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The Most Common Video Formats and When to Use Them

Video Formats

The digital revolution has had a huge impact on every aspect of our society. For content creators, life looks nothing like it did just a couple decades ago. Back then, all you had to do is take the tape off the camera and put it on your video player. At most, you had to read an article to understand the difference between HS and Betamax. Video was only consumed in two ways: television or cinema. Nowadays, you’ll probably run out of fingers counting how many video formats there are out there. Let alone the number of platforms and devices on which video is played.

Understanding what each video format is and does is no child’s play. In fact, it is a ‘must’ if you want your work to look the best regardless of where and how it is played. If, for example, you want to create a video website, the type of file you’ll need to use will most likely be different than the one you’ll have to create for your social media accounts. In order to make this whole process a lot easier, we have put together a list of the most common video formats and which ones you should use for each purpose.


AVCHD stands for Advanced Video Coding, High Definition. It was developed by Panasonic and Sony, and it’s the default file format for video recording with both of these brands. Because of the high quality image it supports, this format is really popular among professional videographers. AVCHD also supports 3D video.


AVI stands for Audio Video Interleave. This video format used to be considered the absolute best option in the market. It was developed by Microsoft back in the 90s, and it’s still widely used despite its popularity drop as more compressed formats have appeared. Some camera brands such as Nikon and Olympus use the AVI format, an it is a safe bet for those who require full compatibility with both PC and Mac devices.


FLV stands for Flash Video Format. It goes hand-in-hand with SWF, another format for flash videos. Despite being one of the most common video formats, FLV has some major downsides. Flash is not supported by iOS devices, meaning it cannot be played on iPhones and iPads. Even if over three quarters of the world uses Android, you might not want to risk losing millions of potential viewers.

videographer recording hand-held video


MKV, or matroska, is a free and open-source format. It was initially created as a standard video format for common multimedia files, such as shows and movies. A single file can contain numerous pictures, audio, and subtitle tracks.


MOV is Apple’s QuickTime Movie format. It is usually saved together with QT. This video format was created for movies, and it allows videographers to break down the file into diverse tracks for the storage of different types of data. A variation of MOV is used on Canon DSLR cameras.


MP4 is another Apple creation. This video format was developed for low-bandwidth compression, meaning the image quality is significantly lower than in other file types. It was popularized by the iTunes store due to its compatibility with both Apple devices and others, such as Xbox360.


WEBM, as its own name gives away, was created for use on websites, making it the perfect choice for your videographer portfolio. Together with HTML5, this format results in very small video sizes that can be easily streamed with nearly nonexistent loading time. Its popularity has declined noticeably in recent times due to the improvement of online platforms’ performance and limits.


WMV stands for Windows Media Video. It was developed by Microsoft in an attempt to dominate the online streaming field. It is the smallest video size available, which makes it great for email sharing. On the downside, of course, image quality is significantly reduced both during and after compression.

guy editing video on computer

So what’s the best video format?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size fits all when it comes to video sharing. The good thing is that is actually really easy to transfer between video formats. If you do so, make sure to always save the original file in order to avoid loss of image quality due to file compression.

Here are three of the most common video uses and the preferred formats for each of them:

  • Social media: MP4 is supported by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, IGTV, and YouTube. Facebook also supports MOV, while YouTube accepts most video formats.

  • TV and computers: AVI, MOV, and MKV offer the highest quality image which makes them great options for big screen streaming.

  • Website: As we mentioned before, WEBM and HTML5 are the video formats meant for your portfolio. However, using tools such as Wix Video will allow you to work with almost any file type, as well as offer you much more control over your work.

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