What Type of Data Compression Does Video Streaming Use?


Scott Campbell

Video streaming has become an integral part of our daily lives, allowing us to watch our favorite movies, TV shows, and live events on various platforms. One of the key factors that enable smooth video streaming is data compression. In this article, we will explore the different types of data compression used in video streaming and how they work.

Introduction to Data Compression

Data compression is the process of reducing the size of data files without significantly affecting their quality. It plays a crucial role in video streaming as it allows for faster transmission and efficient use of bandwidth. There are two primary types of data compression: lossless and lossy compression.

Lossless Compression

Lossless compression is a method that reduces file size without any loss in quality. In video streaming, this type of compression is commonly used for text-based content or highly detailed animations where every detail matters. Lossless compression algorithms identify patterns within the data and replace them with shorter representations, enabling efficient storage and transmission.

  • Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW): LZW is a popular lossless compression algorithm used in video streaming. It works by creating a dictionary of frequently occurring patterns and replacing them with shorter codes during encoding.

    This dictionary is then used for decoding at the receiving end.

  • Deflate: Deflate is another widely used lossless compression algorithm. It combines the LZ77 algorithm for pattern matching and Huffman coding for entropy encoding.

Lossy Compression

Lossy compression, as the name suggests, involves some loss in quality but results in significantly smaller file sizes compared to lossless compression. This type of compression selectively discards certain information that might not be noticeable to human perception.

  • Motion JPEG: Motion JPEG is a lossy compression format used primarily in video streaming. It works by compressing each frame of a video independently using JPEG compression, resulting in smaller file sizes.

    However, this method can lead to visible artifacts and reduced quality.

  • H.264 (AVC): H.264 is one of the most widely used lossy compression standards for video streaming. It uses advanced techniques such as motion compensation and predictive coding to reduce redundancy and achieve high compression ratios while maintaining reasonable quality.

Adaptive Streaming and Compression

In addition to choosing the right compression algorithm, video streaming platforms also employ adaptive streaming techniques to optimize the streaming experience based on network conditions and device capabilities.

Adaptive streaming allows the video player to automatically adjust the quality of the video based on the available bandwidth. This ensures smooth playback without buffering or interruptions. The encoding process for adaptive streaming involves creating multiple versions of the same video at different bitrates.

  • DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP): DASH is a popular adaptive streaming protocol that uses various encoding profiles with different bitrates. The video player dynamically selects the appropriate profile based on network conditions, device capabilities, and user preferences.
  • HLS (HTTP Live Streaming): HLS is another widely used adaptive streaming protocol developed by Apple.

    It splits the video into small chunks and creates multiple versions at different bitrates. The video player switches between these versions seamlessly based on network conditions.


Data compression plays a crucial role in enabling smooth video streaming by reducing file sizes and optimizing transmission efficiency. Lossless compression algorithms like LZW and Deflate are used for text-based content, while lossy compression formats like Motion JPEG and H.264 are used for video streaming. Adaptive streaming techniques like DASH and HLS further enhance the streaming experience by dynamically adjusting the video quality based on network conditions and device capabilities.

Understanding the different types of data compression used in video streaming can help us appreciate the technology behind our favorite streaming platforms and make informed decisions when it comes to choosing the appropriate format for our own video content.

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