Blog | The History of Video Compression Standards, From 1929 Until Now

Erikka Innes
11 min readJun 10, 2021
Photo by Noom Peerapong on Unsplash

Video compression reduces the total number of bits you need to represent an image or video. Over the years people have come up with many different algorithms for compressing video. While video compression seems very modern, it has a long history that begins with analog video. In our review of the history of video compression, we’ll stop at some major milestones that brought us to where we are today. You’ll notice that in the beginning, new developments are concepts, then eventually these become various video compression standards. Many of these standards are used today, and people continue to develop new and improved ones all the time.

1929: The First Appearance of Interframe Compression

Surprisingly, the first discussion of interframe compression happened way back in 1929. Interframe compression is the idea of saving a key image, and then only saving changes to that image as they occur from frame to frame. The initial frame used to compare the others to is called the keyframe. R.D. Kell proposed this concept for use with analog video, but this concept persists and is used today with digital video!

1952: Differential Pulse-Code Modulation

The next milestone for video compression occurred in 1952. Bell Labs researchers B.M. Oliver and C.W. Harrison suggested that you could use differential pulse-code modulation (DPCM) in video coding. Previously, DPCM was used for audio (and still is today). DPCM is a technique where you take samples of an image and then predict future sample values based on this knowledge. Because you can accurately reconstruct an image with guesses, you don’t need to store as much of that image’s data.

1959: Predictive Interframe Video Coding with Temporal Compression

In 1959, predictive interframe video coding using temporal compression is first proposed. Temporal compression involves choosing a set of spaced out keyframes in a video, and then only encoding the changes between those frames. The keyframes are the only frames that are fully recorded as reference points that the other frames rely on. This concept was presented by NHK (The Japan Broadcasting…

Erikka Innes

Developer Advocate, Writer, Comedian, and Commander of the Nerd Legion