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Encoding definition

Encoding is the conversion of data to another format. Encoding is most often used to make media files playable on apps or devices that only support specific file formats. Encoding is also used to reduce file size to make them easier to store or share with others. Encoding can be reverted by a process known as decoding.

In popular culture, “encoding” is sometimes used synonymously with “encryption,” but they refer to different processes in computer science. It is possible to encrypt (conceal the contents of) data without encoding it (changing its code), and vice versa.

Real encoding examples

  • WAV to MP3 conversion: WAV audio files are typically too large for quick transmission over the internet or storage on portable devices. They are often encoded to the MP3 format, which takes up only a fraction of the size with only a minimal loss in quality. In addition, some older portable audio players do not support WAV files.
  • DV to MPEG conversion: DV is an obsolete format for storing video files. DV files were easy to edit, but took up a lot of space, so creators would typically convert the finished product to the MPEG format for storage or sharing over the internet.