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Content Table:

Part 1: What Are File Container Formats, Video Codecs and File Extensions?

A video file format is a kind of file format for saving digital video data that is usually compressed to reduce the file size. A program or hardware which can decode compressed data in a file container is called a codec.

A video file usually consists of a container (e.g. in the WebM format) including video data in a video coding format (e.g. VP9) as well as audio data in an audio coding format (e.g. Opus). The video file container can also have synchronization information, subtitles, metadata, etc. A standardized video file type such as .webm is a profile specified by a restriction on which container format and which video and audio coding formats are allowed.

A file extension indicates which program will open the video file. That is the case with some video file formats, such as Windows Media Video (.wmv), Flash Video (.flv), Real Video (.rmvb), WebM (.webm), and Ogg Video (.ogv), each of which can only contain a few well-defined video and audio coding formats, making it easy to know which codec should be installed to play the video file. By contrary, some video file containers such as AVI and Matroska can contain almost any video and audio coding format, and have file extensions named after the file container formats, making it hard if not impossible to derive which codec or program to install for playing the files.

Part 2: Brief introduction to Popular Video File and Codec Formats

Video File Container Formats

Name Description File Extensions
MP4 Used by mobile devices, iPod and some mobile phones and players.  .mp4
QuickTime (MOV) Commonly used in Apple computers. Apple has always been known for its efficiency.  .mov, .qt
Advanced Systems Format (WMV) Developed by Microsoft. Advanced Systems Format is a digital audio/video container format, especially meant for streaming media. It's widely used to envelope WMV/VC-1 compressed data. .asf, .wma, .wmv
AVI Audio Video Interleave (AVI), is a multimedia container format introduced by Microsoft. This container format supports almost any video through VFW (Video for Windows) and almost any audio through ACM (Audio Compression Manager). .avi
MPEG Video File A popular video file container format in the early days envelopes MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 media. .mpg, .mpeg
M4V Apple's MP4 version, also called Podcast format, designed for iPod , iPhone, iPad and PlayStation Portable. Similarly, M4R, M4A and M4B are released for iPhone ringtones, MPEG-4 Audio and Audiobooks. Note that M4V supports DRM. .m4v,.m4r, .m4a, .m4b
F4V Adobe's MP4 version after the FLV format, created to meet the high-definition requirements, usually containing H.264 ACC media. .f4v
FLV Widely used by video sites for network streaming. In most cases, the smaller size, the better. .flv
3GP Used in mobile phones, the file size could not be too big due to the limitation of storage. .3gp
DivX Developed by DivX. It's actually MPEG-4 Part 2 video encoded to meet DivX profiles. .divx
RMVB  Developed by RealNetworks. the most common format. It was originally designed for web communication. It requires a very small size to have high definition, although it is better than the above. .rmvb
Matroska The Matroska Multimedia Container is a free, open-standard container format that can hold unlimited number of video, audio, picture, or subtitle tracks in one file. It supports almost any codecs for video, audio and subtitle. .mkv, .mk3d, .mka, .mks, .webm
OGG A free file container format for efficient streaming and manipulation of high-quality digital multimedia without any restriction. The developer is Xiph.org Foundation. .ogv, .oga, .ogx, .ogg
MPEG Transport Stream MPEG transport stream is a digital container format for transmission and storage of audio and video data. It is popular in broadcast systems such as ATSC, DVB, and IPTV.   .ts
BDAV MPEG-2 transport stream This container format is commonly used for HD video on Blu-ray Disc and AVCHD, based on the MPEG-2 transport stream container. .m2ts
VOB+Info Video Object (VOB) is the container format in DVD-Video media, which can contain video, audio, subtitles, DVD menus and navigation contents. .vob, .info
MOD+TOD Video formats used in SD and HD camcorders, containing MPEG-2 video and MPEG-1 audio. .mod, .tod

