computer with video software in a cozy room

10 Best Video Formats: How to Choose The Right Video Format

Michael Che2022-06-2910 mins

Video is a powerful marketing tool that can help you with many goals, from selling your product or services, impressing your boss, or creating a great presentation for school. 

However, choosing the wrong video format can make or break your ability to edit and render a high-quality video. So, today, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about how to choose the right video format so that you can save yourself time and frustration. 

Basics of Codec

Codec, or the coder/decoder process, is the process of compressing and recording a video and then decompressing it. The term codec, or container, is often used interchangeably with the video file format and will appear as MP4 or AVI. 

However, the technical difference between the two is that a codec is software that processes and compresses your video file, while the video container is the final product. Keep in mind that whatever software you use to edit your video will need to be compatible with the video codec and container that your camera records in. 

10 Best Video Formats 

So, what are the best video formats? Keep reading to learn about the top 10 best video formats, their pros and cons, and who they are best for. 

AVI

AVI files were developed in 1995 and are one of the oldest video formats. As a result of its age, AVI files are accepted by many websites and software, which is a significant benefit for many video content creators. However, AVI are larger video files that can take up a lot of space on your PC. Additionally, AVI files are not great for streaming or sharing online as you may experience lags during your stream. 

AVI is best suited for users who need to upload their videos to many platforms or use them across different browsers or Windows because they are accepted nearly everywhere. In addition, AVI has excellent video quality, but, again, keep in mind that the rendered video files may require an external hard drive to be stored on. 

Best for: Everyday users and content creators who use a variety of software and platforms

Pros: 

  • Works for DVD recording

  • Compatible with all browsers, including MAC, Windows, Linux, and more

  • Stellar video quality 

  • Accepted by most software and websites

Cons: 

  • Huge video file sizes

  • Older and more outdated than other video file formats

  • Not ideal for streaming or sharing

  • Compression can cause quality issues

AVCHD

AVCHD files use MPEG- 4 AVC/H.264 standards for its video compression. AVCHD is versatile and works with many high definition, stereoscopic video, and formatting settings, making it great for professional video editors and content creators looking for top-notch video quality. 

Keep in mind that AVCHD has superior video quality and will pick up the smallest details on camera, so it’s known as an unforgiving file format. However, it’s also the highest quality video format on today’s list for high-end video editing. 

Best for: Professional video editors

Pros: 

  • Compatible with Blu-rays

  • High-quality video and audio 

  • Can record 1920 by 1080 resolution videos

  • The latest AVCHD formats support 3D videos

  • Extremely sharp quality for high-end video editing

Cons: 

  • Unforgiving, will pick up everything

  • Huge file sizes

  • Limited compatibility

FLV, F4V, and SWF

FLV, F4V, and SWF are the official video file formats for Adobe Flash Video. All of these files have synchronized audio, video data streams, metadata packets, and short headers. 

When the Adobe Flash Player came out, people used the FLV, F4V, and SWF files for gaming and video content such as TV shows and films. Nowadays, if you want to create Flash videos, you’ll need to export one of these files with the Flash Video Exporter plug-in. QuickTime, Windows Media, or Adobe Media Encoders can also be used to create these files. 

Keep in mind that most video players and websites do not accept Flash video file formats as of December 31st, 2020. 

Best for: Flash users

Pros: 

  • Used frequently on YouTube for streaming

  • Good for gaming and video content

  • Official video format for Adobe Flash Video

Cons: 

  • Very outdated

  • Limited compatibility

  • Not supported by iOS devices

MKV

MKV files were formatted in Russia and stand for Matroska Multimedia Container, which is a reference to the popular Russian nesting dolls. This file format is ideal for projects where you need to store a variety of codecs and information, like subtitles, chapters, menus, etc. Due to this, MKV is ideal for video projects viewed on a TV or computer using an open-source media player. MKV is also a perfect choice for streaming and downloading. 

MKV is a non-proprietary format, making it easy to access and giving it a large community of users that are constantly working on updating it to current IT specs. It’s considered universal and is almost as versatile as MP4 files. However, some users note that MKV is more susceptible to audio problems.

Best for: Storing many codecs and types of information in the same file

Pros: 

  • High-quality video

  • More web browsers and video players are accepting this format

  • Flexible enough to store chapters, subtitles, menus, and more

  • Ideal for a video that will be viewed on a TV or computer with a media player

Cons: 

  • Not compatible with many Apple devices

  • Loses quality when compressed

  • May have more audio problems than other formats

MP4

MP4 is one of the most popular types of video formats out there because it's a universally compatible format. As a result, you can use MP4 files on iTunes, Apple, and Windows. Another significant advantage of using an MP4 is that MP4s have smaller file sizes but still maintain a high video and audio quality. 

