7 Support

Highly skilled in-house engineers ready to help.

  • Check Free 7-day trial
  • CheckCancel anytime
  • CheckNo credit card required

Related Articles