Understanding Video Formats: The Most Common Video File Formats Explained

To say that video formats have gone through major changes and have evolved ever since would definitely not be an overstatement. Video files usually come in a variety of formats, each of which has its own use. It is also true that a specific video format is right for a certain video, but this in no way necessitates that the same format will be right for all video types.

Before we start explaining the most common video file formats, one must know that any video, which is present in digital format comprises two parts, i.e. codec and a container. The former is used primarily for the purpose of compressing and decompressing the video files. This comes in handy as there are files which are large in size and they need to be compressed. The latter is a collection of files which is tasked with storing the information about the digital file. This depicts the combination of both audio and video data in a single file, which in turn allows audio with video playback.

In this guide, crafted from our experiences and insights at YTD Downloader, we will go through the complexities of video file formats and shed light on how to choose the right format that makes sense with your needs, enhancing your multimedia interaction and consumption, so you can leverage video formats effectively, whether you are a content creator, a multimedia enthusiast, or a casual viewer seeking the best viewing experiences!

What is a video file format?

A video file format is a type of file format for storing digital video data on a computer system – it’s basically the extension at the end of a video file. Video is almost always stored using lossy compression to reduce the file size. A video file normally consists of a container (e.g. .mp4, .avi) that contains video data, audio data, and metadata (details about the data). The terms “video file” and “video format” are used interchangeably, but when referring to the files themselves, they are typically called video files.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty world of video file formats, let’s understand the fundamental structure of a digital video file. Each video file in the digital realm is composed of two essential components: a codec and a container.

  • The Codec plays a pivotal role in compressing and decompressing video files. The usage of codecs is vital for reducing the size of extensive files.
  • The Container is an amalgamation of files that stores the metadata of a digital file, enabling the simultaneous playback of audio and video. It contains everything that makes up a video, from audio to video content, metadata, and much more.

Types of video files

Now that we have discussed the video structure in detail, let us now discuss 4 most popular video file formats.

1. AVI (Audio Video Interleave)

Also commonly known as audio video Interleave, this video format was developed by Microsoft corporation and was made public in November 1992 as a feature for its new windows technology. Having said that, AVI format is arguably one of the oldest formats of video files which are still in use today. Aside from this, this video format is considered as de facto standard when it comes to storing audio and video information on the computer. Also, the AVI format features a simple architecture which makes it possible for the format to run on different systems such as Macintosh, windows, linux etc. Also, AVI files store date by encoding it, which can later on be decoded. The information is usually encoded in different codecs such as M-JPEG or DivX codecs. This also indicates that contrary to the popular belief, AVU files do look the same on the outside, but they are very much different on the inside.

2. MP4 (Moving Pictures Expert Group 4)

Also commonly known as Moving Pictures Expert Group 4, this format is a standard one which was developed by Motion Pictures Expert Group. In all fairness, the credit of setting industry standards concerning audio and video goes to Moving Pictures Expert Group. The format is often used for sharing video files on the internet. The format was first introduced in 1998. That said, the format is unique, given that it utilizes separate compression for audio and video tracks. Aside from this, the former is compressed using AAC compression whereas the later is compressed using MPEG 4 or H.264. Aside from this, this video format also constitutes as a great format for sharing content on the internet. Aside from this, the size of these mp4 files is small when compared to other formats. What makes it more unique from other formats is the fact that irrespective of its size, the quality does not get compromised. Also, given the fact that it is compatible with html5, online browsers, mobile browsers, it is getting popular among the users every passing day.

3. MOV (Apple QuickTime Movie)

This video format, which is also commonly known as Apple QuickTime Movie, is one of the most popular video sharing and viewing formats when it comes to iOS users. MOV format went through major changes and a modified version of this format was released by Apple in the recent years by the name of QuickTime X. The newer format is available on various operating systems such as Lion, mountain lion and MacOS X snow leopard. To put things into perspective, one must know that when it comes to Macintosh, MOV files are usually opened in Apple QuickTime. That being said, it is also true that these MOV files are not confined to being played on Mac OS. A free version of QuickTime player is also available for many other players including windows operating systems. That all being said, MOV file format is considered as one of the best formats for video files, given the fact that all of the MOV files are higher in quality.

4. WMV (Windows Media Video)

Commonly known as windows media video, this video storage format was also developed by Microsoft. The video format was primarily designed for online streaming applications in order to counter other streaming service providers. WMV has an edge when it comes to streaming directly on the web. This is because WMV files are some of the smallest video files you would come across on the internet. This is because their original size decreases up to a great extent once the file is compressed. Compression does have a downside attached to it as well. Due to excessive compression, video quality at times gets compromised, which eventually results in substandard video quality.

