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Learn About Video File Formats, Codecs and Containers

By Hanna Welch | March 14, 2019 |

greater than 4 minutes

There are lots of video formats for different purposes. Video files saved in different formats are usually of different quality and size, so knowing the specifics of each format is a good skill that can help you handle video recordings more wisely. Let’s take a deeper look at the issue.

Most Used Video File Formats

When you start making videos, you get more involved in the subject of various video file formats available today. Some of them seem to be quite common, while others may not look familiar to you.

In order not to get completely confused, you should first get it straight that all digital video files are made up of two parts: a codec and a container. Most of them are given a name for their container. For example, when you see .MP4, .AVI, or .MOV video files, the extension tells you the type of container, not the video format itself. You need to choose your video file format depending on the purpose, on where it will be hosted and the intended audience.

Want to know more about video file formats? Check out this article, plus discover how to send large video files.

Compression, Codecs and Containers

The biggest problem for all video makers is the file size. Today, almost all cameras are able to take video at 4K resolution, which makes the resulting file quite huge. This can present a problem, especially when you need to transfer this large video file online.

Here are come codecs you could use, which provide some degree of compression for all video files.

Video Codecs

Typically, codecs are used to compress and decompress videos. The effects of compression may reflect on the quality of a video, however, there are codecs that do not affect the quality at all. Most often, compression makes a video file smaller at the cost of losing some video data, while the lossless codecs are unable to reduce the size of a video file, which can still be an issue. It’s up to you to decide whether you are okay with losing some quality for the sake of a smaller file size.

Want to know more about video codecs? Check out this article, plus discover how to send large video files.

Common Video Codecs

The most widely used video codes today are:

  • H.264
  • MPEG-4
  • DivX
  • MPEG-2
  • HEVC (H.265)

H.264

One of the most loved codecs is H.264 which allows keeping high quality while significantly reducing the file size. It’s compatible with the MP4 container and can be played on various players and devices.

MPEG-4

You are more likely to hear about another popular codec, MPEG-4. It’s a lot like the H.264 but with a wider range of compatibility.

DivX

DivX is an older codec that was originally designed to keep maximum quality resulting in a really massive file size. It’s usually used for corporate commercials where priority is given to quality, and not to file size.

MPEG-2

It’s quite an old codec, which is actually an ancestor to MPEG-4. It is a standard codec for use on DVDs and early Blu-ray discs, and it’s not used that often for streaming videos.

HEVC (H.265)

HEVC is a new generation codec also known as H.265. It’s developed for more efficient compression of 4K video and for use with Blu-ray technology. It’s also often used by action cameras, such as GoPro.

Video Containers

Video containers bundle and store all elements of a video in one package. Elements include the video and audio streams, subtitles, video metadata, codec and more.

Each video container type is compatible with certain video codecs. Your video editing software should only allow you to choose compatible pairings, but try to plan what codec and container you will use ahead of time to avoid running into issues when you go to render your final video.

Want to know more about video containers? Check out this article, plus discover how to send large video files.

Common Video Containers

Most widely used video containers are:

  • MP4
  • AVI
  • MOV
  • FLV
  • WMV

MP4

The .MP4 container is the closest one to worldwide standards. It is capable of using all versions of MPEG-4 and H.264, and is compatible with a large number of players. Plus, it’s the best choice when you want both high quality and small file size. Most of the streaming services nowadays use MP4 as the main container.

AVI

AVI is an older and most accepted video format, which can use the widest range of codecs and offers different file settings. It’s compatible with a huge number of players. Since it produces a larger file size, it’s not that good for streaming, but it’s still a good option for storing video content on a PC.

MOV (Quicktime)

Apple has designed its own player called Quicktime, and the MOV container was created for this player. MOV videos have high quality, but their size is still quite reasonable.

FLV (Flash)

You probably know the FLV format that was specifically created for Adobe Flash Player. FLV videos are very small in size, which means they fit many browsers plugins and video players. One thing you should know about FLV is that the number of this type of videos has decreased dramatically and keeps decreasing.

WMV (Windows Media)

Windows Media Video format offers the smallest file size and works great for sending videos via email. On the other hand, it has a significant effect on video quality which is usually poor.

How to choose the best video format and send large video files online

When choosing a video format, you should consider the way you are going to use this video. If it’s created for streaming, online previews or sharing via email, you should look at formats that provide maximum compression that reduces the file size. The best choice is probably MP4 or H.264, as they offer optimal balance between size and quality.

We have already put together a guide on How to Send Large Video Files to a Friend, so be sure to check it out.

Our choice for sending large video files online is FileWhopper. You will be able to send up to 1TB at a time. Sounds like a fairy tale? Try it and see for yourself!

More useful links:

How to Make and Send Large Travel Video Files

How to Send Large Videos in WhatsApp

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