Understanding Video File Formats and When To Use Them

Video helps people make buying decisions – precisely what you want in business. But can they view the video you just created? Video file format is a crucial element to consider when creating and sharing your content. So, read on as we tell you which video file formats you can make for your business with Zight!

Zight | September 11, 2023 | 9 min read time

Article Last Updated: February 19, 2024

Understanding Video File Formats and When To Use Them

If you’re in business today, you already know the power of video. Whether fun YouTube videos or training, onboarding, demos, how-tos, explainers, or other tutorials, the right video files can grab attention and drive results.

But here’s the catch: not all video files are created equal. To make sure your videos are impactful, you want to understand the different video file formats to use.

Ever wondered why some videos play smoothly on your device while others don’t? Or why some videos take forever to download? It’s all about the video file format. We have more on what they are and the types that work best for businesses.

Let’s start!

What Is a Video File Format?

A video file format is a structure that stores digital video data. It dictates how your video will perform on devices like computers, smartphones, cameras, and more. Examples of common video file formats include MP4, WMV, and MOV.

But how do these video formats differ? Each video file format contains two parts: a codec and a container. These two terms affect the quality, size, and compatibility of your video files. Let’s see how below:

I. Codecs

A codec, short for “compressor-decompressor,” is a software or hardware tool that handles the encoding and decoding of digital data. For your video files, a codec’s primary role is to compress raw video and audio data to a more manageable size and then decompress it for playback.

Wondering how it works?

When you record or create a video, the raw file can be extremely large with information like image, video, meta, and audio data. This can make it impractical for storage or streaming. However, a video codec compresses this data by removing redundant or unnecessary information to reduce the file size. Then during playback, the codec reverses this process – it decompresses the data to recreate the video and audio streams for viewing and listening.

Still, there are different video codecs, and each achieves varying levels of quality and compression.

Some commonly used video codecs include:

  • H.264: This codec is the most used. It offers a good balance between quality and compression and is often the codec of choice for MP4 files
  • VP8: This is an open video compression format from Google. It is commonly used to create WEBM videos
  • VP9: This is an open-source codec developed by Google, known for delivering high-quality video at lower bit rates
  • HEVC (H.265): This codec is an improvement to H.264, it offers similar quality but with better compression, making it ideal for 4K videos

Since codecs can affect your video quality, you want to choose yours carefully. So, it is vital to use the best video editing software to create or convert your video. Luckily, the software offers options to select a specific codec when you’re exporting or saving a video file.

Also, consider the device you will watch your videos on, or the devices that your audience is likely to use. For instance, a high-efficiency codec like H.265 can deliver excellent quality but may require more processing power for playback, making it less suitable for older devices. On the other hand, a less efficient codec might result in a smaller file size but compromise on quality.

Finally, consider that not all codecs are supported by every video file format or player. For example, while H.264 is widely supported across various platforms and video formats like MP4, other codecs like VP9 may have limited compatibility.

II. Container

A container is pretty close to what you have in mind if you thought of a physical container or jar- it is a digital package that holds various types of data related to a video file. This includes the video and audio streams, metadata, subtitles, and sometimes even chapters or menu structures. The container wraps all these elements into a single, manageable file that can be played back on compatible devices and software.

Ever thought about the process of playing your video file? When you play it, the container serves as the organizer that tells the playback software how to synchronize the video with the audio, when to display subtitles, and how to manage other types of metadata like the video’s title. Essentially, it is what offers a seamless playback experience by coordinating all video file elements.

You may think containers are the same as video file formats. But, while they share names, they have one tiny difference. While a container is a package that holds various types of data like video and audio streams, a video file format refers to both the container and the codecs used for compression.

Here are some famous video container formats:

  • MP4: It is a widely used container that supports a broad range of codecs, including H.264. It’s known for its versatility and is commonly used for streaming and playback on various devices.
  • MKV (Matroska): This is an open-source container that supports almost any codec and offers features like multiple audio tracks and subtitles in the same file.
  • AVI (Audio Video Interleave): AVI is one of the oldest containers. It’s not very efficient in terms of file size and quality, but it is supported by many platforms.
  • MOV: This is Apple’s proprietary container, optimized for the QuickTime Player

Video containers are invaluable- they determine your video file’s compatibility with devices. Also, some offer more advanced features like chapters, menus, or multiple subtitles and audio tracks, while other containers are more efficient than others.

Like with the video codec, you want to choose the best video recording or editing software that will offer different container formats to use. When exporting a video, most editing software will allow you to choose your preferred container, much like choosing a codec. The choice often depends on where the video will be played, what features you need, and what codecs you’ve used.

Different Types of Video File Formats, Their Usage, Pros, and Cons

You now know what a video file format is – it contains the codec and container. But there are different types for different video needs. Here are some video formats you can use for digital content.

1. AVI

AVI stands for Audio Video Interleave and is a file format developed by Microsoft. These video files were widely used in professional settings and were somehow a general standard for storing movies on Windows PCs. But AVI is not just limited to Windows; it’s also supported on major platforms like Mac and Linux. Most media players, like VLC, can recognize and play AVI files, making it a usable choice for various applications.

