Everything To Know About All Video File Formats

Every video that you see, regardless of the platform or device, has a unique format. You may find the format written at the end of the video file, like .mp4, or .mov. These file extensions define how the data inside the video file is stored, which codecs are compatible with it, and which programs support playing that video file.

In this post, we are going to learn everything there is to learn about the plethora of video file formats and how they are different from one another.

What is a video file format?

A “format” defines the standard of data storage for any file. A video file format defines how the data for a video is stored inside a file.

There are multiple types of data associated with a video file, such as the video itself, the associated audio, its metadata, and maybe even caption data in different languages. The different data is stored in different containers.

Speaking of which, there are two main components of a video file:

  • Codecs
  • Containers

Let us discuss these in detail:

What are codecs?

Codec is an acronym for compressor/decompressor. A codec handles the compression and decompression of the data inside a file. In other words, a codec, such as H. 264, is a standard of what rules to apply to the original data to compress it. It also defines the rules to apply when decompressing it.

An original video file in its raw form can take gigabytes, and maybe even terabytes of space on your hard drive. A codec’s job is to compress it to save space on the storage device, but also decompress it so that it is still playable.

A codec can be either lossy or lossless. As the names suggest, a lossy codec means that it loses information during the compression/decompression fiasco. However, a lossless codec is able to regenerate the original video information when it decompresses a compressed video file.

That said, a lossy codec significantly reduces the file size, but it usually comes at a cost of lower video quality. A lossless codec, on the other hand, may preserve the integrity of the picture quality, but may also be unable to compress a video file as expected.

This concludes the understanding of codecs. Let’s proceed to the second main component of video file formats: the containers.

What are containers?

Typically, a container is something that holds an item or multiple items. It can be as big as a shipping container, or as small as a glass jar. Regardless, the definition of a container stays the same.

The same logic applies to video file containers. Although virtual, containers hold the information inside them. A container may be storing the actual video, the audio data, or the metadata associated with the file. But the question rises; why in containers? Why not just let the information float about inside the file?

Firstly, a video container stores the information in a synchronous order so it can be played accordingly; one frame after the other. Secondly, the containers separate one type of information from another, making the system more organized.

Containers can be classified by their file extensions. M4V, MP4, and FLV are a few examples of video containers. Some may identify them as video file formats, but the former is also true; these are containers as well since they store video and associated information inside them. Remember that a video file format consists of both containers and codecs.

Codecs vs. containers

Do not confuse codecs with containers – they are two entirely separate things.

Video containers, just like physical containers, are used to store various types of information. A codec is used to manage the stored information inside these containers. Additionally, a video file format consists of both of these.

A container can support one or more codecs. However, not every codec can be applied to all file formats and containers. Therefore, their compatibility is also a factor when deciding which file formats to use.

Let’s take a look at the popular video formats used around us today.

All Video File Formats


Download .3GP Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-4 Part 2, H.263, MPEG-4 Part 10 (AVC/H.264)

3GP, also known as 3GPP, is a container file format used to store multimedia content, which includes video and audio data. This format was primarily designed to run multimedia devices on the older 3G phones which did not have MP4 capabilities, but it can also run on some 2G and 4G phones.

This format is based on the ISO media file format which stores video streams as H.263 or H.264 codecs, and audio streams as AMR-WB, AMR-WB+, AMR-NB, HE-AAC v1, AAC-LC.

3GP supports variable bitrates, enabling it to store good-quality media. On top of it, the biggest advantage of using a 3GP file is its size.

3GP is a tiny multimedia file designed to save space on the storage drive. This also makes 3GP easy to share over the network consuming less network bandwidth and quick downloads/uploads. A 3GP file always stores and transfers the most significant bytes first.

Although the file format is becoming obsolete by the day, it is still being used for archived media data.

Here is a list of programs you can use to play .3GP video files:

Audio Video Interleave (AVI)

Download .AVI Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: HEVC, H.264, MPEG-4, MPEG-2, Xvid, DivX, VP9, VP8

The Audio Video Interleave (AVI) file format was first created in 1992 and is the standard video formatting for all Windows operating systems. The file is saved in a multimedia container format that stores audio and video using a variety of different codecs.

This format is based on the Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF). It uses less compression rates as compared to some other multimedia formats, therefore takes up a relatively greater space to store. That said, this means that the quality of the content inside an AVI file is significantly greater than the others.

However, this format is not ideal for users with limited storage space. It is a lossless file, which means that it will not lose quality over time, regardless of the number of times it is reopened and resaved.

