Video Format Guide: Understanding Video Formats for Quality Streaming

By Emily KringsNov 8, 2023

The quality and accessibility of your videos can make or break your entire video content strategy. There are quite a few important technical aspects of videos, ranging from video resolution to video bitrate. Now, we need to talk about video formats.

Whether you’re a business or an individual content creator, you want to provide the highest quality video for viewers of your video-on-demand (VOD) and live stream content. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the most common video formats and how to pick the best video format for your use case.

Table of Contents

What is a Video Format?

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A video format is a container that holds a video’s data, identified by the three-letter extension at the end of the file name (e.g., AVI or MOV). 

Think of it like a waiter delivering food to a hungry customer in a restaurant: the food itself is the data, and it can be carried in a variety of different plates, bowls, or other containers. But no matter which container you choose, the food itself is the same.

Of course, not all “containers” are created equal. There are several different types of video formats, and they’ve evolved over the years as the internet has matured. 

Back in the early days, one thing that made YouTube so special was that it could take a range of supported video file formats – including .MOV, .AVI, .MPEG-1,  and .WMV – and display them all the same way for a consistent user experience.

With that said, the internet has matured to the point where there’s really a consistent format that everyone uses: MP4. We’ll share more about that later in the post, but first, let’s look at the most common options for video formats and what makes each one unique.

What Are the Different Types of Video Files?

There are a lot of different types of video files out there, but it really boils down to just eight file options for most video creators. 

Here are the top video formats you should know:

  • MP4: One of the foundational digital video file formats introduced in 2001. It can store audio, video, still images, and text while maintaining relatively small file sizes. 
  • MOV: A high-quality video file format designed by Apple in 1991 and originally designed to support the QuickTime player. It contains videos, audio, subtitles, timecodes, and other media types but takes up more space.
  • AVI: A widely-used video format introduced by Microsoft in 1992. It features less compression than common formats like MP4 or MOV, which results in high-quality, but very large file sizes of 2-3 GB per minute of video. 
  • WMV: The Windows Media Video (WMV) format is part of the Windows Media framework. It’s considered the successor to AVI, and it works best with digital video products, but it is one of the least accepted video formats still in use.
  • WebM: Open-source video format introduced by Google in 2010. It was originally designed for use with HTML5, opening up the possibilities for online video streaming for a range of devices.
  • FLV: The Flash video format. It was once the leading video format for video platforms and streaming services online but now lacks wide compatibility. 
  • AVCHD: Created by Sony and Panasonic together in 2006. The Advanced Video Coding High Definition is known as the prosumer HD format, primarily found on camcorders and other recordable media.
  • MKV: MKV is an increasingly popular open-source format with audio, video, subtitles, metadata, and menus. Like AVI, it preserves video quality at the expense of exceedingly large file sizes – and there isn’t currently widespread compatibility for MKV on all devices, though this may be changing.
  • As you can see from this list of video file formats, there are a lot of choices for video format, but if you’re uploading videos to the web for an audience to view, there are only one or two formats that really make sense for your videos.

What is the Best Video File Format?

The best video file format to use for VOD and live streaming is the MP4 format. Short for MPEG-4, the MP4 file format is a universal video format that does the best job of balancing video quality and video file size.

In fact, here at Maestro, we specifically recommend that you use an MP4 file when you upload a video to the video library:

Not only is MP4 the best video format for desktop, but it’s also the best video format for mobile because you don’t need any additional plugins or software to play back or stream videos in the MP4 format. 

Need more proof that MP4 should be your go-to video format? 

YouTube, easily the most popular video hosting and streaming service on the planet, prefers the MPEG-4 format for video uploads.

Here are just a few reasons why MP4 is so widely adopted.

1. Wide Compatibility

MP4 is supported across virtually all modern platforms, devices, and web browsers. That includes PC or Mac, smartphone, tablet, or web browsers.

2. High Video Quality

MP4 can maintain a high video and audio quality, even with compression. This makes it a great choice for any business owner or content creator looking to make their videos available to view without compromising the viewing experience. 

3. Universal Streaming Support 

MP4 files are perfect for streaming over the internet, including live or on-demand. MP4 is supported by a wide range of different streaming services and protocols, including the HTML5 standard, so you never have to wonder if someone on the other end can access your video. No third-party plugins are needed like in the old Flash days.

4. Versatile Multimedia Options

While we’ve talked primarily about MP4 used to store video data, it’s actually more versatile than that! It can also store audio files, subtitles, still images, user interaction data, chapter markers, and more.

5. DRM Support

It’s worth noting that MP4 also supports digital rights management (DRM), which can be important for content creators and businesses looking to protect their videos from unauthorized access or distribution.

What’s the Difference Between File Format and Codec?

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Before we wrap up, we need to clear up one other common misconception you may have about video: the video file format versus the video codec.

While the two are highly related to each other, there is technically a difference between the video format (such as MP4) and the video codec (such as H.264). Remember what we said earlier about the format being a “container,” like a plate at the restaurant delivering food to a customer?

Well, the codec (which is short for compressor/decompressor) is the mechanism for packing and unpacking all of the multimedia data in your video. 

It’s important to know this because some codecs actually remove some of the data in the process of helping fit it into a smaller space (i.e., file size). Then, when you “unpack” it or decompress it again, you’re not seeing it at the full quality it started. This is called “lossy” compression, which gets rid of some of the data in order to reduce the file size for storage or delivery across the internet. 

On the other hand, some codecs use lossless compression to avoid this issue. It’s worth exploring the options available to make the best decision for your technology and use case.

Note that you can choose different codecs for the same video format. With that said, here are the encoder settings we recommend on Maestro:

  • Video format: MP4 format
  • File size: No greater than 10 GB
  • Video resolution: At least 1280x720 with 16:9 aspect ratio
  • Video codec: H.264
  • Audio codec: AAC
  • Frame rate: 24, 25, or 30 frames per second

Stream on Maestro


Understanding the different video formats, including the popular MP4 standard, is important so you can prepare your VOD and live-streaming videos for upload. 

Maestro is an all-in-one streaming platform that strikes the perfect balance between the versatility and power of an enterprise-level video platform but at a much greater value that’s perfect for both brands and solopreneurs. 

Our video solution works with MP4 video files that you upload directly from your computer or through video files published on popular platforms like Twitch and YouTube. Once in Maestro, your video content benefits from powerful interactivity, analytics, and monetization options that you won’t find anywhere else.

Are you ready to  monetize your high-quality videos on Maestro? Sign up today to get started for free.

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