Video File Formats:
What the "Heck" Is a File Format Anyway?

Video file formats

Video File Formats...

Film has retained its format for well over a hundred years…but...the Digital file formats… well…that’s a whole different story...!

They are changing all the time…!

First... Let's Take a Look at Some Basic Definitions...

Basic definitions – file formats

What Is a Computer File?

Computer file

"A collection of data or information on a computer that has a specific name and location and is encoded in a specific format".

What Is a File Format?

What Is a File Format?

“The specific arrangement or organization of digital data in a computer file. This data corresponds to specific byte positions and data element length and can be read by a program that reads that arrangement (format).

File Formatting Is...

File Formatting

"The action of preparing (encoding) a file on your computer for reading and writing according to a pre-established arrangement or organization of the data".

Encoding a Digital File... How Is Your Data Formatted and Saved?

Encoding a Digital File

The data in a computer file is encoded into a format that is established by whatever software application created the file

The Definition of Encoding…

In computer technology... Encoding is the process of putting a sequence of characters into a special format for transmission or storage purposes. 


To be retrieved…

The data then needs to be read by the same or a similar software program that can interpret that  format and present the data to the user on his or her...

  • Computer monitor
  • TV screen
  • Viewfinder, etc.

One example of how formats can differ would be the file size they produce. For instance... although a photographic image may look exactly the same when displayed in two different file formats on the same screen.

One file may be 100k in size and another may be 1 MB... The difference in file size is caused by how  the data is formatted and saved.

The particular file format used...through its process of encoding... determines the way and how much of the image data is saved and stored and how it will be...

  • Read
  • Transmitted and
  • Replayed.

By the way… The top video editing software on the market will recognize and work with most of the popular file formats that are used today.

The Major Divisions of Media Files and Formats...

Media Files and Formats

When producing and editing videos you will at sometime or another work with material from four major divisions of media. There are specific file formats that are associated with each one...

Audio File Formats:

Audio file formats

Examples: WAV, MP3, WMA, AIFF, etc.

Video File Formats:

Video File Formats

Examples: AVI, MOV, WMV, MPG, AVCHD etc.

Image File Formats:

Image File Formats

Examples: JPEG, TIFF, RAW, GIF, etc.

Document File Formats:

Document File Formats

Examples: ASCII, PDF, HTML, DOC etc.

Container and Compression Formats... The Two Categories of Video File Formats...

There are several types of video file formats and they fall under two very general categories...

Container Formats:

Container Formats

A container or "wrapper" format is a type of file format that is used to store, identify and interleave different types of data.

Container formats don't  specify what CODEC the container format uses... But rather it defines how  the video, audio and other data are stored within the container. Examples of common container formats are...

  • AVI
  • QUICKTIME (MOV) and...
  • WMV etc.

Compression Formats (CODECS):

Compression Formats

Video data contains spatial  (space) and temporal  (time) elements that are redundant. By removing the redundant elements (compression) with a special software program (a CODEC) The file is made much  smaller which makes it easier the store, move, transmit or be replayed.

Examples of common compression formats are...

  • MPEG
  • MPEG-4
  • DV, and
  • Ogg etc.

The Big Problem with Media Files...

Media File Size

One of the big problems when working with media files in video editing is that the file size of the finished project can be...

H U G E...!!!

Large files are difficult to store as they, of course, take a lot of space on your hard drive, flash drive or any other type of storage media that you use. Transmitting a large file is difficult to do on a network and streaming it over the Internet is nearly impossible even with a high-speed broadband connection.

How do you make these files into a smaller size so you can efficiently...

* The answer is in the type of file formats that you use!

What Should You Know about Video File Formats?

Knowing about File Formats

Well...just as much as you can... !!!

Working in digital video editing means that you will be working with huge video files all the time.

You will need to know the best way to compress them and... How particular video file formats affect the sound and picture quality of your video... Especially if you're outputting your video to different sources like the Internet, DVD, computer files etc.

Knowing this information will make efficiently...

  • Editing
  • Saving
  • Storing
  • Transmitting and
  • Playing back your videos...

While Maintaining High Video and Audio Quality….


Have fun...!  Dan (Editor)

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