Most common video file formats

Video format is a combination of a codec and a container. Stay tuned, and we’ll explain a bit more.

Video extensions are often mistaken for formats, but they are not exactly the same. An extension is a 2- or 3-symbol code after the dot in the file name, like birthday_party.avi. It indicates a format and helps us understand what program we need to play this clip, as different software is compatible with different file types.

An extension may be the same as the codec used to compress this file, but it’s not a rule of thumb.

Every movie is much more than a usual video. It also includes an audio track (sometimes several ones), closed or open subtitles, pictures, and other metadata. All those miscellaneous pieces of data are collected in one container – which we, amateurs, call a file format.

  • MP4 – one of the most universal formats, compatible with the majority of digital resources and platforms. While being one of the highly compressed video formats, it provides a decent quality of the visual.
  • MOV – an Apple’s creation developed for QuickTime player. Nevertheless, it is compatible with other software as well. The principal drawback is the large file size, but the visual quality is beyond all praise.
  • AVI – a good old-fashioned and battle-tested format, compatible with the majority of codecs and players.
  • WMV – as the very name implies, this container uses MWV codecs, which ensure the smallest size possible. Quite logically, it provokes a significant quality loss, but the file may be sent via e-mail or even SMS.
  • FLV – this format was developed for flash videos, and is now less popular than it used to be several years ago.
  • MKV – this container is still evolving, and it’s compatible with a few players only. On the other hand, it can use the majority of codecs and provides quite a high quality (at the cost of a size, of course).


Movie files take much place, not even mentioning all the accompanying elements. Codec is a program that compresses the video to pack it into a container and then decompresses it to play the clip on your screen.

Quite logically, compression influences the quality. The higher it is – the smaller the file is, but quality losses are inevitable. On the other hand, you can choose a format with minimum compression, but it may well take up to several GB.

Common codecs:

  • HEVC – one of the most popular codecs, that provides a high compression rate along with good video quality. It was developed for compressing 4K visuals.
  • H.264 aka AVC – a precursor of HEVC (which is also called H.265). Used to be one of the best options before its successor was released.
  • MPEG-4 – some of its standards are identical to H.264, but the overall performance is a bit worse.
  • DivX – provides quite large video files, so it pales in comparison to more modern options.
Movie files filmed on smartphone

Best video formats

There is no such a thing as the “best” or the "worst" format – everything depends on your needs. If you want to burn the video to a disc or save it to a pen-drive, it should be well compressed. If you want to post it online, quality and compatibility are more important.

For example, YouTube accepts a wide range of formats, including quite exotic ones. Social media and other online platforms usually have a list of exact video specifications to help you select the right one.

So it is always a good idea to check the specs before you start editing the video that you plan to post anywhere. Luckily, the Clideo video editing tools work with almost any audio and video format. So unfamiliar extensions will no longer get in the way of your creativity.