There's no reason you need to know what a codec is. Unless you've tried to view or share video shot on one type of device, say an Android phone, on another, like an iPhone.
Until now, that could have plunged you into a frustrating world of obscure technical jargon, not to mention running into file-size limits imposed by your email system. But a new service from digital-media pioneer RealNetworks reduces the pain considerably.
It's called RealPlayer Cloud, and it combines online viewing, sharing and storage into a smooth, comprehensive experience.
The basic problem with sharing videos is that they aren't photos. There are only a few widely used digital-photo formats, and pretty much any device can view them, making possible sites like Yahoo's Flickr and Facebook's Instagram for easy personal storage and sharing.
Videos, by contrast, come in a bewildering array of formats that often require tinkering to get them to play on devices other than what they were created on. That's where RealPlayer Cloud comes in.
Like Dropbox, Google Drive and Apple's iCloud, it lets you save your videos to the Internet, where they can be accessed remotely. Unlike those other services, though, it also prepares them for viewing across platforms.
You access the service via free apps available in Apple's App Store for iPhones and iPads and the Google Play store for Android devices, as well as on Windows PCs and Roku's set-top TV box.
A version for Macs is in the works, the company says; in the meantime, Mac users can still access most of the cloud features via a web browser. Apple TV users can view clips via the AirPlay feature in iOS devices.
To test the service, I used a variety of clips created on an iPhone 5 and 5s and two Android devices, Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S III, plus some content I downloaded from the web.
First, I tried sending a brief iPhone clip via email to the Galaxy S III. It had to be brief; my email choked on anything longer than about a minute. No matter. Attempting to watch it on the Galaxy yielded an error message: "No app can open this attachment for viewing."
I then uploaded the same video using the RealPlayer Cloud app on the iPhone and accessed it from the app on the Galaxy; it opened and ran seamlessly. I repeated the process with a number of clips, all of which ran well.
I also watched them on a PC, uploaded and watched much longer clips than email could have handled, and shared them with recipients who neither had nor needed the RealPlayer service.
A lot goes on behind the scenes to make all this possible. RealPlayer employs a technology it calls SurePlay that automatically reformats a video to adjust for the type of playback device, size of the screen and available bandwidth and local storage. But all that is, mercifully, invisible to the user; the video just plays.
The basic, free service comes with two gigabytes worth of free storage, which is about enough to store an hour of high definition video, or three to four hours of standard-def. You can earn more free storage, up to 3.5 gigabytes, by adding devices to your account.
You can also buy additional capacity starting at $5 a month, or $49 a year, for 25 gigabytes and ranging up to $30 a month, or $299 a year, for 300 gigabytes.
Forget about using the top tier to share your collection of movies or TV shows, though. As an anti-piracy measure, videos longer than 15 minutes that are uploaded via computer can only be viewed by the account-holder, not by anyone else. (There's no such restriction for videos shot on a mobile device.)
The conversion process, though swift, isn't instantaneous. RealNetworks says clips uploaded to the cloud should immediately begin to play on another device, but I found that, while they showed up in a moment, it sometimes took two or three minutes before they were playable.
In addition, the soundtrack of a video shot on the iPhone appeared slightly out of sync a couple of times when viewed using Google's Chrome browser on a PC. (RealNetworks says it hasn't encountered that issue before.) And a feature that was supposed to let enabled devices on the same Wi-Fi network recognize each other for easier file transfers wouldn't work in my office, though it did at home.
RealPlayer Cloud certainly isn't the only way to view and share video across different devices. YouTube, for one, has been doing it for years, and has options allowing you to restrict who can see your content. But YouTube is more about reaching an audience. RealPlayer Cloud's personal storage and easy sharing make for a useful combination.