28 January 2022

Video editing basics:
Which container do I need for my video? [Part 2]


After you've encoded your work, your computer will probably ask you for the container format. Sometimes known as a wrapper, this is a file format used for storage. Learn everything there is to know about the differences between the most popular file formats for videos.

From codec to container

Following our explanation of the essential compression methods in Part 1, we'll now move on to storage. If the codecs are the "language" of the video, containers are exactly what their name suggests. Basically, they are a storage location for the many bits and bytes produced by the codec. They are also the file formats you see in computer folder layouts, and can be distinguished by the abbreviations at the end of the file name.

Here's an overview of the six most common container formats:

1. MP4

The MP4 container format is widely used and is based on the MOV format. On the one hand, MP4 is highly compatible and can be played almost anywhere. This container almost always guarantees high quality due to its compatibility with only certain codecs. On the other hand, it has a minor weakness in terms of audio quality.

2. HTML5/WebM

The HTML5 video format is considered the best future option for online videos. The choice of codec and even file format aren't important – meaning that HTML5 video stands out from others on this list. Since the HTML5 era, videos can now be embedded directly into website code. Previously, this was only possible via plug-in, which was resource-heavy and caused security issues (see also FLV below).

3. AVI

Audio-video interlace files are known to almost everyone who has ever worked with videos on a computer. This container is compatible with all possible codecs. In the 2000s, Microsoft development was the absolute standard, but today is technologically obsolete.

4. MOV

The container format developed by Apple for its video player QuickTime is impressive in terms of its low compression, which means resolution remains high, but the file size is still small. The disadvantage is that to play files in MOV format you need the Quicktime plug-in – so MOV files can't be played on all browsers.

5. WMV und ASF

Windows Media Video files and Advanced Streaming Format files are Windows' own successor formats to AVI. Especially due to their lack of compatibility with other systems, however, these two containers are considered outdated.

6. FLV

The Adobe Flash video file format was once considered the ultimate online video format, but its overall reputation has suffered due to security issues and instability. While YouTube relied on it for a long time, direct HTML5 video now offers a better alternative.