When purchasing a network-connected storage device, you will have the option to obtain a model with or without hardware transcoding. Hardware transcoding makes media faster and more efficient than your NAS. How it works
What is transcoding?
Media files such as videos are encoded using a specific format. For example, a popular video format is H.264. There are different formats for storing video information with the best balance of quality and size.
Because there are so many different formats for media encoding, it is often necessary. Trans code A file in a format that the target device can understand. For example, you may have a file format that works well on your computer, but it is not compatible with your smart TV at all. In that case, you will transcode it to the format your TV works with. This process is also known as video format conversion, but transcoding is mostly used for direct conversion of streaming media and media files.
Transcoding is not just about compatibility. It is also used to create multiple video versions to stream at different quality levels depending on the bandwidth available. Services like Netflix or YouTube do this, automatically switching to any version of the video makes your network connection fit best at any time.
In the context of home NAS, many people buy these devices to act as home media servers. Running software such as Plex, transcoding allows NAS to present media files to users of local networks and users connected to content on the Internet.
What is hardware transcoding?
The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is a general purpose computing device. This means that it can perform any type of calculation, as long as it is displayed as computer code. The downside is that CPUs are not as efficient as they could be in any particular type of calculation. Think of it this way: if you have the tools of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but you do only one of them, you waste 75% of your potential.
This is where special processors come into play. They do a limited number of types of calculations for a very tight set of jobs, but they do. Very Early. This is hardware transcoding. The process of transcoding is handled by a special processor which is good for mathematical transcoding needs. If you buy NAS with hardware transcoding, such a processor is included somewhere inside. So, why is this feature important?
Hardware transcoding is fast.
Having special hardware dedicated to transcoding results. Usually, this is fast enough to happen in real time, so you don’t have to wait to transcode the file before you can start watching it. This is probably the most important reason you want hardware transcoding in your NAS.
Hardware transcoding frees up the CPU.
NAS is a busy device at the best of times. It can handle file transfers, run backup software, and at the same time act as a web server when you want it to play movies on your TV. Transcoding is a CPU heavy task, and if the NAS has to do it fast enough to see it in real time, it will leave the ball to other tasks. Offing a dedicated hardware transcoder or (as is often the case) job frees up a GPU CPU to ensure that everything is taken care of.
Hardware transcoding is more efficient.
Using dedicated hardware to transcode media typically uses less power and generates less heat than using a CPU to work. If you transcode too much, this difference in performance can increase over time. This is not the most important aspect of hardware transcoding, but it is noteworthy.
There are disadvantages to hardware transcoding.
Hardware transcoding is a required feature in NAS, but it is not perfect. First, the media streaming software you use is compatible with NAS and hardware transcoders. For example, Plex maintains Google Sheets with a list of NAS devices and whether their hardware transcoders work with Plex.
The next problem with hardware transcoding is that the transcoder can be very specific. For example, a transcoder may work with H.264, but not with the new HEVC (high efficiency video coding) format. In these cases, NAS will have to return to software encoding using the CPU anyway.
With Plex, in particular, hardware encoding also introduces additional costs. Since Plex has decided to include hardware transcoding as a premium feature. Of course, this is a disadvantage of Plex and not specifically hardware transcoding. However, since Plex is the most popular choice for NAS media streaming, this is a relevant observation.
When is software transcoding okay?
You can save a little money by getting NAS without hardware transcoding, but when is it okay? We think that if you are buying NAS. Only Work as a media server, lack of hardware transcoding is not a big deal.
Assuming that the CPU in question depends on the CPU function! In the same Plex Google Sheet mentioned above, you will see the results of performance testing for software transcoding at different resolutions. You will also see the specific CPU that is equipped with each relevant NAS in the list. This will give you a clear idea that NAS CPUs will perform well as software transcoders.
Finally, most NAS streaming software offers the option to transcode your media in the background. For example, it can transcode your content overnight when it’s not busy. So, when you stream media, it’s already in a great format. In this case, it doesn’t matter if you’re using software transcoding because you don’t need real-time performance. The main downside is that it will take some time for your media to become available, and this approach uses more storage because transcoded media is saved with the original unless you choose to delete the original file. ۔
Finally, hardware or software transcoding is a choice that suits your needs and budget. Neither is objectively superior in every case, but now you have the knowledge to decide for yourself.