Video Coding Formats

Codec Brief Description
MPEG-1 Part 2 The codec used on VCD Discs. The image quality is similar to VHS. The resolutions are 320x240. The common file name extension is .dat.
MPEG-2 Part 2/H.262 The codec used on DVD Discs and Blu-ray Discs. The maximum resolutions could be 1920x1080. It's so excellent that directly kills MPEG-3.
MPEG-4 Part 2 A video compression format developed by MPEG. similar to MPEG-1 Part 2 and H.262/MPEG-2 Part 2. Better known as DivX or XviD.
H.264/MPEG-4 AVC Jointly developed by ITU-T and MPEG. It implements the MPEG-4 Part 10 standard and is widely used for Blu-ray, HD DVD, DVB, ATSC, iPod Video, Apple TV, etc. It's the most important coding format nowadays.
H.265/HEVC HEVC, short for High Efficiency Video Coding, also known as H.265 and MPEG-H Part 2, is designed as a successor to the widely used H.264/MPEG-4 AVC. It supports resolutions up to 8192×4320, including 4K and 8K UHD.
VC-1/ WMV One of the three best codecs for HD videos, in addition to MPEG-2 and H.264. VC-1/WMV is developed by Microsoft based on ASF. It allows playing video while downloading and thus suitable for network streaming. Its main competitor includes RealVideo.
RealVideo RealVideo is developed by RealNetworks. It's a high-compression video format that can be used to encode media for streaming on the web. The best quality is close to DVD video quality, and usually in small size.
Theora Theora is a free lossy video compression format developed by the Xiph.Org Foundation. Xiph.org also released free products like Vorbis audio and the ogg container format.
VP8/VP9 VP8/VP9 are royalty free video compression format owned by Google and created by On2 Technologies acquired by Google in 2010. VP8 and VP9 usually have a WebM or MKV wrapper.
AV1 AOMedia Video 1 is a video coding format designed for video transmissions over the Internet. It was created by the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia),
ProRes An intermediate codec designed by Apple in post-production workflow for professional video editing software like Final Cut Pro X.
DNxHD/DNxHR An intermediate codec designed by Avid in post-production workflow to transfer media files from one application to another.
CineForm An intermediate codec designed by GoPro in post-production workflow to edit video in high quality, which is he main format of GoPro Studio.

Part 3: Supported Video and Audio Formats for File Containers

Name Supported Video Coding Formats Supported Audio Coding Formats
MP4 MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Divx/Xvid, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, H.265/HEVC, VC-1/WMV, Real Video, Theora, VP8, VP9, etc.
MP3, WMA, Opus, AAC, AC-3, DTS, LPCM, ALAC, MLP / Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD
QuickTime MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Divx/Xvid, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, H.265/HEVC, VC-1/WMV, Theora, etc. MP3, WMA, Vorbis, Opus, AAC, AC-3, DTS, PCM, LPCM, FLAC, ALAC, DTS-HD
M4V H.264/MPEG-4 AVC AAC
ASF Windows Media Video, Windows Media Video Screen, Windows Media Video Image Windows Media Audio, Sipro ACELP.net
AVI MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Divx/Xvid, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, VC-1/WMV, Real Video, Theora, VP8 MP3, WMA, AAC, AC-3, DTS, PCM, LPCM
3GP MPEG-4 Part 2, H.263, MPEG-4 Part 10 (AVC/H.264) AMR-NB, AMR-WB, AMR-WB+, AAC-LC, HE-AAC
MPG MPEG-1, MPEG-2 MP3, LPCM
F4V H.264/MPEG-4 AVC MP3, AAC
FLV H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, VP6, H.263, Sorenson AAC, MP3, ADPCM, LPCM
OGG MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Divx/Xvid, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, VC-1/WMV, Theora, etc. MP3, Vorbis, Opus, PCM, LPCM, FLAC
RMVB RealVideo 8/9/10 RealAudio, Cooker, Vorbis
MKV MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Divx/Xvid, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, H.265/HEVC, VC-1/WMV, Real Video, Theora, VP8, VP9, etc. MP3, WMA, Vorbis, Opus, AAC, AC-3, DTS, PCM, LPCM, FLAC, ALAC, MLP/Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD
WebM VP8, VP9, AV1 Vorbis, Opus
MXF MPEG-1, MPEG-2, H.264/ MPEG-4 AVC, VC-1/ WMV MP3, AAC, AC-3, DTS, PCM, LPCM, MLP/Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD

 

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