video formats

Top 10 video formats

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– Disclaimer: this remains one of our most popular posts but it is no longer maintained. As a result, the content may now be out of date. –

The world of video formats can be somewhat confusing but there are only a few fundamental concepts that you need to grasp. It is important to understand that a video format is more than just a file extension. An extension is not just a video codec – it could be a container, or a codec and a container or just a codec.

Confused? Let’s look at what you need to know about how it all works.

What are Codecs and Containers?

The majority of videos are compressed – which means they have been altered to take up less space on a computer. A codec simply compresses and decompresses this data, interpreting the video file and determining how to play it on your screen.

There are a lot of different codecs out there and mosts computers come with codecs preinstalled. There are also a range of codecs available for download, should you get the dreaded “file extension not supported” or “cannot play media” notification on your computer.

Then there are containers, which are essentially a bundle of media files. A container usually consists of a video and an audio codec, but may also contain information such as subtitles. Containers allow you to choose one codec for your video and one for your audio – giving the user a little more control over how to record and rip your media.

Imagen Enterprise Video Platform helps companies of all sizes and industries to manage their video content – whatever the format.  If you need help managing your media why not register for one of our webinars or find out more about our video management platform here. Meanwhile – Let’s look at ten of the most popular video formats out there:


1. AVI – Audio Video Interleave

AVI files are the long running digital video workhorse from the Microsoft stable. The format’s popularity has dipped in recent times but AVI still reigns supreme with the swarms of legacy videos propagating the internet. AVI was replaced by Microsoft’s Windows Media Video (WMV) format and usually offers less compression than comparable video file formats including MOV and MPEG. It also does not allow users to select aspect ratios manually, which can be a rather irritating feature.

Open with: Microsoft Windows Media Player, Apple QuickTime Player and VideoLAN VLC media player.

2. ASF – Advanced Systems Format

Another offering from Microsoft, the ASF container normally houses files compressed with Microsoft’s WMA (Windows Media Audio) and WMV codec. Just to confuse the matter further, the files are usually given the .wmv or .wma suffix and not the expected .asf. A form of copy protection is offered with this container through Digital Rights Management (DRM).

Open with: VideoLAN VLC media player and Microsoft Windows Media Player.

3. MOV or QT – QuickTime

The MOV and QT Apple QuickTime Movie file formats both support a wide range of codecs. The .mov format saves video files and the .qt suffix is cross-platform, meaning that it supports both Mac and Windows systems. The two file extensions are commonly saved together.

Open with: Apple QuickTime Player.

4. AVCHD – Advanced Video Coding, High Definition

The result of a Panasonic and Sony collaboration as a video file format for digital camcorders, AVCHD is commonly used for data compressed with the H.264 codec. It’s a file-based format so it can be played back and stored on a range of storage devices. Supports both standard definition and high definition variants and the latest 2.0 version supports 3D.

Open with: VideoLan VLC Media Player and Apple QuickTime Player.

5. FLV or SWF – Flash Video

Flash Video has been around for some time and comes in numerous versions. Old Flash videos tend to use the Sorenson codec and new Flash uses H.264. It is a popular container format for streaming videos across the internet but a large drawback is that it is not supported on iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads.

Open with: Web browsers with the Flash plugin installed and the Adobe Flash Player.

If you’re confused by codecs and containers or would like some advice on the best video file format for your requirements, contact one of our specialist team today.

Request a demo of Imagen

Content Management & Distribution for Enterprise, Sport & Media.

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