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H.263 is a video compression standard originally designed as a low-bitrate compressed format for videoconferencing. It was developed by the ITU-T Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG) in a project ending in 1995/1996 as one member of the H.26x family of video coding standards in the domain of the ITU-T.

H.263 has since found many applications on the internet: much Flash Video content (as used on sites such as YouTube, Google Video, MySpace, etc.) used to be encoded in Sorenson Spark format (an incomplete implementation of H.263[1][2][3]), though many sites now use VP6 or H.264 encoding. The original version of the RealVideo codec was based on H.263 up until the release of RealVideo 8.[4]

H.263 is a required video codec in ETSI 3GPP technical specifications for IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) and Transparent end-to-end Packet-switched Streaming Service (PSS).[5][6][7] In 3GPP specifications, H.263 video is usually used in 3GP container format.

The codec was first designed to be utilized in H.324 based systems (PSTN and other circuit-switched network videoconferencing and videotelephony), but has since also found use in H.323 (RTP/IP-based videoconferencing), H.320 (ISDN-based videoconferencing), RTSP (streaming media) and SIP (Internet conferencing) solutions.

H.263 was developed as an evolutionary improvement based on experience from H.261, the previous ITU-T standard for video compression, and the MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 standards. Its first version was completed in 1995 and provided a suitable replacement for H.261 at all bitrates. It was further enhanced in projects known as H.263v2 (also known as H.263+ or H.263 1998), MPEG-4 Part 2 and H.263v3 (also known as H.263++ or H.263 2000).[8][9][10] MPEG-4 Part 2 is H.263 compatible in the sense that a basic H.263 bitstream is correctly decoded by an MPEG-4 Video decoder.[8][11]

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