MP4s can do this by highlighting similar files in video data, ridding the file of it, and grouping similar colored pixels together, allowing the video to process faster. This process can lead to a minor reduction in video quality, specifically in your video image's color depth and sharpness. You may receive an error message about MP4 file corruption when this occurs. 

Best for: The everyday user

Pros: 

  • Universally accepted video format

  • Compatible with Windows Media Players, iTunes, Apples, GOM player, and more

  • High-quality video with a smaller file size

  • Great for streaming videos online

  • Accepted by most video-sharing platforms

  • Excellent for YouTube because MP4s are ideal for closed caption formatting and subtitle work

Cons: 

  • More susceptible to crashing due to corruption issues

  • May have a minor decrease in video sharpness and color depth

MPEG-2

MPEG-2 is the standard for a digitally encoded video that is broadcast quality. Many love this video file format because of its sharp image quality and high resolution at a relatively small file size, considering the typically long video. However, MPEG-2 is not readily viewable by most people without specific equipment, making it a poor video file choice for the average video user. Licensing fees are also typically required when you distribute this video type. MPEG-2 videos are also huge in size because they usually compress gigantic files and require significant storage, making them incompatible with most mobile devices and Internet video streaming services.  

In short, MPEG-2 is the standard for DVD videos and is ideal for someone looking to burn DVDs, but not much else. 

Best for: DVD burning

Pros:

  • High-image quality

  • The standard for DVD videos

  • Compresses long videos into smaller sizes easily

Cons:

  • Not playable for most individuals without specialty equipment

  • Licensing fees are usually required to distribute this type of video 

  • Doesn’t perform as well as other formats at high bitrates

  • Not as efficient as newer standard video file formats

MOV

MOV, also commonly known as the QuickTime video format, was developed by Apple. MOV files are high-quality and similar to MP4s in that they can contain audio, video, subtitles, and more all in one file. Its biggest con is that it’s not playable on most other video players outside of the QuickTime player. Windows users can play MOV by downloading the QuickTime player, but it will always be better suited for Apple users. Another downside to MOV is that Apple may discontinue the use of this file format in the future, making this format nearly impossible to play or use. 

However, MOV offers a high-definition video while retaining a relatively small file size. This feature makes it great for video editing on a MAC. Many people in the film and media industries specifically use MOV because it can divide movies into multiple editing tracks. MOV is an acceptable format for YouTube, Facebook, and TV viewing. 

Best for: MAC and Apple users

Pros:

  • Great for the web because of its small size and high-quality

  • Can store subtitles alongside video and audio

  • Works well with other video formats

  • Great for video editors due to its small size and division capabilities

Cons:

  • Needs to be played on QuickTime player most of the time

  • Compressing this file can lead to data loss

  • May be discontinued by Apple

MTS

MTS, or MPEG Transport Stream, is an advanced video format that is stored in the Advanced Video Coding High Definition setting. Large companies like Sony, Canon, and Panasonic use this video format to create high-definition videos. MTS can be used to create 3D videos and is compatible with specific Canon cameras and Sony products. 

However, MTS will not be ideal for most video editors and users. It’s not compatible with the majority of social media platforms, like YouTube, and requires special training to edit well. The video files are also huge and can be slow to edit. 

Best for: Professional Canon or Sony camera users

Pros:

  • Compatible with 3D videos

  • Creates high-definition projects

  • Works well with specific Canon or Sony camera products

Cons:

  • Limited to use with certain cameras and products

  • Slow editing with a steep learning curve

WEBM or HTML5

WEBM, or HTML5, is an open-source Google-developed video format, allowing the public to scrutinize and make changes to the video format when desired. WEBM is compatible with HTML, making it an excellent choice for browser-embedded videos. 

A significant pro of this video format is that it doesn’t need much computing power to compress or decompress the video data. Due to this, the WEBM file format is excellent for large distribution online and embedding videos online, so many digital marketers and small business owners use them. They are quick to load and stream as well and are accepted by most browsers such as Opera, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. 

