So today I came across the editing term ‘transcoding’ on a job application. Whilst I was aware that this had something to do with video codecs, that was as far as my knowledge on the matter extended. As someone who’s looking to specialise in editing, I decided to do some more research into the term.

Defined as ‘converting software from one encoding to another’, transcoding can involve one of three things –

  • Converting the format of a file
  • Adjusting specific parameters whilst keeping the format the same
  • Changing both the format and parameters

Transcoding can be done within your primary editor (if it’s built in) or using a stand-alone program. There are 3 basic ways to handle your footage:

  • Use your native footage
  • Transcoding to an intermediate codec
  • Transcoding to proxy files

‘Native’ is used to describe the original footage that records to your memory or drive. Using your native footage means no transcoding time, no additional hard drive space is needed, you have a simpler workflow and there’s no potential for quality degradation. Imagine a cup of water which is filled to the brim (bear with me here), with the water representing your footage quality and the cup your video codec. Now you need to take that cup across the room to a different cup and pour your water in. Chances are you’ll spill a bit in the process of walking and pouring, so although you’ll have most of the water (quality), you will have lost some of it along the way. And there you have it – possibly one of the worst analogies of footage quality degradation on the web. But, I digress.

There are two main reasons why you wouldn’t be able to use your native footage:

  1. Your software doesn’t support the native format
  2. The native format is too demanding on your system’s resources

If you have the first issue, you will need to transcode to an intermediate codec – which is designed to preserve the quality of your native footage whilst making it easier to handle in your NLE.

If you have the second, you will need to transcode your footage into a proxy file, which is essentially a converted version of your footage at a lower quality to reduce its demand on your system. *Here is where I found out the difference between offline and online editing:

  • Offline editing – Working with this lower quality footage
  • Online editing – Working with the highest quality version of the footage

The workflow for proxy files looks something like this:

This is a very brief explanation of the concept, but one which I intend to be able to expand upon in the near future, with a little more research. Hopefully with fewer water cup analogies as well.


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