What is an H.264 streaming encoder?

Blog 1 min read | Sep 28, 2023 | JW Player


Everyday activities like online meetings and entertainment make use of video streaming. The H.264 streaming encoder performs an essential function in the background. But what is it exactly, and why is it so important?

Read on and discover the fundamentals of H.264 streaming encoders and how they influence online video experiences.

What is an H.264 streaming encoder?

An H.264 encoder is a hardware or software tool that compresses and encodes video content in the H.264 video codec for transmission over networks like the Internet.  Due to its ability to offer high-quality video material without unnecessary strain on bandwidth, H.264 is one of the most frequently utilized formats in video production.

Your target audience will determine which video codec you should use in preference to others. H.264 will be the best option for watching in an acceptable resolution for users with less bandwidth. Having said that, RTMP allows you to broadcast video at a maximum of 4K resolution.

H.264 remains a popular video standard despite the industry’s constant change. It has firmly established itself as a fundamental compression approach, even though there might be better choices for contemporary streaming systems.

How does the H.264 video codec work?

The block-based standard the H.264 video codec uses includes motion analysis to handle video frames. Prediction, transformation, and encoding are three critical steps in the H.264 encoding procedure that together produce a bitstream. The encoder creates numerous 16×16 pixel macroblocks in this operation, which are then divided into smaller prediction blocks for transmission. These blocks are put back together at the decoder, preparing the scene for playback.

When using H.264 codecs, you can employ a variety of encoding profiles, each representing a particular compression technique. These profiles come with certain maximum bitrates and video resolutions. As a result, you must adjust your encoder settings to get the desired video quality because the shape you select significantly impacts the encoding process.

You’ll need varying bandwidth to transmit your material buffer-free, depending on the resolution you choose. The more bandwidth it uses, the higher the resolution. Therefore, those with weaker internet speeds can expect more interruptions when playing videos.

The solution to this problem is an HTML5 video player that supports adaptive bitrate streaming. With the aid of this technology, you may adjust the video quality to the internet speeds of your viewers to reduce latency and eliminate buffering.

The significance of an H.264 streaming encoder

One of the most popular compression formats in video production is H.264. It is now the preferred option for various uses, such as live streaming and embedding videos on websites. The H.264 streaming encoder offers a compelling combination of effective compression and high-quality output, making it especially well-suited for live streaming.

The ability to significantly reduce file size while keeping excellent video quality is one of the main benefits of encoding files into H.264. As a result, H.264 is a perfect option for providing high-quality video material that viewers of all bandwidth levels can easily stream.

Additionally, H.264 gives versatility in offering viewers several resolutions. Similar to the options on websites like YouTube, they can receive the highest resolution automatically or manually choose a lower resolution based on their preferences.

When choosing the ideal video format for your project, there are various things to consider. The target audience’s connection speeds must be taken into account when selecting your resolution and encoder settings. All users will have a fluid viewing experience as a result, regardless of their internet connection capabilities.

Check out the best encoder live streaming encoder solutions for 2023

Is H.264 the ideal format for video files?

Although H.264 is still a commonly used and respected codec, it’s essential to know its advantages and disadvantages for your project. Here are some important things to think about:

Advantages of H.264

  • Widely Acceptable Compatibility: Many devices, operating systems, internet browsers, and video players support H.264, making it usable by many people.
  • Reduced Bitrate Required: H.264 reduces the needed bitrate compared to earlier standards like MPEG-2 or H.263, resulting in smaller file sizes without sacrificing quality.
  • Efficiency with RTMP: H.264 smoothly integrates with Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) for effective data transfer during live streaming.
  • Useful for resolutions up to 4K: H.264 is a flexible option for many applications because it is appropriate for resolutions up to 4K.


  • Competition from H.265 (HEVC): Although it requires more processing power and cannot work with older devices, H.265 delivers even more effective compression and could eventually become a standard.
  • Newer codecs: AV1, VP9, and H.266 (VVC), among other evolving codecs, offer different possibilities for video compression.

How does H.264 compare to other codecs?

H.264 is one of many competitors in the competitive field of video compression, which is constantly changing. Other prominent codecs have appeared, each with a unique combination of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s explore how H.264 compares to some of its key rivals in more detail.

H.265 (HEVC) vs. H.264

Compared to H.264, H.265—also known as High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC)—represents a significant improvement in video compression. Although H.264 provides effective compression, H.265 outperforms it and requires lower bitrates for the same video quality. H.265 requires greater processing power, though, which can make it incompatible with some older devices. H.264, which has a lengthy history in the business, has a broader range of compatibility, while H.265 enables greater resolutions and is a more long-term solution.

H.264 vs. AV1

AV1, created by the Alliance for Open Media, seeks to deliver high-quality video with better compression. AV1’s superior compression performance over H.264 allows for smaller files with equal quality. In contrast to AV1, which is open-source and free of royalties, H.264 has established licensing agreements and extensive usage, potentially saving money. The use of AV1 on older devices may be constrained by the fact that it demands greater computing power. As AV1 usage increases, it overtakes H.264 as a viable alternative.

H.264 vs. VP9

VP9, an open-source substitute for H.264, offers greater compression ratios while keeping video quality. H.264 may be subject to licensing costs, whereas VP9 is open-source and free of royalties, making it more affordable for businesses. However, VP9 requires greater processing power, making it incompatible with some older devices. H.264 is a good option due to its broad compatibility and widespread use in the business, but VP9 is becoming increasingly well-liked, especially in online video streaming platforms.

H.264 support and use cases

H.264 is a flexible video codec that has many uses in numerous industries. Being one of the main codecs used to encode content for Blu-ray discs and guaranteeing top-notch visual quality, it is a major player in the world of physical media. It’s the go-to option for video-conferencing devices in the world of real-time communication, providing fluid and seamless interactions. H.264 also finds its use in the effective delivery of content in satellite and cable television broadcasting.

Regarding streaming, H.264 made its debut in QuickTime 7 from Apple in 2005 and was included in iPods the following year. Support for H.264 was added by Adobe to Flash in 2007 and by Microsoft to Silverlight in 2008. Various platforms and browsers, including Android devices, Windows Phone 7, Safari, and Internet Explorer, now routinely support H.264. Notably, popular websites like YouTube and Vimeo as well as networks like CBS and CNN have accepted H.264, reaffirming its status as the industry standard for encoding online video content.

How JWP supports H.264 and H.265

With JWP Player’s seamless support for the H.264 video codec, MP4 videos containing H.264 video and AAC audio may be played back on various browsers and devices. With this compatibility, you can be sure your video content will always be of the highest caliber and will work with most devices.

For viewers with compatible equipment, JWP Player additionally supports the H.265 (HEVC) codec, allowing for better compression effectiveness and decreased bandwidth requirements, albeit H.265 playback requires particular hardware and operating system requirements. Flexibility and high-quality video distribution for a range of audiences are ensured by JWP’s mix of H.264 and H.265 capabilities.


The choice of an encoder and compression format is crucial in streaming and can significantly impact how your audience will watch your content. H.264 is a top option for many streaming applications due to its broad compatibility, effective compression, and support for different resolutions.

To ensure that your streaming strategy fits the shifting environment of multimedia consumption, it’s crucial to keep up with the latest codecs and technologies. The end objective is to deliver high-quality video material to your audience, making their viewing experience enjoyable and accessible, regardless of whether you use H.264 or investigate newer choices.