It’s often necessary to convert data from one format to another format. This process is called encoding. You might encode data to save space, to make it easier to process, or for a variety of other reasons. Think, for example about image encoding and of course video and audio encoding. Even written characters can be encoded so that text can be read by computers.
For example, a media file is often encoded to reduce the amount of space it takes up on a disk. Compressed formats, a typical reason to encode video, images and audio, are simply more efficient. The quality is typically quite similar to the file before it is encoded but the size of the media is smaller.
Typical encoding formats include .WAV, which is a WAVE file, and a .MP3 file – where the MP3 format is about a tenth of the size of a WAVE file. Likewise, video stored in a .DV or Digital Video format can be encoded using the MPEG algorithm, which compresses digital video into an .MPG file which is just a much smaller version of the .DV file.
Another important application of encoding is character encoding, where text characters are converted into bytes. This is done because a computer can only ready binary data, not text. So each character of text must be changed into binary code – whether it is a space, a number or a letter. Encoding systems used to convert text to binary include ASCII and Unicode.
Note that, when data is encoded, only programs that support the specific encoding in use will be able to read the data. For video and audio it means that a codec must be available, and often the codec works in real-time to decode data. On the flipside, many text editors would be able to read files with any one of a number of text encoding methods. However, where the encoding in a file is not fully supported you could find that some of the letters appears as odd symbols like boxes instead of the original text.