All You Need to Know About Video Formats

All You Need to Know About Video Formats

Most people really don’t know much about video formats, aside from the extensions they see accompanying their video files. While you don’t need to know about the technical aspects of video formats, it does help to know what video formats really are – and what they do.

Understanding Containers and Codecs

The first thing that you should know is that video formats consist of two parts, a ‘container’ and a ‘codec’. Each plays a very specific role:

  • The video container is the wrapping that stores the various parts that make up the video. That includes not only the video data and its codec, but also the audio data, captions, and various other components.
  • The video codec is the tool that processes the video data and encodes it by arranging it using various algorithms to compress it. The codec also then decodes the data in order to play the video when required.

Based on that you may already be starting to see the importance of video formats and how they can affect your video.

Choosing a Video Format

When you choose a video format, you will need to select both a container and codec that you want to use. Some containers only support certain codecs, while others a more flexible.

On top of that there are several factors that you need to take into account when choosing a format:

Compatibility and hardware support

Different devices and platforms are compatible with different video formats, both in terms of containers as well as codecs. If a video format isn’t compatible it may not be able to be played, or a blank screen may be displayed when it is.

Ideally, the video codec will have hardware support as well. If it does not the task of decoding the video will be left to a processor which will affect its performance and consume more power.


The video compression will be determined by its codec, and newer codecs often have better compression rates. For example, if you encode a video using the newer H.265 (HEVC) codec, it will be up to 50% smaller than if the same quality video was encoded using H.264.

That being said it tends to take a while for newer codecs to be adopted, and so they aren’t as compatible as older codecs and may not have hardware support.


Due to the fact that the video container stores the various parts that make up your video, it also determines what features are supported – such as captions, 3D codecs, streaming, menus, metadata, chapters, and so on.

Some containers may only support a limited range of features. However, MKV is open source and support virtually every feature imaginable.

By weighing each of these factors, you should be able to find a format that is suitable – both in terms of the container and video codec.


As a rule, it is best if you encode your video in the right format from the get-go. While it is possible to transcode and convert the video format later, it can affect the video quality – especially if you transcode the same video from one format to another repeatedly.

Still, if you do need to convert the video format, it is easy enough with the right tools. For example, you could use Movavi Video Converter.

Seeing as you now know everything you need to about video formats, you should have no trouble handling them. All in all, it really isn’t that complicated, especially after you understand the role the format is designed to play.

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