What is a CODEC? And why is it an important component of videoconferencing?

A CODEC is a device or computer program capable of encoding or decoding a digital data stream or signal.  The word CODEC is a portmanteau of “coder-decoder” or, less commonly, “compressor- decompressor.” CODECS are used in videoconferencing, streaming media, and video editing

The term CODEC is commonly used to identify a video conferencing hardware system or software app.  The CODEC is the heart of the video conferencing system.  A CODEC makes video conferencing work.  As indicated in the above definition they compress and decompress data.   This is what happens in the network when you are making a video call.  On your monitor you are seeing the decompressed data and in between the data is compressed for quick and reliable transportation.

There are several CODEC manufactures with new ones emerging with very competitive pricing.  The key is to make sure they work on the ITU, (International Telecommunications Standards), based protocols.  A good CODEC will accommodate both H.323 and SIP or Sessions Initiation Protocol.  Even though a CODEC can be a device or software on a computer it certainly should accommodate both protocols.  Most CODEC devices however are computer free.  Early in the development the video conferencing, CODEC manufacturers combined the hardware with the computer.  This was short lived as computers are inherently unstable and thus a video conferencing call became unreliable.  Today there are CODEC software apps that work on your computer, iPad or any other mobile device as a video conferencing end point in a of itself.  The CODEC app is critical for the increased demand for mobility.  In the very near future everybody will have a video access just like we have cell phone access.  The refinement and further development of the “Coder-Decoder” or CODEC will make this happen.

How do I install a videoconferencing CODEC?

It’s very simple to install a video conferencing CODEC or system.  Three things are critical for a successful installation — A reliable network, good physical connections and the proper configurationFirst, and certainly the most important consideration is your network.  Is there a static IP address available for the CODEC?  Will the CODEC be behind the firewall?  If so you will need a NAT or public IP address — if you plan to video conference to others outside of your network. Other network feature considerations would be MPLS or Multi Protocol Label Switching.  MPLS prioritizes audio and video data packets for better quality calls and a reliable connection.   Finally you must have enough bandwidth available for a video conferencing call.  The minimum for standard definition should be 384k.

The second consideration is the physical connections.  Make sure all your cables are in good shape and securely connected into the proper inputs and outputs.  Especially critical is the network drop on the wall. You will see a yellow and green light on in the back of the CODEC.  When lit, this indicates that you have a live network connection in your network drop.  Most CODECS come with a pan tilt zoom camera.   These usually have two connections to the CODEC — One for video input and one for control Refer to your installation manual. The camera connections are usually clearly indicated.   Connecting the monitor is very simple these days with the HDMI cable.  HDMI connects both video and audio.  Make sure you select the correct input on your monitor.  Once everything is connected it is now time to configure your CODEC.

The third consideration is the configuration.  The configuration is done right through the remote. Many newer CODECS configure themselves when plugged in the live network drop, however it’s is a good idea to know where the network menus are located in the event you cannot connect.  The network configuration will have the primary IP address, SubNet Mask, Gateway IP address and DNS server.  Also you will find an area for the NAT address.  Configuring the NAT address is critical if you are making calls outside of your network. Make sure you have all this information from your IT administrator or network provider.  Once your CODEC is configured you are ready to make a call.

Outside of mounting flat panel displays on the wall or on a cart, CODECS only take 10 to 15 minutes to install.  They are very simple machines and a lot less complicated than any computer.