Software-only video codecs can provide good playback performance in desktop computers with a 486 or 68040 CPU running at 33 MHz without special hardware assistance. Typically, playback of compressed video can be categorized into three tasks: the actual decoding of the video stream, color conversion, and the transfer of decoded video data from system RAM to video RAM. By current standards, good playback performance is the decoding and display of video streams of 320 by 240 (or larger) compressed frames at 15 (or greater) frames-per- second. Software-only video codecs have evolved by modifying and tailoring existing compression methodologies to suit video playback in desktop computers. In this paper we examine the characteristics used to evaluate software-only video codec algorithms, namely: image fidelity (i.e., image quality), bandwidth (i.e., compression) ease-of-decoding (i.e., playback performance), memory consumption, compression to decompression asymmetry, scalability, and delay. We discuss the tradeoffs among these variables and the compromises that can be made to achieve low numerical complexity for software-only playback. Frame- differencing approaches are described since software-only video codecs typically employ them to enhance playback performance. To complement other papers that appear in this session of the Proceedings, we review methods derived from binary pattern image coding since these methods are amenable for software-only playback. In particular, we introduce a novel approach called pixel distribution image coding.