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How to Choose the Right Codec and Container for Your Video Workflow


In the ancient times of digital video (the 1990s), there were but a few ways to store footage. Now there are scores of different formats to choose from. Beware! An unwise choice in format can have devastating results.

Many work hours can be lost to footage in formats that render slowly or need to be transcoded but fear not! Once you unlock the knowledge of codecs and containers, you’ll be able to continue your quest for great video.

Why Formats Matter

There’s a multitude of reasons a video format is important. If you understand the format that a camera shoots in, then you can calculate how much storage space you will need for the footage you plan to shoot. To know if editing or color correction software can handle a format natively or if it will have to be transcoded, you need to have knowledge of the format of the footage. When a film festival or broadcaster asks for a delivery format for video, the better you understand it, the easier it will be to have your project looking the best it can.

What Exactly is a Format?

By understanding a little about the codecs and containers used in popular formats, you will be able to make better choices for the work you do. When someone asks what format a video is in, they often want to know what container and codec were used to make it — and possibly what standard it is encoded to — unless, of course, the video is from the dark ages and then they usually want to know what kind of video tape it’s stored on and hope that they can find something on which to play it.


A codec is the order used to layout the data of an audio or video file in such a way that it may be utilized for playback, editing or changing to other codecs (transcoding). Codecs are used to organize media data, but that data is held within a container. There are many different types of audio and video codecs, and they each have their own advantages.

By Odin Lindblom


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