Video File Extensions, Codecs, and Formats in Video Editing

20 Sep 2021

6 Min Read

Most people think that the production of a video is all that matters and after that all they should do is to export the video and share it. But this “sharing” is exactly where they should dig in more. Because as your purpose for video making changes, the file you’ll share your video through it should change. Video files are varied in size and quality so to determine the best video file format for your video, you must consider three elements, the purpose of the video, the desired quality and size limit.

A video file consists of two parts, the “codec” and the “container”. The name of a video format is usually the name of the container only, so let’s start with knowing what that is.

Video containers

As the name represents, a container is where every element of a video is collected. Elements like video, audio, subtitle, codec, etc. Each container is in tune with a specific codec(s) to create a special video format. So you need to know them to find the best one for your need. Some of the common containers are as below;


MP4, which is the short form of MPEG-4, is developed by Motion Pictures Expert Group. It’s considered as one of the most popular video formats for online and offline use as the size it produces is rather small but the quality is high. It’s also compatible with a list of players and is matched with H.264 and H.265(HEVC) codec.


FLV, is encoded by Adobe Flash software and is more useful for online video viewing but it’s also supported in some offline players. Because of its small size which made it easy to load while keeping relatively good quality it was popular once, but it’s not so common these days.


MOV, is developed by Apple for its Quicktime player. Its quality is very good but at the cost of a large file size. Although it’s designed for Mac OS, you can use the windows version of Quicktime to play MOVs on your computer or use some third-party players.


Matroska or MKV which is named after the famous Russian matryoshka dolls is a container that can hold an unlimited number of audio, video, and subtitles files within one file format usually with a .mkv extension. Although the .mkv is a more famous extension used for movies and TV shows, there are also Audio-only files with the .mka extension and subtitle-only ones with .mks. Matroska is free and open-sourced and can be played by a number of software players on Windows, Mac, Linux, and also smartphones.


AVI, is one of the oldest video formats which is produced by Microsoft for Windows OS. It is a widely accepted format as it works with a number of codecs and it can be played on many video players. But the file size is usually large which makes AVI a better option for offline use.


WMV, somehow a specialized format for emailing videos as its size is the smallest possible. But an intense lack of quality in this format is the drawback which makes it suitable only for preview videos. The main player that supports this format is the Windows Media Player that exists on all versions of Windows OS.
Video Containers

Video Codecs

Video codec implies the process of compression and decompression of a video in which some your data might be lost. If the compression deletes some of your data, then it’s a lossy compression and the result would be a smaller file size but also lower quality. But if the compression keeps all the data in, then it’s a lossless compression that results in a high quality video with a large size. Below are the codecs you need to know about;


This one works out pretty well for most projects. It’s specialized for HD and higher quality videos and is well-matched with MP4. so it can be played on many players and also a perfect option for video streaming. Needless to say that it produces small size and high quality as it goes with MP4. In fact H.264 does lower the quality but minimally and that has made it an ideal codec.


It’s developed by JCT-VC and is also called H.265. Its focus is on 4K and Blu-ray videos and is famous for high efficient compression that reduces the size to almost half of what it is while maintaining the quality. It’s mainly used by GoPro cameras. But keep in mind that HEVC is very resource-heavy and it needs a high spec device in general.


Another codec with high-quality video in mind that produces large files is developed alongside its open-source version XviD. the common case for this codec is for lengthy videos and cases with no size limit.


It’s a very useful codec because of its high compatibility and perfect matching for online video streaming. It also has features for 3D rendering using VRML(Virtual Reality Modeling Language) which makes it even more practical.


This is the compression standard mostly used for DVD and Blu-ray but can also work for the digital cable and satellite industry. The quality it produces is rather normal but it’s somehow lossy. So you shouldn’t expect it the highest rate possible. However, It would be much better if you do the compression in 6Mbps range but the file size will increase.


AOMedia Video 1 or simply AV1 is the next generation of the video streaming codec to be used across the internet. It’s planned to be the successor to the HEVC (H.265) format, the current 4K HDR video format on streaming platforms like Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney Plus, and Netflix. It is developed by the Alliance of Global Media Innovators (AOMedia), an independent nonprofit made up of 12 founding members and 22 promoter members, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, IBM, and many others with the mission to deliver open, royalty-free, and interoperable solutions for the next generation of video delivery. AV1 is a royalty-free codec that allows everyone to use it without all the pains of licensing. It is also 30% more efficient in compression in comparison with HEVC which is not its maximum yet as they’re working on it to gain more, therefore AV1 is going to be the key to a streaming world of higher frame rates, 8K resolution, HDR standards, and audio demands.

What File Format for What Video Platform?

In general, choosing the right format for your video is completely depending on the way you’re going to use or distribute it. But a very common combination especially for platforms like Youtube is MP4 and H.264 that also works on many platforms and players. If you want a hierarchal list of the formats you can check this table by ESA/Hubble that includes all the formats.

Video Players

Now that you’ve learnt the ropes of video file formats, it’s time to get familiar with some common video players out there. Although people usually use couple of players on their computers and devices, you might find some players that could satisfy all of your needs. You might find your favorite player in the list below;


Consider this player a giant that eats everything, as it can literally play every video format possible. this free and open-source media player is created by the VideoLan project. to ease watching videos for you it has a simple and easy-to-use interface. VLC can read over 60 file extensions so we’re not gonna name them because as we said it includes almost every format.

KM Player

This one is also another famous player that can work on all Windows and Mac platforms and supports many file formats as well (a little less than VLC.) Its features for music playing is also a benefit for the users but as for the video, a special feature included in KM Player is the ability to support 3D, 4K and UHD videos. It’s also available for Mac devices.

Media Player Classic

Yes, the classic player that we all know and works in all Windows platforms but the interesting point is the number of supported formats in MPC is something like VLC. interesting features like subtitle download option and Skype integration has made it more than an old-school media player.


ACG is designed exclusively to be used on Windows10 so only users of this OS can get the benefit of its features. It’s a light app that includes all the usual features of a player plus some interesting features like video/audio effect, gesture control, background music, etc.

Real Player

This one is not just a separate media player like the others, you should get the whole RealTimes app which also includes RealPlayer cloud and Slideshow creation tool. Using this player you can share your videos via cloud. It’s also not completely free as it has a premium plan if you need to use it’s storage more than its free space which is 2GB and increase it up to 25GB.

QuickTime Player

As we said before this player is created by Apple for its devices and has its own file formats QT, MOV and MOOV. It includes every needed playback feature along with supporting many video formats and it can be installed on Windows OS. There is also a paid Pro version that enables you to convert file, record and edit videos.


After all if you have no way to create the format you need, you can change it by convertors. There are many convertors out there varied from completely free to upselling included apps, paid ones and online convertors. Here’s our picked ones for you;

Free File Converters

Format Factory is a free and easy to use convertor as the interface is so simple. Format Factory is only available for Windows. For Mac, HandBrake is an option that can also be installed on Windows.


Freemium File Converters

DivX convertor is a freemium option with great features. You can try the Pro version as well but it is not necessary. Other option is Wondershare Uniconvertor that has a high quality output and a nice interface. Both options are available for Mac and Windows.


Paid and Online File Converters

Movavi is a paid convertor with unique features like modern interface, high quality output. For an online option, CloudConvert is a good option that can convert anything. Just import your files from your PC or cloud to convert it on the website.


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