The AVI format is one of the most used video file formats and is commonly used for movies and TV shows in small sizes with great quality. The AVI format has exceptional high-quality audio fidelity and accuracy. Since it has been the standard adopted by Windows, it is widely used and thus supported by most software, removing the limitations of specific programs needed to run this format file.

Here is a list of apps and programs that can play .AVI files:

Advanced Systems Format (ASF)

Download .ASF Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs:

The ASF file format was primarily created for streaming media online. It is a proprietary multimedia storage file that contains audio and video information in a container format. A typical ASF file may only have audio data, or both audio and video data. With these, it may also have other optional files containing metadata, such as its title, name of the author, bibliographic copyright data, etc.

The ASF format does not specify the codec to be used for encoding or decoding. It only specifies the structure of how the audio or video streams online. The extension .WMA or .WMV is used to specify an ASF file that contains content encoded with the Windows Media Audio or Windows Media Video codecs, respectively.

The primary advantage of the ASF file format is its playback capability through many applications. Since the ASF format was created to stream media over the Internet, it can be used to store multimedia online and view/listen to it over the Internet without consuming too much bandwidth. It can be placed on HTTP servers and other digital media servers (as well as local storage devices) to be streamed over the internet.

Below is a list of programs that support playing a .ASF file:

Flash MP4 Video (F4V)

Download .F4V Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: H.264

The F4V file format contains videos along with audio and other metadata. It is based on the Apple QuickTime container format which stores the video encoded in the H.264 codec and audio in the AAC+/HE-AAC/AAC v1/AAC v2 formats. The F4V video format is mainly used to stream movies and TV shows online.

This format is very much similar to the .FLV format, but Adobe needed an upgrade since the FLV file format has certain limitations with the H.264/AAC content.

The F4V format supports high-definition video with a bit rate of up to 50 Mbps, whereas the other similar formats, such as FLV and MP4, do not have these capabilities. Therefore, the F4V video format is both compressible and capable of storing high-definition content. This is why it makes the F4V format ideal to store on servers online and stream videos while taking up little space on the storage device.

The following programs can be used to open .F4V files:

Flash Video (FLV)

Download .FLV Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: H.263, H.264

FLV is an open-format video file that contains a short header, synchronized audio and video data streams, and other metadata. It was developed by Adobe to be used with Adobe Flash Player which has now been discontinued.

However, since it is an open format, it is also used by some other programs. Since the FLV file format was the early bird in the market, this format was also used by famous streaming websites such as YouTube, Hulu, etc.

The FLV format used to be very popular and adopted by almost every video-streaming service. It became the standard for video sharing. Websites even created content in the FLV format so it can be played using the Adobe Flash Player.

Most operating systems like Windows, macOS, etc., supported the FLV format with native applications like Windows Media Player. However, since the Flash Player has been discontinued, the FLV video format is now being converted into other readable formats, such as HTML5.

That said, some services are still using the FLV file format through dedicated applications and programs.

The following programs can be used to play .FLV files:

High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC)

Download .HEVC Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: H.265

The High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) format compresses video data inside the file without compromising on its quality, hence maintaining its efficiency.

The HEVC file format is also referred to as H.265 format, which is an improvement on the H.264 compression format. This format significantly reduces the size of the file while maintaining the video content. Users may keep more videos on their devices thanks to HEVC, which also significantly shrinks the file size of high-resolution media like 4K and 8K videos.

It is not necessary that HEVC files have the extension “.HEVC.” They can often have .MOV or .MP4 extensions but are in fact encoded using the H.265 codec.

Here are the applications that be used to open .HEVC files:

MPEG-2 Transport Stream (M2TS)

Download .M2TS Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: M2TS

A file with the .M2TS file extension stores Bluray Disc Audio-Video (BDAV) data in the MPEG-2 Transport Stream (M2TS) container format. It stores high-definition video and audio data along with other metadata.

The format substitutes variable rate Transport Streams for the constant rates used in MPEG-2 Transport Stream broadcast in order to optimize its storage size. However, since it does not compromise the quality of the content, the normal file size for .M2TS files is still significantly larger than some other video format files.

If you want to open .M2TS files, here are the apps that you can use:

MPEG-2 Video (M2V)

Download .M2V Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-2

The M2V video file format only contains video data and does not support any audio or subtitle files. These files are created using the MPEG-2 encoding technology and are mostly used by DVD authoring software since many of them require separate video and audio files.

