Find Your Way Among Digital Video Formats

Olga Weis

Any video you watch on your computer, smartphone, tablet or TV has a particular type or format. There are great many video file formats that you usually see as file extensions conveyed in several letters or figures after the dot in a file name. E.g. the AVI format is known as .avi extension, the MP4 format is expressed as .mp4 extension, etc. But what is a video format? If it has so many types, how to tell the difference among them?

A video format is a media container. Any video consists of 2 elements: a codec and a container. A codec is a program that encodes and decodes multimedia data, e.g. audio and video streams. Audio is processed with audio codecs (AAC, AIF, AU, MP3, RA, RAM, WMA, FLAC), video - with video codecs (DivX, AVI, H.261, H.263, H.264, MPEG, RM, RV , WMV). If a file contains both the sound and video image, the both codecs work on it.

A media container is a file format where video, audio, subtitles and other data are only stored.

When you are making a video, the video codec is compressing and encoding the video track while the audio codec is working on the sound. Then the both streams get synchronized and saved in one media container, in other words, in one format. Cameras can make recordings in popular formats such as AVI and MP4 or in more exotic ones. After you have moved the video to your PC, the codecs installed on it start their work. The video codec decompresses the image, the audio codec - the audio track, and the media player makes the information appear on the computer screen and in the speakers.

If you want to know the difference among all the digital video formats to choose the best one for your particular purposes spend a few minutes on our brief overview. It will give you a general understanding of common video formats and a valuable skill to tell one format from the other.

Everything you wanted to know about popular video formats:


AVI

These 3 letters mean Audio Video Interleave. The format developed by Microsoft is compressed which means that a video file in AVI format requires more space in your computer memory than the same file in other format. That’s why AVI is not so popular as it used to be. Besides, you can’t select file aspect ratios by hand which can be very important.
Consult the best AVI players that ensure you comfortable and high quality playback.

MOV / QT

The .mov (QuickTime Movie) extension was designed for QuickTime player by Apple, that’s why it is often used in Apple operating systems. The format is friendly with many players and codecs, so it has no influence on the video quality. If you want a good video file in the MOV format, you should pay attention to the file’s other characteristics, such as size, resolution, what codec was used to create it, etc.

XVID

Xvid is not a fully-featured video format like AVI or MOV. It’s the MPEG-4 Part 2 video compression library. It describes a program for video encoding and decoding, reduces the video size to move it quickly over the networks or to provide more efficient storage on hard disks. In other words, Xvid is something like a ZIP for video. But unlike ZIP archive format, Xvid is lossy. The video that undergoes compression and decompression with Xvid is not identical to the original source. The difference between the original and compressed video is usually invisible.

Xvid removes the data that are not important for human eye and ear. It gives you a high quality of video compression, allowing to work effectively with digital video on home computers.

M2TS

M2TS means MPEG-2 Transport Stream. It’s the format where different types of data such as video, audio, etc. are multiplexed. It’s often used in Blu-ray discs because M2TS represents BDAV (Blu-ray Disc Audio-Video) HD format. The M2TS format is currently supported with a limited number of players as this technology is quite new. Among the players that can reproduce M2TS videos there are Windows Media Player that is often preinstalled on Windows systems, VLC media player, ALLPlayer, MPlayer and Elmedia Player.

DAT

The DAT (Data File) format is used for files stored on VCD (Video CD). Since the outdated VCD technology has been replaced with DVD and Blu-ray, lots of modern media players don’t support DAT files. That’s why you can find many recommendations how to convert such videos into more up-to-date formats, such as AVI, MP4, MKV, WMV and others.

VOB

VOB is the acronym for Versioned Object Base or DVD-Video Object. This video format is used for storing DVD-Video. VOB is a multimedia file format that is based on MPEG-2. It can contain several video/audio streams, subtitles, and the movie menu. VOB files are located in the VIDEO_TS folder on DVD. You can play such videos with many players. The file size in this format is usually quite big. It’s equal to the DVD disk volume.
Here are the top VOB players you can choose from.

MTS

The MTS file format is designed to play high-resolution videos. Such files use AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition) technology. This format is based on the MPEG-2 encoding algorithm and supports both 720p and 1080i resolutions. You can open MTS files with the apps that are installed on Sony and Panasonic high-definition video cameras.
These MTS players are the best for your Mac.

M4V

The .m4v is the MPEG-4 file extension used for video files that you download from the Apple iTunes store. M4V can include TV episodes, full-length movies and music videos. It is similar to the MP4 format, but can be protected against backup copying with Apple's FairPlay DRM property rights protection. To play a protected M4V file, your computer must be authorized with the iTunes account that you used for purchasing videos. Unprotected M4V files can be recognizable and playable for other video players, if you change the file extension from ".m4v" to ".mp4".

F4V

F4V (Flash MP4 Video) is a video format used by Adobe Flash. It’s based on the ISO MP4 format and is determined as the basic format of media files. F4V is supported with Flash Player Update 3 (9,0,115,0) and its later versions. F4V videos are similar to FLV files, but they use "blocks" for data storage. The examples of such blocks are the moov block (the file header), the mvhd block (the playback information), the trak block (media tracks), the uda block (a user data in a free form), the meta block (the metadata) and some others.

