Codecs and Color Correction: Two Things I Wish I Would Have Known

As I've progressed through my career in video production, I've had the benefit of some great mentors. Every technique I use is a combination of something I've seen someone else do, something I've read, or something I luckily stumbled upon. Working in a fast-paced, deadline driven environment doesn't give you much time to stop and re-evaluate your methods, and as long as the client is happy, why would you? But every once in a while I've stumbled on an article, or witnessed another video pro at work and discovered a better approach, or a newfound understanding of a previously murky topic. So, in the spirit of letting others learn from my mistakes, here are two things I wish I would've known.

We get a lot of questions about formats. For the longest time, even though I knew the terms h.264, quicktime, avi, and all the others, I found myself lost when somebody with a deep understanding of the difference between a container and a codec started trying to explain them to me. I forged forward, picking up bits of information from different colleagues who all seemed to understand the concepts a little bit differently.

Then one day I picked up an issue of Videomaker and discovered the Video Formats Explained article. If your like me, you'll read it multiple times, and wish you had been able to read it years ago to save you a ton of confusion and frustration. I've color corrected thousands of video scenes in my career. While it's not my specialty, I certainly had achieved a respectable skill set that got the job done.


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I had been asked a few times by beginners how to use scopes, to which I replied, who has time to learn that? Of course, in hindsight, I realize that was a very ironic answer. Using scopes can help you stop playing what I call The Color Correction Guessing Game. I guarantee it will save you time, frustration, and you'll get more consistent results.

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  1. But doesn’t using the terms “codec” and “video format” synonymously, as Video Formats Explained does, add to the confusion?

    After I understood that DV is a video format, which can be in containers (a.k.a. file formats) such as AVI (.avi) or Quicktime (.mov) in the computer world, I was later confused when reading about the Canopus DV codec, the Apple DV codec, the Sony DV codec, etc.

    Likewise, while H.264 is a video format, we have Apple’s H.264 codec, Main Concept’s H.264 codec, the open source x264 codec, etc., all for creating and playing H.264 video.

    Videomaker explains codecs well at . The article explains “codecs encode and compress streams of data for storage or they decompress for playback or even editing.”

    So I find it helpful to realize that codecs are not video formats. Codecs encode or decode specific video formats, and can come from different manufacturers. Some codecs are considered better than others for the same video format.