Overview of video formats
Video technology has made tremendous improvements in the past two and half decades. The availability of hand held devices like digital cameras, smartphones and camcorders has made it easier for people to create videos of their own. One could also view ready-made videos online in sites such as YouTube and Facebook and even download it to their device. The fact that many people work with videos nowadays justifies the need to acquire knowledge about video formats.
A video format is basically a video file, which is usually made up of two components: a codec and a container. What is the difference between the two? A video codec is the method that involves the compression of a video so that it takes up less space on the hard disk. Video codecs such as Xvid, h.264, Mpeg-2 and Vp8 usually determine the quality of a video. On the other hand, containers hold media files which comprise of video and audio codecs and other additional information such as subtitles.
Different containers support different codecs so it is important to know what you want to achieve with your video project in order to pick the best video format. Note that when it comes to playback and production, each video format is only compatible with a specific platform(s). Considering these formats use pretty much the same technology, the video quality and size is almost always the same. Let’s have a look at some video formats.
This is one of the most popular video formats. Its name is derived from the Russian word Matroska. Why is it so popular? First, MKV is distinct in the sense that it supports nearly all video codecs. Secondly, it is a free and open source. Lastly, this video format usually comes with so much more features to make your viewing experience better. For those who are watch/distribute video files in players such as XBMC and VLC, this format is your best bet. Perhaps the only disadvantage of MKV is that it is incompatible with certain devices and programs.
Click to see What is MKV video format in more details
QT & MOV (Quicktime formats)
This video format was developed by Apple and is supported by both Windows and Macintosh. One advantage with these two formats is they have a multimedia container which you can divide into tracks (each track can be used to store a specific type of data such as effects and audio). These formats were originally designed to be used with feature-length movies but they are also appropriate for other video content. Last but not the least, Qt and mov are compatible with most codecs.
Mp4 was developed and popularized by Apple. It is an offshoot of MPEG-4, and so is another similar video format known as M4V. This format become popular as it was increasingly used in the iTunes store. One of its benefits is that it not only supports video and audio but also still images and text. It is compatible with a wide array of digital devices such as the iPad, Apple TV and Xbox 360.One of its downsides is that it has fewer features than the MKV format.
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AVI and WMV
AVI is abbreviation for Video Audio Interleave. This is one of the oldest warhorses as far as video formats are concerned. Both AVI and MWV (Windows Media Video) were developed by Microsoft. AVI was first to come out. It was once the most popular video format but nowadays fewer people use it. Although most people no longer work with it, you can still find some legacy AVI videos online. After AVI came WMV which was originally designed for streaming purposes. These two formats are compatible with both Mac and Windows systems although the offer less compression meaning they will take up more space in your PC. One disadvantage when working with them is the inability to manually select aspect ratios.
Click to see What Is AVI Video Format in more details
Flash formats ( FLV and SWF)
Flash was developed by a company known as Macromedia (this company was later acquired by Adobe in the year 2005). The flash formats have been around for a while and come in many versions. In the early stages, flash videos used Sorenson codec but nowadays the codec used is h.264. There are two flash formats: FLV and SWF. FLV videos are encoded by Adobe Flash software and can be played through website browser plugins, Adobe Flash Player or a third party program.
Almost all browsers are compatible with the FLV format and you will find little problems playing it online, perhaps this is the reason why most video sharing platforms such as Facebook and YouTube play videos in the Flash format.
SWF, Short for Shockwave Flash, is the main format used to display animated vector graphics on the web. Note that many video sharing sites usually convert to FLV from the formats in which they were downloaded. This is because videos in the flash format will retain high quality even after compression and use up less bandwidth. Perhaps its only downside is the inability to support devices running on iOS system such as iPads and iPhones.
AVCHD is short for Advanced Video Coding, High definition. It is the format for camcorders which came as a result of collaboration between Sony and Panasonic. AVCHD is file-based which means that it was designed to be stored and be played back on storage devices such as SD cards and CDs. The compression technology that this format uses is MPEG4/h.264 which ensures that the files take up as little storage space as possible. It is just the right format if you are shooting your own videos and are working with limited storage. The compression used by this format only slightly reduces quality of the videos. AVCHD supports in standard definition, HD (720, 1080p) and 3D. A video file saved in HD format is also referred to as MTS.
Why do so many video formats exist?
You probably wonder why we have so many video formats instead of just one or two which can be used in all platforms. In the 90s, the AVI standard, developed by Microsoft, was up against Apple’s Quicktime formats. These are two big companies and all of them try to come up with products which are superior and unique.
These companies (Sony, Apple, Microsoft) are usually in competition that is why they regularly develop video formats which can be used in their systems and devices. One example is the MTS format developed by Sony for the DV recorder. This format is specifically for HD video files. In the course of competition, a particular company’s video format becomes more popular than that of its competitors. This prompts the competitors to adopt that video format because that is what the consumer is using.
What makes a video format popular?
There is one thing that would make a video format popular: when systems or devices which are using it become trendy. Two decades ago, the AVI format was quite popular because Windows devices such as Windows 95, 2000 and XP were in vogue. Back then, Windows computers we popular so it was only natural that many people used AVI and WMV.
Nowadays it’s different. AVI and WMV are no longer as popular as they used to be. MP4 rules because Android and iOS handheld devices all support this format. This system applies to all other video formats which were developed. For instance, MOV format would become popular because it was developed by Apple, the company which manufactures Mac devices such as Macbook pro. If more people use Macbook pro, you can be sure that many formats will be using the MOV format. In the same manner, Sony DV recorder supports the MTS video format – if more people buy Sony DV recorder then it would become popular.
Using the same philosophy, we can easily tell which formats will be discarded in future. A few years back FLV and SWF formats developed by Adobe were popular but when many systems started giving them up, its popularity waned. It is the reason why Apple decided to do away with flash formats.
How to choose a video format for your video file
When deciding on the best video formats, we recommend that you pick the latest formats because some formats cannot support new codecs. A good example is AVI format which does not support the new h.265 codec. Looking at all video formats in the market currently, we recommend Mp4 because it s supported by most systems and popular handheld devices.
This however, does not mean that you should use Mp4 in all circumstances. If your device is old and cannot support Mp4, you should use the format it supports. MKV is another great format. It is compatible with all video and audio codecs, is completely open and is supported by most devices. You can pick MKV as well. The only difference is that it is less popular than mp4. This is why currently, MP4 rules.
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