Are you familiar with all used video formats listed in this table?

Monday, October 23, 2023

People use and some even produce videos every day, but do you know formats like AVI, MP4 or MOV? Maybe you have already encountered these file extensions for digital video bur how do they differ. Since the selection of suitable video formats is crucial for the technical quality of your video campaigns we think it is vital to expose some of these videoformats and ask questions like... 

  1. Which format is suitable for which purpose?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different formats?

What is the difference between a video format and a video codec?

A video format (e.g. MP4) is a container that allows the structured storage of video data, audio data, subtitles and metadata . The format defines how the different elements are organized within the file.

A video codec, on the other hand, is an algorithm used to compress and decompress video data. The H.264 Codec, for example, is particularly widespread.

So while the video format determines the structure of the file, the codec determines how the actual video data is encoded and stored.

Typical video formats listed in a table

The typical uses mentioned in the table provide an idea of where you're most likely to encounter these formats. The choice of format often depends on the use case: whether the video is meant for streaming, local playback, professional editing, archiving, or another specific purpose.

Format Extension Typical Use Key Differences
MP4 .mp4 Streaming, video hosting websites, digital downloads, mobile devices Widely supported, uses H.264 video codec, AAC audio
AVI .avi PC playback, some older systems Introduced by Microsoft, supports multiple streams (video, audio)
MOV .mov Apple devices, QuickTime player Developed by Apple, supports a range of codecs
MKV .mkv High-definition content, supports multiple subtitles and audio tracks Open standard, versatile
FLV .flv Flash videos, earlier web streaming (less common now due to end of Flash) Made for Adobe Flash Player
WMV .wmv Windows media playback Microsoft's proprietary format
WebM .webm Web streaming, especially HTML5 video Open standard, developed by Google, uses VP8/VP9 video codecs
MPG/MPEG .mpg/.mpeg Earlier DVDs, some broadcasting ISO standard, older format

Advantages and Disadvantages of these formats

  1. MP4:

    • + High compression, retaining quality.
    • + Widely supported on many devices/platforms.
    • + Ideal for streaming due to balance of quality and file size.
    • - Can be resource-intensive to encode.
  2. AVI:

    • + Can hold video and audio tracks separately.
    • + Compatible with many players and platforms.
    • - Larger file sizes.
    • - Compression is not as efficient as newer formats.
  3. MOV:

    • + High-quality video.
    • + Can handle multiple tracks, chapters, and metadata.
    • - Larger file sizes.
    • - Not always compatible outside Apple's ecosystem without conversion.
  4. MKV:

    • + Can hold multiple subtitle tracks, audio tracks, and advanced metadata.
    • + Good for storing HD movies and shows.
    • - Not always directly playable on some devices or systems without third-party software or conversion.
  5. FLV:

    • + Once dominant for online streaming.
    • + Light and can start playing faster than some other formats.
    • - Declining support since the phase-out of Flash.
    • - Not supported natively on iOS devices.
  6. WMV:

    • + Can compress large video files without losing much quality.
    • + Built-in DRM capabilities.
    • - Proprietary Microsoft format, so compatibility can be limited outside the Windows ecosystem.
  7. WebM:

    • + Open format with no patent restrictions.
    • + Good compression and designed for the web.
    • + Supported natively in modern browsers.
    • - While it's gaining in support, not all platforms or tools are optimized for it.
  8. MPG/MPEG:

    • + Consistent standards.
    • + Supported by many DVD players and older systems.
    • - Outdated in terms of compression and quality compared to newer formats.


Social Media

For social media platforms, the specific video format to use can vary based on the platform's preference and guidelines. However, the MP4 format (with the H.264 video codec and AAC audio codec) is generally the most universally accepted and optimized for social media. Here's a breakdown of common social media platforms and their preferred video formats:

  • YouTube:
    • Preferred: MP4 (H.264 codec, AAC audio)
    • Also accepts: MOV, AVI, WMV, FLV, WebM, MPEG-4, and 3GPP
  • Facebook:
    • Preferred: MP4 (H.264 codec, AAC audio)
    • Also accepts: MOV
  • Instagram:
    • Preferred: MP4 (H.264 codec, AAC audio)
  • X (formerly Twitter):
    • Preferred: MP4 for web (H.264 codec, AAC audio) and MOV for mobile uploads
  • TikTok:
    • Preferred: MP4 (H.264 codec, AAC audio)
    • Also accepts: MOV and some others
  • LinkedIn:
    • Preferred: MP4 (H.264 codec, AAC audio)
  • Snapchat:
    • Preferred: MP4 (H.264 codec, AAC audio)
    • Also accepts: MOV
  • Pinterest:
    • Preferred: MP4 (H.264 codec, AAC audio)

Advantages of using MP4 with H.264 and AAC for social media:

  • Universal Compatibility: Almost all social platforms and devices support MP4.
  • Compression and Quality: MP4 (with H.264) offers a good balance of compression and quality, which means faster uploads and downloads without sacrificing video clarity.
  • Streaming: MP4 is optimized for streaming, which is crucial for smooth video playback on social platforms.

It's essential to note that each social media platform may have unique specifications beyond just format. They may have recommendations or requirements related to resolution, bitrate, frame rate, file size, and video duration. It's always a good practice to refer to the specific guidelines of each platform before uploading content.

If you are unsure, just use the MP4 format with H.264 codec. You cannot be completely wrong with that, as this format is compatible with almost all browsers, media players and devices.

Try out MediaBank's video management solution which supports all videoformats and can convert your video files to any popular format. Interested? Get in touch here.

Author Rolf Koppatz

Rolf is the CEO and consultant at Communication Pro with long experience in DAMs, Managing Visual Files, Marketing Portals, Content Hubs and Computer Vision.

Contact me at LinkedIn.