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Digital video formats: how to differentiate them

Digital video formats: how to differentiate them

As with text documents, photographs or audio, video in digital format is available in different formats or extensions.

When we talk about video formats we can refer to several things. The most common, physical formats in which we have access to a film, series or documentary.

In this sense, we currently find DVD and Blu Rayalthough some of us still keep old VHS and perhaps a Betacam in a cupboard.

But a second meaning or meaning of video formats refers to its codingsince in digital video, as with a computer program, any file is written in a specific code.

In the videos, the code affects the quality of the imagethe quality of the sound, whether or not it includes subtitles and, in particular, the relationship between quality and file size.

So at present we consume digital audiovisual content through physical discs (DVD, Blu Ray), through streaming and through IPTV (Internet television), but we also handle digital video files, especially for content that we generate ourselves.

Next we will review the most common digital video formats that we can find, what is its origin and what benefits do they offer. I apologize in advance for the acronym gibberish.


We start with the most popular format that we will find. Video files with the .AVI extension have their origin in a format that was launched in 1992 and it’s so popular that it’s played by most smart TVs, DVD/Blu Ray players, game consoles and operating systems.

AVI is an acronym for Audio Video Interleave and not many know that it was created by Microsoft as digital alternative without dependence on a physical format such as the then popular DVD.

Among its advantages, it allows to include multiple audio channels and host content generated with different codecs (AC3 or MP3 for audio, DivX or Xvid for video), which can be an advantage but also a drawback depending on the player.


MP4 or MPEG 4 is one of the most modern formats, released in 1998 as standard to play video and audio in a single digital file.

MPEG is an acronym for Moving Picture Experts Groupthe group of experts that has established digital audio and video standards and that was formed by two international organizations, the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission).

Briefly, MPEG and MPEG 2 format were released in 1993 and 1995 respectively as standards for encoding digital audio and video. To understand us, any DVD offers its audiovisual content in MPEG 2.

MP4 also supports multiple audio channels, but has the advantage of allowing better picture and sound quality in a less heavy file, since it compresses the data better. Apple, for example, bets on this format and derivatives for its iTunes content.

Related to MP4 we can find M4V (video) or M4A (audio).


The MKV video format is a open formatfree of paying rights, and whose full name is Matroska, like the traditional Russian dolls.

MKV was released at the end of 2002 and has become popular thanks to the fact that within a single MKV file we can store, together with the channel of Audiomultiple audio channels or tracks, and multiple audio tracks. Subtitle.

Like MP4, it offers very good audio and video quality in a small space. And as a curiosity, the WebM format which allows you to integrate online video via HTML, is inspired by Matroska.


The FLV or Flash Video format was created by Macromedia, and later acquired by Adobe. This format is usually found as an FLV or SWF extension.

Like all other Flash content, FLV videos are designed to be played online from the browser through Adobe Flash Player.

As we saw in a previous article, Flash will stop being developed in 2020, although we still find pages that use it.


I said before that Apple is currently betting on MP4 (and AAC) to provide multimedia content. But its star format for many years was MOV.

MOV, from QuickTime Moviealso known as the QuickTime File Format, and is currently still the default format for QuickTime, the macOS video player.

We can also find this format in many digital video cameras, since it offers very good image and sound quality without compression.


Many Windows users from the ’90s and ’00s will remember the WMV and WMVA format, the former for video and the latter for audio.

WMV was launched in 1999 and is the acronym for windows media videocreated by Microsoft to offer video with the best possible quality via streaming.

The format enjoyed some popularity, partly thanks to Windows Media Playerthe default Windows player for many years and in the latest Windows 10 update It is going away.

Although it did not offer very good quality, the WMV allowed stream videos in small file sizeswhich was very practical with Internet connections at the time.

Image | Pixabay (Author: StockSnap)