Pros

  • Supported by multiple operating systems and media players
  • Capable of maintaining high fidelity in both video and audio
  • Can be produced using different audio and video codecs for the best compatibility

Cons

  • Some of AVI features are outdated if you’re looking for seamless streaming
  • You might have compatibility issues with modern PCs

2. MP4

MP4 is the short form for MPEG-4 Part 14. It is a video format that holds audio, video, and even text data, making it incredibly versatile for a wide range of multimedia applications. You have probably encountered or used MP4 in video editing, streaming, or even just casual video viewing. MP4 is the best format for YouTube, X(formerly Twitter), Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and more. It is also the standard for capturing and compressing audio-video data from DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and even smartphones.

Pros

  • Multi-platform compatibility
  • High compression rates, making it ideal for streaming and storage
  • Rich metadata support
  • Despite its compression, MP4 maintains a high level of audio and video quality

Cons

  • Due to its versatility and easy access, MP4 comes with some security concerns, especially the illegal sharing of copyrighted material.

3. MOV

MOV is a multimedia container file format developed by Apple Inc. This format is an MPEG-4 video container that can hold a variety of multimedia elements, including audio, video, and text, all within the same file. MOV files work seamlessly with Apple’s QuickTime program but are also compatible with other platforms.

Pros

  • High-quality video output
  • MOV files offer good metadata support
  • The MOV format supports in-browser playback through the installation of the QuickTime plugin

Cons

  • Limited compatibility if you don’t have QuickTime Player

4. WEBM

WEBM is an open-source, royalty-free video file format developed by Google to work with HTML5. It is the best format for web development, video sharing, or streaming. WEBM provides an alternative to proprietary video formats like MP4. It uses VP8 and VP9 video codecs and is designed to offer a lot of compression while requiring little computational power for decompression.

Pros

  • Free and open-source
  • Fast loading when streaming video
  • Excellent compression
  • WEBM maintains a high level of video quality

Cons

  • WEBM has limited browser and media player support

5. MKV

MKV means Matroska Video and is a free and open-source video format. It is unique in its ability to contain an unlimited number of video, audio, picture, or subtitle tracks within a single file. This makes it incredibly versatile for a wide range of multimedia applications. MKV is often the go-to format for high-definition video content, particularly for movies and TV shows.

Pros

  • Supports multiple audio and subtitle tracks
  • High-quality video output
  • Open-source and royalty-free

Cons

  • It can result in large file sizes due to its ability to hold multiple types of media

6. WMV

WMV stands for Windows Media Video and was developed by Microsoft. The video format is a part of the Windows Media framework and is one of the most recognized video file formats within the Windows environment. If you download Windows Media Player, you can also use WMV files for presentations and internal communications because of its compatibility with Windows operating systems.

Pros

  • Good video quality with relatively smaller file sizes
  • Native support on all Windows platforms
  • DRM (Digital Rights Management) support for content protection

Cons

  • Limited compatibility with non-Windows devices and platforms

7. AVCHD

AVCHD refers to Advanced Video Codec High Definition. It is a file format for the digital recording and playback of high-definition video. Developed jointly by Sony and Panasonic, it’s commonly used in high-definition camcorders.

Pros

  • High-quality video and audio
  • Supports 3D video

Cons

  • Large file sizes
  • Limited compatibility with non-professional software and devices

Which Video File Formats Does Zight Use For Video And Screen Recordings?

As we saw above, you need to use the best video software to be able to use many video file formats. And, which better software to use than Zight?

It is your best software for screenshots, screen recordings, GIFs, and webcam recorder. And the best part? Zight supports many video formats, including:

  • MP4
  • MOV
  • WMV

Zight allows you to record your video and share it in your ideal video format. You can share the video file directly from the cloud, or download it to your computer in any of the formats above.

Frequently Asked Questions About Video File Formats

a) Which is the most commonly used video file format today?

The most commonly used video file format today is MP4. It is compatible with almost every video software and supports audio, video, subtitles, and still images.

b) Can you change a video’s format?

You can change your video formats with the best video conversion software. To do so, you only need to get your best software, then upload your video and convert it into your ideal video format.

c) Which is the best video format for YouTube?

The best format for YouTube is MP4. It records high-quality videos using the H.264 video codec, and AAC-LC audio codec for your audio files. To create an MP4 video, just hit the Record button on zight and you will create an impressive file in no time!

d) Which is the best video format for screen recordings?

When you want to record your screen with Zight, you can use various formats for your video files. The best include MP4, MOV, WPM, and WEBM.

e) Which is the best video format for Instagram videos?

Like YouTube, the best video files format for Instagram videos is MP4. Luckily, you can easily record your screen or record your webcam with Zight and get it in this format.

f) Which is the best video format for Facebook videos?

When you need a specific video file format for Facebook, consider MOV and MP4 video files. MP4 maintains the best quality and is compatible with most devices that access Facebook.

g) Which is the best video format for Tiktok videos

The universal file format for TikTok videos is MP4. If you are not able to record MP4, you can record video files in the MOV file format to maintain the best video quality.

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