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Understanding Video File Types: Codecs, Containers, and Outputs

While there is a plethora of video file types, which consist of codecs and containers, choosing the right one doesn’t have to be complicated … but it certainly can be.

Let’s dig into this jargon bin and try to simplify things by the end of this post.

Codecs (are for compression)

You may have heard the phrase video codec when referring to video files. A codec is simply the software that compresses your video so it can be stored and played back on a device. While the word “compression” can conjure images of pixelated video, the process is both necessary and efficient with modern digital cameras. It gives you much smaller files sizes with minimal quality loss. Compression is your friend!

The codec of your original video file is often determined by your video camera or screen recorder, which you may or may not have control over in your camera settings. Examples of popular codecs include h.264 which is often used for digital videos, MPEG2 which is often used for DVD media and TV transmission. Now-a-days video editors and cameras will take care of the codec stuff for you and it really isn’t something to worry about unless you’re looking to get into high-end video or outputting to a very specific destination. If you’re really interested in video codecs click here for more info.

Containers (are file extensions)

Most often when talking about video file types, people are referring to file containers. A container is the file that contains your video and audio streams and any closed caption files as well. It’s common for a container to be called a file extension since they are often seen at the end of file names (e.g. filename.mp4) Popular video (visuals-only) containers include.mp4, .mov, or .avi, but there are many more. Audio actually uses it’s own codecs. Often times your video camera will determine the container for your original video file as well. Our Canon DSLRs record .mov to the memory card, however our Canon camcorders can do AVCHD or MP4, which can be changed in the camera settings menu. Modern video editors will be happy to accept all kinds of containers, especially from well known camera brands.

By Kyle Wilson


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