Understanding Video Formats and Choosing the Right One
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Understanding Video Formats and Choosing the Right One

Most people have only a very basic understanding of video formats, and then to associate it with the file extensions that they see. But there is actually a lot more involved in video formats than that, and it is important to understand it seeing as you’ll need to choose one when you export your videos.

Containers and Codecs

As you’re probably aware a video format is used to store the digital data that makes up a video, but what you may not have realized is that it is comprised of two parts: A container and a codec.

The container is essentially the wrapping that holds all the data, while the codec is what determines how it is arranged. Both are important in different ways, as the container will determine the extension of the file and the features that it supports – while the codec determines the compression that is used.

In short when you choose a ‘video format’ what you really need to choose is a pairing of a container and a codec.

Factors to Select a Video Format

There are several factors that you need to weigh before you choose a format. The most important of these are:

  • Compatibility

The video format should be compatible with the device or platform that you want to play it on, otherwise you may have difficulty watching it or will require additional software. Unfortunately different devices and platforms support different ranges of video formats – both in terms of containers and codecs.

A ‘safe’ option right now is to use MP4 with H.264 as is enjoys the widest support of the current range of video formats.

  • Compression

Most of the videos that you run across are compressed, but newer codecs provide better compression rates for the same quality. In short you could end up with a smaller file size by using a newer codec compared to an old one.

The catch is that older devices and platforms may not support newer codecs. For example H.265 can reduce the file size of H.264 videos by up to 50% – but isn’t nearly as widely supported.

  • Features

In some cases you may need the video format that you choose to support specific features, such as subtitles, 3D video and codecs, menus, chapters, and so on. While this is something you will have to evaluate on a case by case basis – you can compare the features supported by video containers.

After you decide on the format that suits your requirements best, you can export your video or convert it accordingly. Learning how to convert FLV to AVI, MP4 to MKV or WMV to MOV is really very straightforward after you’ve decided on the right format to use. For example if you use Movavi Video Converter you’ll be done in a few clicks.

All said and done if you really aren’t sure which format to use then the ‘safe’ option (i.e. MP4 with H.264) is a good place to start. If you decide you need to use a different format, you can convert the video accordingly later.

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