WebM

Such video file type as WebM (Web Media File) is used together with HTML5 video files created on the Matroska basis. Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome support the playback of WebM files while Internet Explorer 9 and Safari require installing the third-party software, e.g. QuickTime. The YouTube channel uses WebM files in its HTML5 player. Both the browser format and such resources as Nintendo Wii YouTube, Wikimedia, Skype, 4chan and Logitech use this exactly video type for video playback. The container was created by ON2, Xiph and Matroska, but Google has put the finishing touches to it.

3GP

This format is also known as 3GPP meaning Third Generation Partnership Project. It’s used for mobile video content, that fits good mobile screens but not all media players can reproduce it because the file quality is low, and the size is small. But 3GP is good enough for recording and exchanging videos on smartphones. Today file minimization at the expense of quality is no longer relevant. But the format remains quite popular as long as there are smartphones with small cameras and budget dashboard cameras.

FLV and SWF

FLV and SWF are 2 most commonly used formats for video transmission on the Internet. FLV files are converted to streaming videos with Adobe Flash Player. FLV is an acronym for FLash Video. SWF files were created for storing vector graphics and animation. They can contain sound. SWF is a standard extension for compiled flash files, e.g. games, animation, interactive apps, etc. SWF originally stood for ShockWave Flash since this format was created for Shockwave Player. Now SWF means Small Web Format.

Both FLV and SWF are media containers that put together several data streams in one file. The FLV file consists of a short header, several metadata packages as well as audio and video. SWF can support text, the ActionScript language and graphics (particularly vector and raster graphics).
Here’s the list of highly recommended FLV downloaders for you.

MPG, MPEG

The MPG format allows to compress (with some quality loss) audio and video data to simplify the loading process. In fact, MPG reduces the disk space that is required for file storage. This video file format has small size and high quality data. Its files can be either MPEG-1 or MPEG-2. Both types function as containers for audio and video data. They synchronize the 2 data streams. The MPEG-1 files are great for audio and video recording. They are used for digital audio broadcasting in case with the radio and for cable/satellite broadcast. The MPEG-2 files compress related audio and video data (e.g. movies). They are often used for cable, satellite and digital TV as well as for DVDs.

MP4, MPEG-4

MPEG-4 Part 14 (MP4) files can store such media data as audio, video and subtitles. This file type is mainly used by Apple, but different mobile app developers also run it for storing audio data, images or videos, particularly audiobooks, music, video films, photos and podcasts. The MPEG-4 format is good for playing and downloading online videos. The MP4/MPEG-4 video file format uses the AAC encoding technology that provides lossy compression to prevent data copying.
The best way to play out your MP4 videos is to use these MP4 players for Mac.

WMV

WMV files are located in the ASF (Advanced Systems Format) container. Such files often consist of both Windows Media Video data and Windows Media Audio data. WMV files can support the DRM protection tools that don’t allow users to duplicate any information. This exactly feature makes the WMV format very popular among the companies that sell digital copies of video and audio content online. You can download and view WMV files on both Mac computers and PCs. The WMV format is the most recognizable in its family. It competes with certain types of MPEG-4 and Real Video files. WMV is used for online sales, on portable devices, Zune players by Microsoft, and on Xbox 360 devices.
This format won’t be a problem for you if you use reliable WMV players.

H.264, H.265 Codecs

As the video compression technology is evolving at high speed HEVC (High-Efficiency Video Coding) also known as H.265 is very popular now among those who earlier used the H.264 video compression codec. H.265 reduces the bandwidth at almost 50% compared to the H.264 video codec. The reduced bandwidth means that the file size is little so you need less space on your hard disk for video data storage.

DivX

The DivX file format was designed for storing high-quality videos that have high definition after being compressed to a certain percentage of their initial size without any quality loss. When using certain codecs DivX video files can have resolution of up to 1080 pixels and require up to 1GB of disk space.

DivX files are media containers that use audio and video codecs to increase compression efficiency and to reproduce the data that is included in the file of this format. The codecs can be of two types: the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC DivX Plus HD codec, and the MPEG-4 Part 2 DivX standard codec.

MKV

The MKV or Matroska format demonstrates the evolution of container formats. It’s an open-source project that allows all developers to use bit streams for their own purposes. MKV offers its users a support with most codecs, online video streaming, minimum errors when reading and recording video, settings adjustment during the playback and a possibility to connect plugins. But for video devices Matroska still remains a dark format because not all manufacturers equip their products with the facilities that can work with MKV.

Solution That Easily Copes with All These Formats: Elmedia Player


Elmedia Player is a media app that easily deals with all the formats listed above and provides high quality playback for videos and audios of any type. It’s equipped with advanced playback features, so you can watch your favorite movies on Mac without any problems as well as efforts from your side. Its built-in browser alternative allows you to watch any videos from the app. By this you can preview the content you’re going to download and you don’t need to launch your browser for this. The Open Online Video option is a better replacement for a usual web browser as it doesn’t let it through any ads that Chrome, Firefox, Safari and other browsers allow. Besides, Elmedia is a highly effective HD video player for Mac. It means that you can easily launch it for 720p and 1080i/1080p movies that many other players don’t support.

The PRO version gives you even more possibilities for the most enjoyable playback. With Elmedia Player PRO you can download video content from the web, extract audio out of YouTube files, adjust the video image and the playback speed, change the sound with the audio equalizer, make screenshots and repeat favorite episodes lots of times. You can improve your video by your own and send it from your smartphone to Mac using the AirPlay technology. Elmedia is a universal tool that cares about your videos, time and mood.