8 Best Video File Formats for 2020

By Gilad Maayan
Published 12/02/2019
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Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.


Any video clip you watch on your smartphone, computer, TV or tablet has a specific type of file format. If you want your videos to perform well on any platform, you must understand how each video format works. For example, a video format for web development will be different from the format you use for your social media. Read on to learn how to choose the right format for you.


What Is a Video File Format?

A container and a codec are two components of any video file. A video format is the container that stores audio, video, subtitles and any other metadata. A codec encodes and decodes multimedia data such as audio and video.

When creating a video, a video codec encodes and compresses the video while the audio codec does the same with sound. Afterwards the encoded video and audio are synchronized and stored in a media container—the file format.


8 Common Video File Formats, Codecs, and Containers

To choose the best digital video format for your needs, first you must understand the difference between them. Let’s briefly review and understand the common formats in the market and their features.



MPEG-4 Part 14 or MP4 is one of the earliest digital video file formats introduced in 2001. Most digital platforms and devices support MP4. An MP4 format can store audio files, video files, still images, and text. Additionally, MP4 provides high quality video while maintaining relatively small file sizes.



MOV is a popular video file format designed by Apple. It was designed to support the QuickTime player. MOV files contain videos, audio, subtitles, timecodes and other media types. It is compatible across different versions of QuickTimePlayer, both for Mac and Windows. Since it is a very high-quality video format, MOV files take significantly more memory space on a computer.



The WMV video format was designed by Microsoft and is widely used in Windows media players. WMV format provides small file sizes with better compression than MP4. That is why it’s popular for online video streaming. Although it is not compatible with Apple devices, users can download Windows Media Player for their iPhone or Mac.



FLV is a file format used by Adobe Flash Player. It is one of the most popular and versatile video formats supported by all video platforms and browsers. The FLV format is a good choice for online video streaming platforms like YouTube. They have a relatively small file size which makes them easy to download. The only drawback is that it’s not compatible with many mobile devices like iPhones.



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The AVI file format was introduced in 1992 by Microsoft and is still widely used today. The AVI video format uses less compression than other video formats such as MPEG or MOV. This results in very large file sizes, approximately 2-3 GB per minute of video. It can be a problem for users with limited storage space. You can also create AVI video files without any compression. This makes the files lossless. A lossless file will keep its quality over time, regardless of how many times you open or save the file. Additionally, this eliminated the use of codecs in video players.


AVCHD (Advanced Video Coding High Definition)

AVCHD is a format used for HD video playback and digital recording. This video format was designed by Panasonic and Sony for professional high definition video recording. AVCHD also lets you store hours of high-quality video using only a tiny amount of data by leveraging the H.264/MPEG-4.


Video Compression Technology


Additionally, the latest version of the format AVCHD 2.0 supports three dimensional video.



First introduced by Google in 2010, WebM is an open-source video format that was developed with the current and future state of the Internet in mind. WebM is intended for use with HTML5. The video codecs of WebM require very little computer power to compress and unzip the files. The aim of this design is to enable online video streaming on almost any device, such as tablets, desktop, smartphones or devices like smart TV.



MKV file format incorporates audio, video and subtitles in a single file. MKV format was developed to be future proof, meaning that the video files will always stay updated. MKV containers support almost any video and audio format, making the format highly adaptive and easy to use.


Conclusion: How to Choose a Video File Format

You should choose a file format based on your video quality requirements. The video should achieve the required quality, but no more than that. High-quality videos are hard to download, convert, share and manage. Plus, you need to take into account how you want to view the video files. Not all browsers, programs, and devices can play a specific video format.

Before choosing a video format, consider the following cases:

  • For online videos choose a file format that most web browsers support. This way, your video will be played natively on the browser. MP4 and WEBM are browser compatible video formats.

  • For home video recordings, choose a format with high quality video good chance of being usable in the future. Open source file formats are more future-proof than proprietary formats that are controlled by enterprises. MP4 or AVI formats are a good fit for that category.

  • For Windows applications, choose a format that is compatible with Windows. WMV is a good choice In this case.


Author Bio

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Imperva, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.