Best for: Digital marketers and small businesses 

Pros:

  • Open-source video format that is constantly evolving

  • Faster loading time on the web than other video formats 

  • Doesn’t need significant computer power to be compressed or decompressed

  • A great choice for sharing videos with many people online 

Cons:

  • Needs HTML to be opened and played

  • Not as compatible with mobile devices

WMV

Microsoft developed WMV, or Windows Media Video, which increased its visibility online. However, WMV is primarily useful for individuals wanting to share videos on a Windows PC or edit using Windows Movie Maker. WMV files are not compatible with many other video players, making them more limited than other file options on this list. 

WMV files are excellent choices because of their small size, but the file can be easily corrupted, resulting in the loss of image quality after compression. However, if you want to upload to YouTube, WMV is an accepted file option. Apple users can also access WMV files by downloading the Windows Media Player. 

Best for: Ideal for Windows or Windows Movie Maker users

Pros:

  • Relatively small video file size

  • An excellent option for storing videos on a Windows PC

  • Can be used for short animations in a variety of video programs

  • Ideal for sharing videos over email due to the small file size

Cons:

  • Only compatible with Windows PCs and select video players

  • Decreased video quality throughout and after compression

How to choose the right video format

There are many fantastic video formats available. However, it can be overwhelming to choose one for your specific project. To help you out, we’ve created the following cheat sheet so that you can easily select the best video file formats for your particular needs. 

YouTube

  • YouTube accepts many formats, including MOV, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MP4, MPG, AVI, and WMV. 

  • However, AVI and MP4 will be the most universal choices for most users, especially if you plan to use the file on other websites or platforms. 

  • For Windows Users, WMV may be your best choice if you use Windows Movie Maker. 

TikTok

  • MOV and MP4 are TikTok’s preferred video formats, but this platform also accepts AVI, MPEG, and 3PG files

Instagram

  • Instagram prefers the MP4 format but will also accept MOV or GIF if you like that format personally. 

Website videos

  • WEBM or HTML5 videos are quick to load and ideal for viewing on a website

  • MP4 and AVI videos are another great choice because they are universally accepted.

Sharing

  • MP4 files are ideal for sharing because they are universally accepted, so your recipient will definitely be able to open the file regardless of their device or browser. 

  • For email, we suggest WMV files if you and the recipient are using a Windows computer because of the file’s small size. 

Recording

  • MTS files are a popular choice among Sony and Canon users because of their incredibly high resolution and 3D video capabilities. 

  • If you want to burn your video to a DVD, film in MPEG-2. 

Editing

  • WMV is ideal for Windows users editing with Windows Movie Maker. 

  • If you’re looking to burn DVDs or create movies, consider MPEG-2 or MKV file types. 

  • MOV files are a favorite among Apple users for video editing. 

Storing on Phone

  • MP4 files are small and compatible with nearly every device, making them a great choice for storing on a phone. 

  • MKV files are also compatible with Android phones 6.0+. 

  • For Apple products, consider using an HEVC file type. 

High-quality

  • AVCHD is one of the highest quality video files available.

  • If you have a Sony or Canon camera, consider using an MTS file for high resolution. 

4K

  • MTS files offer 4K resolution and 3D video support. 

  • AVCHD is an excellent choice for 4K, high-definition projects. 

Valuable Resources

During our research, we came across the following resources, which we want to share with you in case you have additional questions. 

Are you still unsure what a video codec is, or do you want to have a deeper understanding of the codec options available to you when you are shooting, editing, and rendering your video? Check out the following video on how to understand codecs for an in-depth breakdown of what a codec is and how to use them to your advantage. 

Are you unsure what video format you should choose when exporting your video? We enjoyed this video by Filmora MVP on video formats - what they are and which one you should choose to export your video in. 

Curious about what video file format is right for you? Watch the following YouTube video on which video file format is ideal for you and why it will improve the quality of your video for your audience. 

Final Thoughts

The right video file extensions make a huge difference in the quality of your project, how long it takes to download or load, and if you can even upload it to the website or platform you want to share it on. 

Before starting any video project, always think about what video format will best suit your project and the capabilities of your computer. If you have a computer with less space, you’ll need to select a smaller video file or risk crashing your computer while editing or rendering the project. If you use an external hard drive, you’ll be able to go with larger files with high resolution. 

Start by considering your video’s final destination, whether that is streaming, a movie, or social media, then create and edit the video in that same format. Always take a moment to ask yourself what the best video format for your specific project is.  And don't worry, you can always convert your video format with the various tools available online.

Michael Che
Michael is the head of growth at Notta and has a ton of professional hands-on experience in the technology field. He likes writing and experience cool stuffs, if you don't see him in the office discussing the most popular apps with colleagues, then he must be creating in the cafe.