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Fully configurable video coding is a novel approach to video compression in which a video decoder can be dynamically constructed based on a decoder description. This paper presents a new syntax for describing video decoder functionality and structure, namely, the decoder description syntax (DDS). The DDS is a platform-independent syntax that can define all aspects of a video decoder in terms of basic processing instructions. A DDS description of a video decoder may be coded and transmitted, and then executed by a generic processing platform, a “universal video decoder (UVD).” Any new or modified video decoding function may be described, communicated, and instantiated using the DDS, which makes it possible to rapidly implement new coding algorithms, to dynamically adapt the coding algorithm to suit the video data, and to efficiently implement multiple coding formats on one platform. We present examples of video decoding functions implemented in the DDS and show how these may be executed on a UVD. We demonstrate that flexible configuration, re-configuration, and decoding of video can be achieved using a real-time prototype UVD with functions transmitted and instantiated on-the-fly using the DDS.