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What are video codecs and video formats?

Updated: Apr 11

A codec is a computer code that first encodes the incoming image and sound, and then decodes the information into an image and sound during playback.

The concept of codec appeared after the combination of the coder and decoder designations. A computer is not required to use the codec. Cameras, voice recorders or other equipment already have built-in codecs that convert image and sound into digital. Processing takes place automatically. Information is encoded during recording, and decoding occurs during playback.

What is a video format?

Simply put, the video format is a kind of container where the data processed and compressed by the codec is stored. If used, WMA may have the same name.

In other cases, for example, when using AVI, several codecs can be used to compress the source information. It can be MPEG-2, DivX or other codecs. The file may contain data for which codecs were not used. Accordingly, regardless of the AVI designation, you need to be prepared for the fact that some files will not be played if the appropriate codec is not installed on the computer. This also applies to audio. If the corresponding audio codec is not installed on the computer, then only the image will be displayed on the screen, without audio accompaniment.

How to determine the codec and file format

It should be noted right away that the standard tools of the Windows operating system will not be able to get the necessary information. To get the necessary information about the file, you will have to install an additional program. There are actually a lot of such programs, but first you can use MediaInfo. It's free and you can download it.

After installing the program and launching it, you need to select the file about which you want to get information. After selecting a file, the window will display information about the video format used, codec, extension, and many other additional information.

What are the video file formats?

Video formats

There are many formats, among which you can not only get confused in the notation but also in the codecs used. Therefore, let's consider common formats.


Created by Google programmers to distribute media files within the audience. The advantage is compression to a small size. It is common when transmitting streaming video. It is widely used on the YouTube platform.


They are used to play video

os with audio accompaniment or separate audio. After encoding, a small file is obtained. It is worth noting that the result obtained is not of good quality. There may be losses during compression, which is clearly evident with multiple edits. It can be used for one-time coding when quality is not required.


The main purpose is considered to be streaming video, but at the same time refers to open-source products and can be used in many third-party applications and standalone equipment.

MP4, M4P, M4V

Codecs are similar to MPG and can be used to combine video with sound, or separately. Compression is lossless and even after several edits, the quality does not change. It is widely used in streaming, but compared to WEBM, the files are large.


The oldest and most famous codec. Several codecs can be packed into a container, with the help of which the necessary parameters are selected. But compared to the previously described codecs, the files are large, which is not suitable for the Internet.


Created by programmers of the Windows company. The processed file turns out to be small but of poor quality. It is recommended to use it if the file needs to be sent for viewing on old hardware.


The codec is developed by Apple. The result is of high quality but takes up a lot of space. The format is not compatible with most other players.


Initially, the codec was developed by Adobe as a basis for video when using Flash. Currently, Flash has lost popularity and is practically not used. The codec can only be used if it is necessary to play the file on equipment that supports this format.


It belongs to the category of high-definition files. Supported by most digital video cameras. The encoding uses H264/MPEG-4 video codecs. The encoding structure resembles MPG.

First of all, it is necessary to take into account for what purposes the prepared video file will be used. Let's not deny that image quality matters, but if the file turns out to be large, it will be difficult to move, convert or process.

It is also necessary to consider in what way, with the help of which program or equipment the file will be viewed. Not all browsers or programs can reproduce some formats.

If you plan to publish on the Internet, it is better to use a codec that is supported by most browsers. You can use MP4 or WEBM.

If you decide to archive your home video, then choose open-source codecs. In this case, there is a possibility that in the future the new equipment will support the old format, and playback will occur without problems. We recommend MP4 or AVI (when using open codecs).

If the video file is created for use in a company where Windows is installed on most computers, it is better to use WMV. Even on older computers, the file will play without problems.

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