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What the Most Compatible Video Format, MP4, AVI, MOV, FLV or WMV?

Updated on October 22, 2014

What is File Extension?

The first aspect to understand is that the file extension itself is not just ‘the file format’, rather it is a container for the video files themselves and the codec to decode them. This means that the various file formats actually can actually include different codecs within them, so two AVI files, for instance, could use entirely different codecs, and yet bot still be AVI format.

What is Codecs?

Codecs themselves are another source of confusion, a codec is simply the algorithm used to compress the video file, and some focus on quality but do not reduce size as much as others, some create much smaller files with but with a higher loss in quality. The choice of codec is somewhat dictated by the file format, but as we have mentioned, formats can and frequently do have the ability to use multiple codecs.

MP4

The first format we are looking at is the MP4, which is actually a multimedia format, as it can be used not only for video but also for audio only media as well. A multiplatform format, MP4 is based upon the QuickTime file format, and is in fact virtually identical to that format. MP4 is an open source format, and so is available for use by anyone with no licensing costs, one of the reasons it gained in popularity with encoding software makers.

MP4 tends to produce smaller files than other comparable formats, whilst retaining a similar level of quality for the output, and is exceptional at capturing high speed action without introducing the motion blur that can be a feature of compressed scenes of that nature.

Part of the cross compatibility of the format that really impresses is that the files ten to retain the same look no matter the player or platform being used, this reliability means that using this format you can be sure of the results, no matter what device it will ultimately be viewed on.

AVI

AVI is short for Audio Video Interleave, and is one of the most well-known video formats there is, being created by Microsoft and formed the main video format for their video players included with Windows since 1992. As such it became familiar to a huge user base, and has since been adopted across a wide range of devices as a result, although the way the format works it does not automatically set aspect ratio information, and so AVI files viewed in different players, let alone different platforms, can appear differently.

This inconsistency is in stark contrast to the MP4 files, although AVI does score by being compatible with a broad range of different codecs so the creator has a choice of file size/quality ratios.

MOV

MOV is another media format, this time developed by Apple and a proprietary container, and is compatible with both windows and the various Apple systems. It offers a similar feature set to MP4, with which its hares its QuickTime ancestry, but has less support overall and lacks compatibility with many popular devices.

FLV

FLV stands for Flash Video and is a proprietary format for delivering video via Adobe’s flash player, and has become immensely popular when it comes to streaming video on the web. YouTube, Hulu and many others have used FLV for streaming media delivery, although this popularity is beginning to wane with the advent of HTML5.

With Adobe abandoning the mobile market in 2012, there are issues of compatibility for FLV files across a wide range of devices, and whilst desktop apps for Windows and Mac are available, the issues with mobile devices means that for maximum compatibility users should look elsewhere.

WMV

WMV stands for windows media video, and is a Microsoft created format that was originally designed for streaming media, but has found acceptance in a wide range of applications since, including in physical Blu-Ray discs.

Its main features are a good file size whilst retaining quality, and the ability to accept several distinct codecs to suit individual circumstances.

It offers quite broad compatibility, especially as can be imagined with Windows products, although for Apple systems it requires a plugin for QuickTime, and many players will not natively play the files, causing issues for using on many mobile devices.

Which one is the most compatible video format?

Whilst there are many conflicting opinions on which format is the best for media, in terms of offering the best compromise between file size and video quality, something that I think is not possible to quantify anyway with several offering a choice of codec that directly affect these things, there is an answer regarding compatibility.

The FLV format is simply too constrained by Apple to be useful to anyone wanting to view media on multiple devices, especially if that includes Android or IOS based equipment, as the files simple do not work on there without significant effort, or even at all in some cases, and thus should be discounted first.

WMV and MOV are in a similar position, offering good compatibility across the desktop environments but struggling with other devices, with various mobile platforms as well as equipment such as games consoles not always being able to play either.

AVI files do play on many devices and platforms, however there is a lack of consistency between different players as well as different platforms, creating issues with what precisely is being seen on different devices. This is not the end of the world of course, an aspect ratio change does not spoil the media enjoyment most times, but when there is one format that offers the ability to play on all devices and look the same everywhere, AVI must finish second here.

Finally we come to MP4, the format of choice for maximum compatibility and a great format in terms of file size and video quality as well. Offering the widest range of compatibility with a huge range of devices and showing the exact same video in the same format whatever device or viewer it is played on, MP4 is the top format for anyone with multiple devices to store their media in. More information about media compatibility solution here: http://www.wondershare.com/media-compatibility-solution/

Which video format you use most?

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