7 Best Video Formats Explained for 2021

Find out the benefits of different file formats and discover the right combination of codec and container for your next project.

We all enjoy watching videos but do you know what it means each time you hear abbreviations like MP4, AVI or MPEG4?

video formats explained

In this post we have video formats explained in a manner which would take just a few minutes to understand!

Part 1 What is a Video File Format?

Video File Format

There are two crucial aspects that would help you understand file format. The greater the resolution on your video the larger the file. So what exactly is a codec and Container?

Codec:

A Codec is the layout to which audio and video files are transcoded into. They compress or decompress the video data into lossy or lossless files.

Lossy files are smaller in size hence would take up less space as some of the data is lost while lossless files retain all of the original data making their files larger.

Containers:

Containers act as the vessel that contains all the data required to support your video's playback.

These containers come with file extensions like .mov, .mp3 or .avi.

Containers are also purposed for holding other components such as 'metadata' which can include information such as frame rate, lens info, camera settings and more.

1. What Are the Basic Video File Formats

Basic Video File Formats

The most commonly used codecs today are HEVC, H.265, VP9 and AV1, while common containers are MKV, MP4, WebM and AVCHD. Each codec and file format has its own unique advantage and drawbacks, as certain file formats are incompatible with select video players.

2. What is a Good Video Format

Good Video Format

Here are some of those factors, each with its own format compatibility.

Online Publishing:

The highest bitrate may not always be the right solution if it's not supported by internet speed.

For platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, a combination of MP4 with hH.264 is your ideal choice while YouTube is more compatible with heavier formats like MOV, WMV or AVI.


Recording and Storage:

What you need is a lossless video format that retains data and doesn't require compression.

Professionals who edit HD videos opt for MKV and AVCHD that gives them the best quality results.


Post Production:

Both audio and video streams would be compressed into a special container that uses a codec that transcribes them later to sound a picture for playback on multimedia players.

Best video file formats for editing would be MOV, MKV, MP4, AVI and WMV.

3. The Importance of Codecs and Containers

Codecs and Containers

Most often it is hard to spot the difference between low quality and high quality videos but a drop in quality can significantly affect how your video looks, how it’s shared and how it is played.

Without using a codec, your original file size may take ages to download.

Part 2 5 Popular Video File Formats, Containers

1. MP4

mp4

It has a wide range of available extensions like m4a, m4v, f4a,f4b and m4r, and uses separate compression algorithms for video and audio files. You are ensured of lossless compression and widely supported by multiple multimedia players and digital devices.

Pros

Supports metadata.

High degree of Compression.

Universally compatible with devices and editors.

Cons

Suitable for only MPEG4.

Risk of Copyright infringement.

Loss of pixel quality.

2. MOV

mov

Popularly known as the best video format suitable for iOS devices since it was developed by Apple to store full-length movies on QuickTime. It is great for downloading and saving videos off the internet given its compatibility with several other multimedia players.

Pros

Simplistic design.

Save data without having to rewrite.

Wide range compatibility with platforms and codecs.

Cons

Loss of quality when compressed.

Large file size.

Ma not be compatible with some players.

3. MKV

mkv

MKV is probably the most convenient video format to use and is praised by a vast number of video editors. Saving your files in MKV allows you to store unlimited video and audio tracks, subtitles, uncompressed HD videos and more.

Pros

Open source format.

High quality video.

Universal approval.

Cons

Only a handful of players can play MKV.

Large video files.

May take time to load.

4. AVCHD

avchd

First introduced by Blu-Ray, AVCHD is video file format used for recording high-quality videos for further editing. This format is capable of supporting 1080p videos between 50 to 60 fps rate. Industrial professionals use this format for editing superbly fine videos which are not meant for typical consumer usage.

Pros

Blu-ray compatibility.

Originally used by Sony and Panasonic cameras.

Impressively high image and audio quality.

Cons

Extremely Large Files.

Not compatible with most video players and digital devices.

Difficult to store in a single file in M2TS format.

5. WEBM

webm

WEBM is the most suitable format for uploading online videos and it comes Google recommended. It is was developed as a free to use format for HTML5. You can integrate directly with your website’s plugins. Supported by all browsers like Chrome, Edge, Explorer and Firefox. You would experience no compromise to loading time if you use WebM format for your videos.

Pros

Royalty free and open source format.

Lossless compression.

Is directly played on web browser.

Cons

May not be compatible with outdated browsers and players.

Low Video Quality.

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Part 3 The Best Video Codecs: Pros and Cons Explained

Codec
Advantage
Consumption
Resolution
Speed
H264 Universal Coder 34 MB Medium High
HEVC High Compression 33.5 MB Medium High
Xvid High Quality 55 MB High Medium
MPEG-1 Ideal Compression Rate 38.8 MB Medium Below Average
RGB 24 Lossless Compression, Less Size 104 MB High Very High

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Some Final Thoughts

Choosing the right file format or combination of codec and container for your video can become a complicated task if you lack the correct data.

It is ultimately about whether your choice of video format serves you best no matter if it’s lossy or lossless, heavy on space or conserving space, high resolution or loss of pixelization, so on and so forth.

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