Video formats: common video file formats explained and compared

Before we take a closer look at the most common video formats and compare their different features, let’s start by defining exactly what a video format is. A video file is a specific type of file format that contains all the important information about a video. Depending on the exact file type, this can include image files, audio files, menus, and even subtitles.

Technical aspects of video formats

Video formats have a number of technical characteristics, for example, the frame rate, color depth, film format, and audio track. These four characteristics determine what the video will look like to viewers and also their file size. For example, the higher the resolution and the higher the frame rate, the bigger the amount of data that has to be stored in the video file. Large files will, of course, take up more space on your hard disk, but you can use a technique called compression to reduce the size. Note, however, that compressing a file will affect the video quality.

Tip

The video file format you choose will determine not only the quality and size of the file, but also the type of device that can play the video. For this reason, it’s usually best to select the format that’s most suited to the device the video will ultimately be viewed on. A handy way of making videos available to different platforms in different formats is to use cloud storage.

Popular video file formats and platforms

The most frequently used online video platform is YouTube, although Facebook is also a very effective way of distributing video content to a large number of viewers. Both websites allow you to upload multiple videos and share them with a wide audience. Common video formats should be actively supported by both platforms. Indeed, you can upload any of the following file types (among others):

  • MOV
  • MP4
  • AVI
  • WMF
  • FLV
  • WebM

However, both the size of the file and the file format will determine how long the platform takes to convert and publish your video, so it’s worth thinking carefully about which format to use. The same applies if you want to upload videos to your website.

The best video formats: pros and cons explained

First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between container formats and video codecs. When people talk about video formats, they’re usually referring to the container format. The “container” is where the video, audio, and metadata is stored. It makes sure that all of the information in a file can be retrieved. Codecs, on the other hand, are used to encode videos. In particular, this determines the type and level of compression. The most well-known video codecs are H.264, H.265, VP8, and VP9. To encode a video, you have to use a video editing program.

MP4 video format

MP4 has long been one of the most popular video file formats used on the web. It offers an excellent compromise between compression and video quality. The main codecs used with MP4 are H.264 and H.265.

Advantages

MP4 allows a good level of compression without compromising on image quality. One of its main advantages is that it allows you to easily combine several audio tracks and other elements in a single format.

Disadvantages

The high level of compression applied by the standard codecs makes MP4 files difficult to edit and produce.

AVI video format

AVI stands for Audio Video Interleave. In other words, it is a format that combines audio and video. The format is widely used, but from a technical point of view, it is now somewhat outdated.

Advantages

The key advantage of this video format is that it is very widely accepted. There are barely any browsers or video players that don’t support AVI files.

Disadvantages

The technical limitations of this file format, and above all the lack of options for working with multiple audio tracks, mean that fewer and fewer users are turning to AVI.

MKV video format

MKV is currently one of the most popular video file formats on the web. It is a powerful container format that can hold audio tracks, menus, and many other functions in addition to video files.

Advantages

Users choose MKV for its high-quality video files and its vast range of applications. It’s true that MKV format is only compatible with one codec, but this is freely available online.

Disadvantages

The main drawback of this file format is that the level of compression is low, meaning you can’t create very small files.

MOV video format

The MOV video format was developed by Apple and was originally intended for use with QuickTime. However, it has long been surpassed by alternative video formats and is no longer used much online.

Advantages

The format has the advantage of being easy to implement in Apple environments and allowing for the creation of very small files thanks to a high degree of compression.

Disadvantages

On the other hand, the powerful compression is also a disadvantage, because it results in loss of data and image quality. In other words, although you can create relatively small, compact files, the end result is usually disappointing.

OGG video format

One of the reasons that the OGG video file format was developed was to bring more flexibility to a market that was largely dominated by rights holders. OGG was, therefore, one of the first formats that could be used in the popular Linux environment, and quickly became well established on the market.

Advantages

The advantage of OGG lies in the fact that it is patent-free,widely accepted and is supported natively by the majority of browsers. This means that this format is a sensible choice if you want to add a video to your own website.

Disadvantages

Despite its wide distribution, the OGG video format does have some disadvantages. Both Safari and Internet Explorer only partially support it for example, so your video may not be displayed properly in these browsers.

VOB video format

VOB established itself early on as a standard for DVDs and is therefore mainly used for this type of media. It isn’t suitable for online use due to a lack of licenses and its low level of compression.

Advantages

The format can be read by any DVD player and offers a low level of compression. It can also contain multiple audio tracks.

Disadvantages

This format isn’t suitable for use online because you can’t upload VOB files to the various hosting platforms or to your own website. Also, a special codec is required to play videos in this format, and it isn’t freely available.

WMV video format

The WMV format was developed by Microsoft and is still widely used today. Because this format supports Digital Rights Management (DRM), it is generally used for video files that need to be copy protected.

Advantages

The format is reliably handled by all of the Microsoft operating systems.

Disadvantages

Since it is an older format, there is only partial support for very large video files. There are also limitations on file size and video quality.

Video file formats compared in a list

Video format Developer Year of release Applications Container format?
MP4 Moving Picture Experts Group 2003 Originally Apple, but can now be used on many other devices too Yes
AVI Microsoft 1992 All common video platforms and devices Yes
MKV Matroska 2003 Only supported by a handful of video players Yes
MOV Apple 1991 Used primarily on Apple devices Yes
OGG Xiph.Org Foundation 2008 Supported by lots of video platforms and players Yes
VOB DVD Forum 1997 Mainly for DVDs Yes
WMV Microsoft 2000 For all digital media where copy protection is required No

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