Of course, whilst burning a DVD, M2V files need to be accompanied by other audio files, which are usually in the .M2A or .WAV formats.

here are the programs that can handle .M2V video files:

MPEG-4 Video (M4V)

Download .M4V Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-4 (H.264)

An M4V file is encoded using the MPEG-4 codec. Video files, such as music videos, movies, and TV episodes downloaded from Apple iTunes are usually stored with a .M4V file extension. These are also mostly copy-protected using Apple’s FairPlay DRM copyright protection.

If an M4V file is protected, then it can only be opened/played using iTunes. However, if they are not, then these can be converted to other video formats and then used by other programs to run the videos.

Here is a list of programs that can open .M4V files:

Motion Joint Photographic Experts Group (MJPEG)

Download .MJPEG Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MJPEG

The MJPEG video format is derived from the JPEG image file format. MJPEG files store multiple still images captured by webcams, digital cameras, and some mobile devices, which can be edited. However, they take up a significant amount of storage space.

Media players, web browsers, digital cameras, gaming consoles, video cameras, and streaming servers all support this format. MJPEG files can also be saved using the .MJPG file extension.

The following programs can be used to open .MJPEG files:

Matroska Video (MKV)

Download .MKV Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: H.264, H.265, VP9, AV1

The MKV file format is an open-source format that supports multiple types of video and audio codecs. This file format is widely used to store short video files, TV shows, and movies. Since the MKV container format can store one or more video files, and also include other files that contain audio, images, and subtitle information.

To add on, you can store an unlimited number of video, audio, and subtitle files inside a single MKV file.

The following list of apps and programs can be used to play .MKV files:

QuickTime Movie (MOV)

Download .MOV Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-4

MOV is perhaps the most common video file format since it supports high-definition quality videos. It is saved in the QuickTime File Format (QTFF) which was introduced by Apple in 1992 with cross-platform sharing compatibility in perspective.

A .MOV file usually stores short videos, movies, or TV shows, but is not limited to these. It can also store other information, such as 3D models, images, timecode data, subtitles, etc.

It is noteworthy that the MP4 file format also stores high-quality video content, but the MOV formatting has superiority over it, which is why a .MOV file may be larger in size than a .MP4 file.

The following programs can be used to open .MOV files:

MPED-V Advanced Video Coding (MP4)

Download .MP4 Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-H Part 2 (H.265/HEVC), MPEG-4 Part 10 (H.264/AVC), MPEG-4 Part 2

An MP4 file is a multimedia file that stores a movie or video in container format but can also contain other information like audio data, subtitles, and metadata.

Every data stream can be encoded using different codes inside a single MP4 file. The MP4 format is based on the Apple QuickTime File Format (QTFF) and mainly became popular when Apple distributed its media via iTunes using the MP4 format. Now, it is widely used to send, share, and stream multimedia online.

In case you are trying to play an MP4 file, these are the programs you can use:

Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG)

Download .MPEG Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG (H.264)

A MPEG file saves data in a digital video format using either MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 encoding algorithm and usually contains audio data as well. This format is widely used to share videos over the internet.

A MPEG file can also be saved with a “.MPG” extension. However, with the advancement of technology over the years, MPEG-4 compression is more commonly used and the videos are saved with .MP4 extensions.

Below are the programs that can handle .MPEG files:


Download .MPG Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-1, MPEG-2

An MPG file stores video, audio, and other metadata interleaved together in a program stream container format. MPG files incorporate either MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 compression, which are widely used lossy compression algorithms.

The MPG video format is mostly used to store videos and movies that are to be shared over the internet since single-stream data is more efficient for deliverability.

The following programs can be used to open .MPG files:

MPEG Transport Stream (MTS)

Download .MTS Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-4 (H.264)

An MTS file saves audio and video information in the Advanced Video Coding High Definition (AVCHD) format, which is the standard format for many of Panasonic’s and Sony’s camcorders. Moreover, high-definition videos on Blu-ray discs are also stored in a .MTS file.

That said, AVCHD files on a camcorder may be saved in a .MTS file, but edited AVCHD files stored on the computer are usually saved in the .M2TS file format.

MTS supports 720p and 1080i HD video resolutions and uses MPEG-4/H.264 video compression. An MTS file’s audio might be uncompressed linear PCM audio or compressed using Dolby AC-3 compression.

Here is a list of apps that can open .MTS files:

Material Exchange Format (MXF)

Download .MXF Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-2, AVC, XAVC, AVC Intra

An MXF file usually contains video and audio information along with metadata. It saves the data in the Material Exchange file format, which was created to streamline video exchange between different platforms.

