You’re looking for the best: which video format has the highest quality and most convenient file size combined? To this day, nobody has found the one definitive answer to this question. Each video format is a different balance of various specifications—the only way to go about finding the right format is by first deciding on a platform.
Where is the scene of your playback is going to be? Some of the most popular video formats easily make their way around the web because of their high compatibility with online platforms. Others are best stored in a USB for playback on a TV set. According to a recent video marketing statistic, mobile phones gain 100% more ground on the video consumption landscape each year.
All these available platforms require different playback specifications, and deciding on a landing spot is the first step to finding out which format to shoot for. To help demystify your options, we explain video formats under the following topics:
- What is a video format?
- Finding the right video format for you
- For online sharing | MP4, WMV
- For TV and computer | AVI, MOV, MKV
- For websites | WebM
- The future of video formats
1.What is a video format?
A digital video file is made up of a container and a codec, expressed in a video format.
A file container is like a box that bundles together different data. A video file container holds in a video stream, audio stream, and other metadata such as subtitles. That’s a lot of information compressed into a container and for all of it to be understood by programs that edit or play videos, a codec must be included in the box. A codec could be thought of as a software that enables all that video data to interact with external platforms—so that when the container is “delivered” to editing programs or players, the video will be fully functional. Technically the word “codec” stands for “code-decode” because it compresses and decompresses data.
It can get confusing because even though the extension name is usually indicative of the container, it doesn’t represent the video and audio codecs inside the file. If you’ve ever encountered an invalid file format error (especially if the extension name or container is usually compatible with your player), it could mean your player is missing a codec. The VLC Media Player is one of the most powerful free platforms out there because it supports a wide range of media codecs and video formats.
2. Finding the right video format for you
Because there are so many containers and codecs, there are also many trade-off variations on file size, video resolution, and compatibility. Depending on what your need is, the right format could either be the one with the smallest file size, the one with the most features, or the one with highest compatibility. This section discusses which video formats work best with online sharing platforms, TV sets, desktop media players, personal websites—and even PowerPoint presentations.
For online sharing on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and more
The crucial thing for online browsers is maximum quality and minimum file size combined. According to Google’s research on the latest video trends, 6 out of 10 people would rather watch videos online than on television. These people would likely also prefer videos that are both high quality and easy to stream on their phones. The following formats do just that:
• MP4 or MPEG-4 | Moving Pictures Expert Group 4
If you’re looking for the most universal video format, this is probably it. The MP4 video format is one of the most popular for online use because it compresses high quality videos into a relatively small size. All the major sharing platforms support MP4 and it’s even widely accepted by editing softwares and offline programs. Case in point: even PowerPoint presentations run MP4 videos.
This format was introduced by the same team that set the standards for audio and video compression: The Moving Pictures Experts Group. Because of its universality, modern video editing applications like ClipChamp export its videos in MP4. To try it on for size, you can start by editing this Happy Birthday video greeting and sharing it on a friend’s Facebook timeline. You can also explore our video templates page for more content ideas.
- WMV | Windows Media Video
As the name suggests, the WMV format was developed by Microsoft and is the main video file type supported by the Windows operating system. It’s popular for online use because it doesn’t take up much space and has even better compression abilities than the MP4. Although it may not be readily compatible with Apple products, Microsoft users can always download a Windows Media Player for their Macintosh or iPhone.
To check if you have the right video format for your YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram upload, here’s a quick table with some of the most popular sharing sites and the video formats they support:
If this table tells you that your video needs to be compressed, Clipchamp offers a video compressor for files up to 20 GB in size. For a more detailed guide on the different video requirements of each platform check out our blog (the Ultimate Guide to Facebook Videos is a good place to start).
For TV and computerBig screens call for high definition videos. If your motion picture is made for HD TV and you have the hard drive space to spare, it would be a good idea to export in these formats:
- AVI | Audio Video Interleave
The AVI has been around for a long time and is compatible with a wide variety of media players that came before and after it was introduced in 1992. Because it features a wide variety of codecs and runs on different systems like Windows, Macintosh, and Linux, the AVI is usually the default for storing videos in a computer. On the flipside, its high quality can make AVI videos hard to compress and this video format may not be ideal for streaming.
- MOV | Apple QuickTime Movie
If the AVI was developed by Microsoft, the MOV was created by Apple for the QuickTime Player. It’s fortunate that QuickTime is downloadable for Microsoft users because MOV is considered one of the best looking video formats out there, and it can store audio, text, and video effects. Like the AVI, it can be played on most USB-compatible television sets but its features and quality take up a lot of space. On the upside, this format is compatible with a good number of online sharing platforms. If your MOV file is less than 4GB, Facebook and Instagram can publish it.
- MKV | Matroska Video
If a video features several languages, it’s usually in MKV because the format can include unlimited video, audio, and subtitle tracks in one file. The MKV isn’t quite as universal as the AVI, but it is entirely open source and gaining traction as the preferred format for online HD videos. According to some opinions on HD video formats, the MKV and the MOV may be more future-friendly than the AVI.
When it comes to videos for website use, the output to choose is WebM. WebM is a royalty-free format intended for HTML5, and can be embedded directly onto a website without needing a plugin. It is supported by most modern browsers like Google Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer.
The future of video formats
Here are two notable developments to keep in mind:
- FLV | Flash Video Format
In the past it was normal to have a Flash Player plugin installed in your browser so FLV was one of the most significant file types for online use. FLV files are very small and even more compressed than MP4 files. But the plugin was eventually driven out of browsers when the industry shifted to HTML5, and in 2017 Adobe announced the discontinuation of the Flash Player. At the moment, the FLV video format is still supported by Youtube, but compatibility is going to be an issue after 2020.
- AV1 | AOMedia Video Codec 1.0
AV1 is a video codec especially designed for online streaming—meaning it has really good compression abilities. Not to be confused with AVI, the AOMedia Video Codec 1.0 or AV1 was only released in 2018. When encoded, it promises royalty-free, ultra HD video quality, sans the data consumption of commonly used codecs like H.264. Because the development of AV1 is backed by big industry players like Google, Apple, Netflix, Amazon, and others, expect that it will be supported by devices and platforms across the content chain in the coming years. At the moment, AV1 is supported by the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox.
After reading this article, you might find yourself with a video format that doesn’t match what you want to use your video for. If you’re looking to convert, ClipChamp offers a video converter that can process your file into the formats listed in this article.