Data Representation in Computer: Number Systems, Characters, Audio, Image and Video

What is Data Representation in Computer?

A computer uses a fixed number of bits to represent a piece of data which could be a number, a character, image, sound, video, etc. Data representation is the method used internally to represent data in a computer. Let us see how various types of data can be represented in computer memory.

Before discussing data representation of numbers, let us see what a number system is.

Number Systems

Number systems are the technique to represent numbers in the computer system architecture, every value that you are saving or getting into/from computer memory has a defined number system.

A number is a mathematical object used to count, label, and measure. A number system is a systematic way to represent numbers. The number system we use in our day-to-day life is the decimal number system that uses 10 symbols or digits.

The number 289 is pronounced as two hundred and eighty-nine and it consists of the symbols 2, 8, and 9. Similarly, there are other number systems. Each has its own symbols and method for constructing a number.

A number system has a unique base, which depends upon the number of symbols. The number of symbols used in a number system is called the base or radix of a number system.

Let us discuss some of the number systems. Computer architecture supports the following number systems:

  1. Binary Number System
  2. Octal Number System
  3. Decimal Number System
  4. Hexadecimal Number System

Binary Number System

A Binary number system has only two digits that are 0 and 1. Every number (value) represents 0 and 1 in this number system. The base of the binary number system is 2 because it has only two digits.

Octal Number System

The octal number system has only eight (8) digits from 0 to 7. Every number (value) represents with 0,1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7 in this number system. The base of the octal number system is 8, because it has only 8 digits.

Decimal Number System

The decimal number system has only ten (10) digits from 0 to 9. Every number (value) represents with 0,1,2,3,4,5,6, 7,8 and 9 in this number system. The base of decimal number system is 10, because it has only 10 digits.

Hexadecimal Number System

A Hexadecimal number system has sixteen (16) alphanumeric values from 0 to 9 and A to F. Every number (value) represents with 0,1,2,3,4,5,6, 7,8,9,A,B,C,D,E and F in this number system. The base of the hexadecimal number system is 16, because it has 16 alphanumeric values.

Here A is 10, B is 11, C is 12, D is 13, E is 14 and F is 15.

Data Representation of Characters

There are different methods to represent characters. Some of them are discussed below:

  1. ASCII
  3. ISCH
  4. Unicode


The code called ASCII (pronounced ‘􀀏’.S-key”), which stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, uses 7 bits to represent each character in computer memory. The ASCII representation has been adopted as a standard by the U.S. government and is widely accepted.

A unique integer number is assigned to each character. This number called ASCII code of that character is converted into binary for storing in memory. For example, the ASCII code of A is 65, its binary equivalent in 7-bit is 1000001.

Since there are exactly 128 unique combinations of 7 bits, this 7-bit code can represent only128 characters. Another version is ASCII-8, also called extended ASCII, which uses 8 bits for each character, can represent 256 different characters.

For example, the letter A is represented by 01000001, B by 01000010 and so on. ASCII code is enough to represent all of the standard keyboard characters.


It stands for Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code. This is similar to ASCII and is an 8 bit code used in computers manufactured by International Business Machine (IBM). It is capable of encoding 256 characters.

If ASCII coded data is to be used in a computer that uses EBCDIC representation, it is necessary to transform ASCII code to EBCDIC code. Similarly, if EBCDIC coded data is to be used in an ASCII computer, EBCDIC code has to be transformed to ASCII.


ISCII stands for Indian Standard Code for Information Interchange or Indian Script Code for Information Interchange. It is an encoding scheme for representing various writing systems of India. ISCII uses 8-bits for data representation.

It was evolved by a standardization committee under the Department of Electronics during 1986-88 and adopted by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Nowadays ISCII has been replaced by Unicode.


Using 8-bit ASCII we can represent only 256 characters. This cannot represent all characters of written languages of the world and other symbols. Unicode is developed to resolve this problem. It aims to provide a standard character encoding scheme, which is universal and efficient.

It provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the language and platform be. Unicode originally used 16 bits which can represent up to 65,536 characters. It is maintained by a non-profit organization called the Unicode Consortium.

The Consortium first published version 1.0.0 in 1991 and continues to develop standards based on that original work. Nowadays Unicode uses more than 16 bits and hence it can represent more characters. Unicode can represent characters in almost all written languages of the world.

Data Representation of Audio, Image and Video

In most cases, we may have to represent and process data other than numbers and characters. This may include audio data, images, and videos. We can see that like numbers and characters, the audio, image, and video data also carry information.

We will see different file formats for storing sound, image, and video.

Multimedia data such as audio, image, and video are stored in different types of files. The variety of file formats is due to the fact that there are quite a few approaches to compressing the data and a number of different ways of packaging the data.

For example, an image is most popularly stored in Joint Picture Experts Group (JPEG ) file format. An image file consists of two parts – header information and image data. Information such as the name of the file, size, modified data, file format, etc. is stored in the header part.

The intensity value of all pixels is stored in the data part of the file. The data can be stored uncompressed or compressed to reduce the file size. Normally, the image data is stored in compressed form. Let us understand what compression is.

Take a simple example of a pure black image of size 400X400 pixels. We can repeat the information black, black, …, black in all 16,0000 (400X400) pixels. This is the uncompressed form, while in the compressed form black is stored only once and information to repeat it 1,60,000 times is also stored.

Numerous such techniques are used to achieve compression. Depending on the application, images are stored in various file formats such as bitmap file format (BMP), Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), Graphics Interchange Format (GIF), Portable (Public) Network Graphic (PNG).

What we said about the header file information and compression is also applicable for audio and video files. Digital audio data can be stored in different file formats like WAV, MP3, MIDI, AIFF, etc. An audio file describes a format, sometimes referred to as the ‘container format’, for storing digital audio data.

For example, WAV file format typically contains uncompressed sound and MP3 files typically contain compressed audio data. The synthesized music data is stored in MIDI(Musical Instrument Digital Interface) files.

Similarly, video is also stored in different files such as AVI (Audio Video Interleave) – a file format designed to store both audio and video data in a standard package that allows synchronous audio with video playback, MP3, JPEG-2, WMV, etc.

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