Using the correct codecs, MXF files can be exchanged between video cameras, servers, digital editing devices, and movie theaters. This is why most movies, television advertisements, and other deliverable videos are stored in an MXF file.

The following programs can be used to open .MXF files:


Download .OGV Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: Theora, DivX, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, WMV

An OGV file supports different content, including video, audio, text, and metadata. This data is stored in the container format where streams can be encoded using different codecs. For example, the video stream can be encoded using the Theora compression, whereas the audio stream can be encoded using the Vorbis compression.

The OGV video file format is usually used for publishing videos on websites.

Here are the programs that can handle .OGV files:


Download .RM Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: RealVideo

A .RM file stores multimedia information in the container format. It can include only a video in the RealVideo format, or audio in the RealAudio format, or both simultaneously.

RM files are usually used for streaming media over the internet since they have a constant bitrate. This is why it is not ideal to stream complex audio or video content in a .RM file, since they require a variable bitrate.

For more complex multimedia segments, the RealMedia Variable Bitrate (RMVB) file format was introduced, which permits data transport at various speeds and allows the material to be streamed at a variable bit rate. This is helpful when greater data transfer is required for media files with more complicated portions.

The list below includes the programs that support the .RM file format:

ShockWave Flash, Small Web Format (SWF)

Download .SWF Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-4 Part 10 (H.264), VP6, Sorenson Spark

SWF stands for “Small Web Format,” but sometimes it is referred to as “ShockWave Format.”

An SWF file contains vector and raster graphics content along with some text, combined to make a small animation. It can also include interactive content written in ActionScript.

.SWF files became the standard for publishing Flash Player content on the internet. However, since the Flash Player has been discontinued, the SWF file format is not that popular anymore.

That said, some online platforms are still using .SWF files and running them using alternate platforms.

The programs below can be used to open .SWF files:

Transport Stream (TS)

Download .TS Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-2

TS file stores streamed video content compressed with MPEG-2 compression. The format is mainly used to store video content on a DVD disc or when the video needs to be streamed online.

Since the .TS file format stores streamed data, it is convenient to decode the video content and play it, plus the compression technology significantly reduces the size of the file so it takes up less space on your servers and makes it easier to be shared/streamed online.

The following programs can be used to open .TS files:

Video Object (VOB)

Download .VOB Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-2 Part 2 (H.262), MPEG-1 Part 2

A VOB file is a video file that may also contain other content, such as audio files, subtitles, and interactive menus, created by DVD Forum, which is an alliance of different multimedia companies. This file format is usually obtained from DVD discs and is limited to 1 GB in size only. The majority of the VOB files are based on the MPEG program stream format.

Since copyright protection is a common feature of commercial DVDs, VOB files that are extracted from those discs may be encrypted, which could cause problems if the file is copied to another location. If you don’t have the required permissions, you can play the VOB file using one of several decrypting applications.

The following programs can be used to open .VOB files:

Web Media (WEBM)

Download .WEBM Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: VP8, VP9

The WEBM file contains video content in royalty-free WebM format, which is a container format. The video content inside a WEBM file is compressed using either the VP8 or VP9 codec, and may also contain audio content which is compressed with either Opus or Vorbis codec.

This video format is mostly used for sharing videos on the web.

Many modern web browsers support the WebM format natively so you can play the videos in them directly. However, some browsers, such as Safari, do not support this format. In that case, you can install extensions to play a .WEBM video file.

Below are the programs that support the WEBM file format:

Windows Media Video (WMV)

Download .WMV Sample Files

Supported Video Codecs: WMV 9

A WMV file contains video content that is compressed using Windows Media Video (WMV) and saved in the Microsoft Advanced Systems Format (ASF). It supports high-definition (HD) video and can save animations, video clips, TV shows, movies, and other types of media. WMV files also support encryption so they can work with Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems.

A WMV video file can be played with media players, mostly those included with Windows, and streamed over the Internet. Additionally, WMV is the default video file format for Windows Media Player.

That said, the WMV file format has been superseded by more advanced compression formats, therefore it has lost its popularity over the last decade.

The following programs can be used to open .WMV files:

Ending Words

Video files can be compressed or uncompressed. Some file formats discussed in this post have become obsolete, while others have superseded them. Having the right video file format is crucial for a good experience.

You must consider the format’s compatibility with other applications and platforms before considering it, either or your own project or downloading one off of the internet. Additionally, you must also consider the file size compared to the available storage space, and the codecs which the file format supports.

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