Types of Video Formats

Video Streaming is a key fundamental to a successful web presence. In the simplest sense, Videos are a series of rapid images put together in a rapid succession. However as in most cases, streaming videos is a little bit more complicated than that. Of course if every person in the world would view videos on the same size screen, using the same internet speed, using  the same operating system, and finally the same computer hardware, then Video streaming, and websites as a whole would be a lot easier. But alas, as we all know, this is not the case.


In order to stream videos appropriately, there are some basic concepts we must first go over. A video file in a digital format is made up of three main parts, a container, a codec, and a video player.

  • Container – A container is a collection of files that stores information about the digital file. It simply means there is a combination of both audio and video data in a single file to allow for simultaneous picture sequence with timed audio. Even though a video is a combination of images (average of 30 pictures per second) and sound. It is condensed into one transfer file.
  • Codec – A codec is a code that is used to compress and decompress a digital file.  Even though we want good video quality, compression is necessary to maintain good speeds and to adjust for different equipment, screen sizes, and internet speeds. A good codec will compress the images and sound into a series of digital code. The smaller sized file of code is then downloaded, then reconverted back into image and sound. Since an uncompressed 1 hour video is about 15 – 20GB of space, compression is necessary in order to view videos in a timely manner online.
  • Video player – a software that can interpret the container and the codec and put it all back together so that you can see it on your device or screen.  Some most common video players are windows media player, VideoLAN, VLC, Quicktime, and even youtube and Vimeo.

There are a lot more complex details we could go over and expand on. Literally, there are thousands of container, codec, and video player combinations that are used, all tailored to an operating system or device type and size.

For a web developer, the combination of container and a codec will be further referred to as a “Video file format”. The most common video file formats are:

  • AVI – AVI files comply to a standard developed by Microsoft and are a very popular video file. They are the workhorse of all video file formats in that it adjusts for the many different screen types and internet speeds out there today. Picture quality is very good as there is less compression on these files but the quality can afford you a lot slower loads times because of a much larger file size. Because they are the largest due to the great number of devices it can work on, there are limits to aspect ratios and some features that you may find on other video formats.
  • MOV – Apple’s version that is mostly used on apple devices. Like AVI, .MOV file formats are very limited so that Apple knows the file work on the greatest number of devices. File sizes are a little bit smaller due to tighter compression rules as set by apple, but the quality is almost the same or in some cases equal to AVI
  • WMV – Windows precursor to AVI. This video file format is one of the grandfathers of the digital media world. Because of slower internet speeds in the past, this format is very highly compressed making it small files, but the image quality is very poor compared to other file formats.
  • FLV – Flash Video Formt was created by Adobe. Also simply known as flash. Arguably Adobe has been the most aggressive in recent years to capture as much of the image and video share as possible. Adobe is also the owner of Photoshop , PDF, After effects, Premiere, and many other vital software’s for the Graphic and video world. Because of their attempt at simplifying the video process, and to work on every device, Flash has developed a somewhat poor reputation. Adding to the fact that they are also the format of choice for many online video games, this also adds to Flash’s issues as they attacked such a huge market. Though they have worked out the kinks with many devices, they still run into the greatest number of issues
  • AVCHD – Advanced Video Coding, High Definition – a result of a Panasonic and Sony collabopartnershipration as a video file format for digital camcorders. Rarely used in any type of digital or internet transfer as there is little or no compression. This format is mostly used to make the movies but not for any type of streaming.
  • MPEG – MP4. – H.264… and on and on. They all come from the same basic MPEG developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG)– This is an ever evolving and very active format that is constantly trying to get the most compression without losing quality. Currently, the H.264 software version is the most powerful format and is used by YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, and hundreds of other online web based video sources. Unlike flash though, this coding is reserved for video and they do not really dive into the online gaming world. At its beginning stages, MPEG had a lot of faults. The current H.264 though runs clean and smooth on almost every device.