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Understanding Video File Types: Codecs, Containers, and Outputs

Video File Types

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!

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 codecs 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.

Choosing a container for exporting (hint – use MP4!)

When it’s time to export your video after editing, you’ll most likely be tasked with choosing a file type (container). Nine times out of ten when exporting a video for the web an MP4 will be your best bet. Occasionally you may need to use a different container depending on where you plan to host your video. If you’re creating a video for a client always check to see if they have any specific file type needs. If you’re unsure or are exporting to YouTube, Vimeo, or, an MP4 will do just fine.



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