What is a soft codec?
A soft codec is a codec that comes in software form. It sounds simple enough, but the technology is revolutionary. Soft codecs make it possible for organizations to communicate and collaborate efficiently, whether that communication takes place between coworkers, or with an organization on the other side of the globe.
Soft codecs encode and decode digital data streams for easier delivery and storage. This is frequently used to transport audio and video data, because raw AV data is too cumbersome to efficiently transport. A soft codec does this with software, which may be downloaded to a device or used with a web interface.
Soft Codecs are Gaining in Popularity
According to Owl Labs, a video conferencing hardware manufacturer, companies are utilizing soft codecs more than ever. Some of the most popular examples are Skype for Business, Zoom, GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts – all of which are familiar to many. Most people wouldn’t refer to Skype for Business or Zoom as a soft codec, but that is what the software does. It trims audio and video data down so that a stable, high-quality conference call can be established.
Soft Codecs and Hard Codecs
The alternative to a soft codec is, unsurprisingly, a hard codec. Hard codecs perform the same functions as a soft codec – they encode and decode data streams – but do so using a piece of hardware. There is debate over which one is better for video conferencing
, and many organizations resolve this by combining the two. For example, companies may rely on a hard codec in their conferencing rooms, but leverage a soft codec like Skype to connect remote employees.
Many hard codec devices are manufactured by reputable brands like Poly (formerly Polycom), and they are still a compelling option for point-to-point conferencing. This is particularly true if both rooms are outfitted with the same hardware, or at least hardware running the same codec. Hard codecs are designed to maximize the call experience, and offer advanced features when they are used to communicate with compatible devices. A hard codec, then, makes sense if a company confines its conferencing to designated spaces, as those rooms can be built out with a hardware manufacturer in mind.
Soft codecs, though, offer their own set of advantages, especially for organizations that employ remote or mobile teams.
Accessibility and Lower Costs are Pushing Companies Toward Soft Codecs
There isn’t a clear winner between hard and soft codecs, and it comes down to what the client needs. For many organizations, those needs include lower upfront costs and the ability to conference from anywhere. This is where soft codecs demonstrate their worth, as they aren’t limited to certain hardware. They can be used with a range of devices, including smartphones, tablets and laptops. If an organization relies on remote employees, soft codecs ensure they can still collaborate, even if they aren’t anywhere close to a conference room.
Other reasons for the rise of soft codecs include:
- Cost – Soft codecs do not require a hardware purchase, and this will keep costs down. Some codecs offer additional functionality if they are paired with certain hardware brands, and this should be considered, but it isn’t necessary. Software-based codecs can be run on a variety of devices, most of which organizations already have access to.
- Compatibility – Soft codecs are designed to get around some of the compatibility issues that may exist with hard codecs. Popular soft codecs, including Zoom and Skype for Business, are designed to be compatible with each other. Even if two organizations use entirely different conferencing software, they can still communicate with each other, in most cases.
- Flexibility – Soft codecs usually exist on devices that are used for other purposes. Many video conferencing solutions, for example, utilize PCs running on a Windows or, less frequently, a Linux-based operating system. While these PCs may be wholly dedicated to supporting a video conference, they may also be used for web browsing or for other reasons.
- Security – Hard codecs are prized for their enterprise-grade security features, but the best supported soft codecs offer comparable, or superior, security. Skype for Business is a good example of this, as its communications are guarded using AES 256-bit TLS encryption, according to the software’s specifications. That level of encryption satisfies the U.S. Department of Defense’s standards for communications.
- Cloud integration - The best supported soft codecs are usually cloud-capable, and the cloud offers several benefits to an organization’s conferencing efforts. Cloud-based conferencing solutions are scalable, easy to use and provide near-bottomless data storage and record-keeping. The cloud’s presence in communications will only increase with time, and many soft codecs make the transition a simple one.
Soft codecs are a cost-effective and easily integrated alternative to hard codecs. There’s room for both at most organizations, but the improving functionality of soft codecs ensures they will factor into collaboration for many years to come.