Categories: Marketing

Digital Video File Formats And Other Technical Mumbo-Jumbo

Digital Video Files Introduction

Part 1

The wonderful world of digital video is drowning in a sea of alphabet soup. Do you get frustrated not knowing an .avi from an .flv?

To help you master the world of Internet and digital video, I have compiled a series of articles giving you a comprehensive, yet easy to understand list of all the different digital video file formats. This special series of user-friendly guides includes definitions of all the technical jargon you need to understand digital and Internet video.


If you want to know why there are so many confusing formats, blame the fact that everybody feels the need to have their own. Each development or manufacturing company, each standardizing organization, and every combination hereof, all have to come up with their own proprietary software codes and methods.

On one hand, that gives you lots of choices. On the other hand, it makes things confusing and sometimes prevents stuff from just WORKING!

Fortunately, much of this stuff actually works together. There are lots of friendly alliances and most folks work with a goal of compatibility and universal platforms in mind. The geeks really are trying to make it easy on us folks!

Another thing that helps it all work without you needing to become a geek yourself is the fact that most computers today are loaded with multiple media player software, so just about any format will play if you click somewhere.

You often don’t really NEED to know exactly what you’re doing…trial and error gets you to the right place relatively quickly. But if you’re like me, I want to know what’s going on so I don’t waste any time.

Another word of caution about freaking out over file formats….although the technicians love to argue about specifics, most of these file formats, especially real video, quick time and windows media files are all similar in size and quality when they are looked at by humans. Some people swear one or the other is better, but their eye sight must be better than mine. The differences are small.

Also keep in mind that not all formats are suitable for Internet Video, where file sizes need to be small. New HD formats are great for home entertainment, but are way too big for the web.

To make the article series complete, we have including digital still image formats as well as video formats.

Let’s start with the letter A:

AVCHD: Stands for Advanced Video Codec High Definition. This is a high end consumer home electronics format developed by Sony and Panasonic for HD home theater systems. It’s not a web format.

AVCHD is in its infancy as a format and will someday be much more common. Since it’s new, compatibility is still an issue. Video editing software applications are slowly adding this format to their repertoire.

AVCHD uses MPEG-4 H.264 encoding which is standard for many video formats. Blu-ray players will eventually play this format too and it will become a standard in home theater systems.

.AVI This is a format for motion picture files developed by Microsoft that conforms to standards set by Microsoft Windows Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF). .AVI stands for Audio Video Interleaved and works with applications that capture, edit and playback audio and video, like Windows Movie Maker. Because it is windows-based, .avi format is virtually universal. AVI contains multiple streams of different type data, including a control track and separate video and audio streams.

As with all Microsoft products, this format is extremely common. .AVI is known for good video quality and commonality. AVI creates relatively large compressed files that retain high quality.

DivX: A popular video compression software known for being able to squeeze an entire movie onto one CD. DivX has the reputation of being powerful and stable, providing excellent quality and high compression. This software has been developed jointly by the DivX Networks and the open source community, which many people feel is the best method of software development. Lots of brains with one goal. The hot new thing in DVD players is that some now play DivX files in addition to MPEG-2 files.

You can download a free trial of the DivX compression software at The site claims its been downloaded over 220 million times. According to their mission, DivX is more than compression software. It’s a global community informed by creativity and passion for all that is possible with digital media, and that community is growing in strength and number every day.

Some say DivX become the Internet’s de facto distribution standard, and it has the advantage of allowing viewers to skip around while watching. Some buffering is to be expected, but it works just like a video on your hard drive – you can forward, rewind and pause whenever you want to instead of being restricted to watching it from start-to-finish as it downloads.

Another popular feature about DivX is the open platform. Anyone can design plug-ins for DivX Connected using its open source SDK. It uses the Gecko rendering engine; the framework behind Firefox.

That’s it for Part 1 of this guide to Digital Video File Formats. Continue reading for more in-depth yet easy-to understand information about digital video file formats.

Lorraine Grula has been a well-respected award winning video professional for over twenty-five years. (Yeah, that makes her kind of old.) Lorraine has done virtually every kind of video production imaginable and now shares her expertise on the web. Her blog, is full of free information and video tutorials.

Author: Lorraine Grula
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