Monday, September 15, 2003

History of DivX

What's DivX? It's a codec.

What's a codec? It's a video compression method. COmpress/DECompress. It is to video what mp3 is to CD audio.

A long, long time ago, in 1998, Circuit City wanted to make a video standard built in with common DVD players to play a codec created movie. The idea was that they could offer movies on disposable CDs or online. In 1998, broadband was barely on the radar so online meant through your standard telephone. In DVD format, we're talking 4 GB+ which is also too big for a standard "disposable" CD. Even if the world had broadband in 1998, the DVD download would still be so long, you could go watch another movie before your downloaded one was ready. So Circuit City set out to shrink the enormous size and they wanted to do it without sacrifice the video quality DVD offers.

Circuit City got financial backing from the likes of Disney, Dreamworks, Panasonic, Paramout plus a few others to create a new digitial video quality that would change the future of movie rentals. They were successful with the invention part of it which became one of the world's first codecs named Divx. Now they just needed to revolutionize how consumers buy and rent movies. Just so you know, we're still waiting on the latter to happen.

So what happened?

There is a difference between DivX and Divx; notice the X on the end. Divx died out as do most of electronic store specialized brands. DivX however was reborn from the ashes of the Divx Pheonix (sort of) by some French hacker who had the same idea as Circuit City to shrink DVD's bulky data size but not for the same purposes of reinvinting the video rental industry. He had his own goals in mind for the smaller movie files so that they could be transported more easily. Now what does a hacker want with easily transported movie files?

I mentioned DivX was sort of reborn from Divx. I say that because Divx and DivX actually have little in common except their name and the fact that they accomplish the same end result. The French hacker actually got the code for DivX from a beta version of Windows Media Player many years ago. WMP uses MPEG-4 compression so DivX is actually a form of MPEG-4, Microsoft's attempt to digitize high quality video. The hacker took the code and passed it among the hacker community which is what made DivX what it is today. MPEG-4 went the way of the Dodo (sorry, more bird references) but DivX remained. It was turned into a company, they have a CEO, their own website and millions of downloads a year. Now what do millions of computer users want with a codec that turns high quality videos into manageable file sizes? I can't imagine.

If you try to play a compressed movie file from your computer and you only get sound but no video, then you are missing the codec plugin that was used to encode that movie. To fix that, you install the codec on your computer. Sometimes, it's hard to tell what codec was used to encode the movie file so people generally just install a bunch of them hoping to hit the one they need. DivX is popular but isn't always used. Listed below are the four most widely used codecs. If you install all four, you'll be able to play 98% of the movies out there.

XviD - Gee where did they get that palindromic name?