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Types of Video Files

Since the beginning of film production, video has experienced many changes and its technology continues to evolve from its early stages when videos were stored in long rolls of film up to the most cutting-edge modern technologies, video file formats have undergone massive changes and improvements.

Today we have many different video files and depending on the goals and needs of users, each format has its own set of characteristics and we are going to see what they are and what they are best for.

At Millennials Studios, we use the same video file format most of the time which is MP4. There are several video file formats which have become very common.

However depending on the nature of your production, some video file formats are more convenient for your purpose.

By using this format, we ensure that videos are stored at the highest quality and take the least amount of space.

A brief explanation of how video files work

A regular video file in a digital format usually consists of two parts – I know it is just one file! – which are the container and the codec. Most video consumption today comes from streaming and videos we record on our phones.

Those are regular videos and even though they seem like one single unit are actually formed by two different components.

What is a codec?

Codecs are computer programmes to encode or decode digital data. A video codec´s function is mainly to compress and decompress a video file, as many time video files are really large and can take up a memory making it for your computer to play or download the file. Some of the most popular video codecs are Xdiv and MPEG-1 which you might probably see on your pc when trying to watch a downloaded video.

What is a container?

container also known as a wrapper format is a metafile format whose specification describes how different elements of data and metadata coexist in a computer file. In plain English, a container refers to not just a single file but a collection of them that store all the necessary information of a digital file and in this particular case, video, it is a combination of both audio and video data in just one file. The most popular video file containers are AVI, FLV, WMV, MP4, and MOV, of which you might have heard before.

Many clients ask us what video files will they receive once the video editing process is complete. That is the main reason why we have decided an article explaining the different video file format:

  1. Brief history explaining
  2. Pros of the format
  3. Cons and disadvantages

Most common types of video files

In summary, the most common video file types are:

  • WEBM
  • MPEG
  • OGG
  • MP
  • WMV
  • MOV
  • FLV

WEBM (Web Movie)

WebM is mainly a video file format created to be used online. It was originally intended as a royalty-free alternative to HTML5 video.

Google has originally supported financially this initiative and the corresponding software is distributed under a BSD license. Android makes great use of WebM video files

The first version of WebM supported VP8 video and Vorbis audio streams. In 2013, it was updated to reproduce VP9 video and Opus audio.

WebM file videos are supported by major browsers such as Native WebM support by Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Google Chrome making it one of the most versatile video files of the web along with FLV.

WMV (Windows Media Video)

Windows Media Video is one of the most popular video files developed by Microsoft in 2003 when they created the first draft of a video compression specification based on its previous video file WMV9 Microsoft drafted a video compression specification based on its WMV 9 format and submitted it to SMPTE for standardization. Later it became one of the three video formats for Blu-ray.

One of the best-known video files for its popularity among streaming and internet video as it is one of the tiniest video files over the internet.

On the downside, its quality decreases enormously after compression which ultimately affects the video. On the positive side, WMV allows users to share videos via e-mail system (another reason why it has become so popular).

As part of the Microsoft family, the Windows Media Player is the main video player for this kind of video file, however, there are many free media players for the Macintosh operating system.

MPEG (Movie Picture Expert Group)

MPEG is the acronym or Movie Picture Expert Group,  formed by ISO and IEC to create format standards for audio and video compression, set standards for audio and video compression and transmission.  It was established in 1988 by Hiroshi Yasuda and Leonardo Chiariglione.

It was developed in 1988 by MPEG has standardized the following compression formats and ancillary standards. All of the MPEG formats listed below use discrete cosine transform (DCT) based video compression algorithms.

One of the main benefits of MPEG and probably the main reason behind its popularity is the fact that they tend to be small files however they are also relatively low in quality.

On the other hand, these video files lose a lot of quality after undergoing several editions which make them a poor choice for many of those who are seeking to edit their videos a lot.

MOV (Apple QuickTime Movie)

MOV is the Apple counterpart of WMV. Developed by the Cupertino Corporation, it has developed a lot of popularity thanks to its video-sharing capabilities.

It is most popular among Macintosh user´s and its mainly used on the web and for storing video files.

The newest version of this file format called QuickTime X is available on Mac OS X Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion. MOV files are most commonly opened via the Apple QuickTime Player for the Macintosh Operating System.

Also, users are lucky as most Operating Systems can have a free version of a QuickTime player But where MOV really shines is at its picture quality although they are also big size, for example, a 15 minutes video taken with your iPhone could take up to 1GB of memory.

Either way, for many users, it is one of the best-looking file formats, MOV files are of high quality and are usually big in file size.

MP4 (Movie Picture Expert Group 4)

MP4 is the name given to the files which use this form of decompression when being played. As we mentioned above, it shares the same file format as a MOV file which part of its popularity is owned to it.

However, MP4 or MPEG4 is among the top three best video files today, partly thanks to its versatility, but undoubtedly thanks to the fact that this video format will not lose quality after subsequent edits and file save due to its lossless nature.

It is commonly used to stream video over the internet and higher in quality than WebM files however this usually results in larger file size. MPEG-4 possesses many of the features of its previous versions, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 as well as VRML

On the audio side of the file, it comes with AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) which was already standardized as an adjunct to MPEG.


Ogg was created by Foundation and intended as a free, open container format. According to the creators, the video file provides enough capabilities for streaming and manipulation of high-quality digital media.

OOG files are more often used an open-source option to MPEG files and widely employed as higher quality options than WebM video files.

Due to OGG files being open-sourced, they can be used in a variety of applications, including GPS receivers and media players (both desktop and portable).

OOG can be found in open-source animation software, GPS systems and other free computer programmes that due to their nature might not be able to afford paid video compression.

FLV (Flash Video Format)

FLV files are videos that are encoded by Adobe Flash software, usually with codecs following the Sorenson Spark or VP6 video compression formats. They can be played via the Adobe Flash Player, web browser plugins or one of several third-party programs.

On the good side, FLV can be a great choice as thanks to its video files remain in high quality even after compression unlike other formats such as WMV, therefore, they load quickly and do not take much of your bandwidth, making it very convenient and the preferred option for platforms such as Youtube, Yahoo! Video, VEVO, Hulu and Myspace among many others.

It has become one of the commonest video files online as FLV players come installed in most browsers today. And most browsers and video platforms are compatible with the format.

If you help to film or edit a video or have any questions related to this post, please either email us or leave a comment below.

I am a corporate videographer, specialised in company and product videography.

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