Possible values of a byte
Word length determines the number of possible variations a byte can be. For example, there are 16 possible variations in a 4-bit byte ...
|Byte (binary)||Equivalent decimal value|
Here are some other typical word length values ...
|Word length||Byte length||Example Byte||Possible values||No of values|
|1||1 bit||1||1 and 0||2|
|8||8 bits||10010011||00000000 to 11111111||256|
|16||16 bits||1001001110010011||0000000000000000 to 1111111111111111||65,536|
|24||24 bits||100100111001001100111010||000000000000000000000000 to 111111111111111111111111||Millions!|
Word length and data "quality"
As a general rule ...
- The longer the word length the better the quality (or more detailed and precise) the information is, but ... the bigger the file size, and the greater the processing power required to handle it.
- The shorter the word length the poorer the quality, but ... the smaller the file size, and the lesser the processing power required to handle it.
Differing word lengths
As a general rule, the bytes in an individual software element (eg an image file, application or system component) will have identical bit-depths. There are some exceptions such as the MP3 format which offers a variable word length option, but this is not the norm.
However, word length may differ between software elements in a single computer system. For example, a system may be dealing with all the following file types simultaneously ...
- A GIF image file which will comprise a number of 8-bit (or less) bytes
- A CD quality .aif or .wav audio file which will comprise a number of 16-bit bytes
- A native RGB Photoshop document which will comprise a number of 24-bit bytes
- Elements of an operating system some of which may be 32-bit whilst others are 64-bit
It is possible for a single application to handle different media files of different bit depths simultaneously. For example ... Flash can replay audio, display images and play video files each with a different word length.