Compression of video files has its own perks too. In the case of WMV, it is arguably the only video file format which allows its users to cross share videos via emails. Also, due to the fact that it is a Microsoft software, windows media player acts as default application tasked to play WMV files.

5. AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition)

Developed jointly by Sony and Panasonic, AVCHD emerged as a pivotal format for high-definition consumer camcorders, engineered to capture high-quality versions of videos immediately after recording. AVCHD specializes in delivering high-resolution videos. It uses sophisticated compression algorithms to ensure manageable file sizes without losing definition. That’s why it’s a common video file format used for professional shooting and editing.

6. WebM

Pioneered by Google in 2019, WebM is a revolutionary format tailored specifically for the web, mirroring the ascension of HTML5. Its genesis was motivated by the imperative to optimize videos for web integration seamlessly.

WebM stands out with its compact file sizes and quality retention. However, its adoption has been hampered by restricted support, with browsers like Internet Explorer and Safari needing additional plugins for WebM playback. This constraint has rendered MP4 as the champion for web-embedded videos due to its universal compatibility and efficient streaming capabilities.

7. FLV (Flash Video Format)

Originally developed by Macromedia, FLV was the most common video type thanks to being highly popularized by platforms like YouTube in its early stages. Once the unrivaled champion of video formats, FLV, along with F4V and SWF (Shockwave Flash), experienced widespread usage and recognition until the discontinuation of Flash Player in 2020. Post-2020, the absence of embedded Flash Player support in browsers has relegated FLV videos to error messages on the web. Although third-party players facilitate FLV playback on devices, the web void remains unfulfilled, rendering the creation of Flash videos a relic of the past. Despite this, FLV remains optimized for online streaming and is supported by virtually all browsers and video platforms due to its association with Adobe Flash Player.

What is the Most Common Type of Video File?

The most common video file type is the MP4 (.mp4). MP4’s versatility, high-quality compression, and compatibility with multiple devices, platforms, and software make it a preferred format for both professional and casual use. MP4 is widely accepted on the majority of internet platforms, including social media and video-sharing websites.

While AVCHD historically had an edge in quality over MP4, MP4 was adopted due to its smaller file size and comparable quality, making it a better and more versatile choice.

What Video Formats do Social Media Platforms Accept?

YouTube accepts multiple video formats, including:

  • MP4 (a recommended format for YouTube)
  • MOV
  • AVI
  • WMV
  • FLV
  • 3GP
  • WebM
  • DNxHR
  • ProRes
  • CineForm
  • HEVC (h265)

Instagram predominantly supports MP4 and MOV video formats. However, MP4 is the most recommended format due to its compatibility and balance between quality and file size.

Facebook accepts many video formats, but it recommends uploading videos in MP4 or MOV format. These formats are preferred due to their balance between quality and file size and are generally more compatible with a many devices and platforms. Here is a list of video formats that Facebook accepts:

  • MP4
  • MOV
  • AVI
  • WMV
  • FLV
  • MKV
  • 3GPP
  • DIVX
  • DV
  • MPEG
  • MPE
  • MPG
  • M2V
  • M4V
  • OGM
  • When uploading videos to Facebook, it is essential to consider the aspect ratio, video length, file size, and codec to ensure optimal playback quality and user experience. Facebook also supports 360 videos and live videos, enhancing user engagement and interactivity.

Do Video Formats Matter?

By now, you might wonder, do video formats matter at all? Well, in all fairness, there are a variety of reasons which indicate the importance of video formats. For instance, if you are aware of the format the camera shoots in, you can save a lot of space as you will already have an idea regarding the format and its space constraints. Similarly, prior knowledge of formats also assists you in the editing process.

 Proper understanding of video formats is essential when it comes to videography. Besides, correct knowledge of video formats can also save you from potential inconveniences such as data loss, compatibility issues etc.

How to Convert Video Formats

Using YTD Video Downloader‘s Built-in Converter

YTD Downloader lets you convert and download videos from dozens of popular streaming sites in high-definition quality. You can convert the videos you download with YTD Downloader to a number of different video formats: MP4, MOV, WMV, AVI, MP3, 3GP.

These file conversion options let you play these video files on Windows, Mac, iOS or Android. With YTD Downloader, you can download thousands of videos for free from some of the most popular streaming sites.

Install YTD today so you can download movies, videos and convert entire playlists and channels in MP4, MKV, M4A, MP3, AVI. With integrated video player, you can watch your favorite movies and access videos or mp3 when offline.

Try the YTD Video Downloader today for free!