What Video Formats Do and Why They Are Important

Based on the fact that you have probably run into videos with several different file extensions, you are probably aware of the fact that videos come in different formats. However, what you may not fully understand is what video formats actually do, and why they are so important.

To be completely honest video formats play a very big role in storing videos. More to the point if you understand what they do and why they are important, you can know when to use them to help your own videos.

Video Formats

What Are Video Formats?

In simple terms, a video format is a type of file format that is used to store digital video data. To do that the video format needs to consist of at least two components:

Video container

Think of the video container as essentially just that – a container. It is a wrapper that holds together the video data along with all the other components that make up the video.

The video container is also the most noticeable part of the video format, as it determines the file extension of the video.

Video Codec

The video codec is very different, and it is a tool that is used to arrange the video data and store it more efficiently. To accomplish that it uses algorithms that compress the video data.

Some codecs may store the video data without discarding any of it and so it can be reproduced in exactly its original form when decoded (i.e. lossless compression). However, in most video codecs used for delivery, the compression discards data that is considered extraneous (i.e. lossy compression).

A video format is considered a pairing of both a video container and a video codec. Although videos can contain other components as well (most do contain audio data and audio codecs), they aren’t considered part of the format itself.

Why are Video Formats Important?

Now that you understand what video containers and codecs are, you may have a rough idea of their importance. Simply put the video format will determine:


For a video to be played on any device, the data that was encoded and stored using the video codec needs to be decoded. That requires either a software or hardware decoder to be present on the device or platform that the video is viewed on.

If neither is present, the video won’t be compatible and it cannot be viewed. That is why when you want to make sure your videos are compatible, you need to convert them to the right codec for your device or platform.


As was mentioned previously, the video codec is what controls the compression that is used in videos. The type of compression that is used can vary however, which is why some codecs are able to compress videos more efficiently than others and produce videos with smaller file sizes at a similar quality.

In general, it is newer codecs that have better compression than older codecs due to improvements to compression algorithms. However, newer codecs are also less likely to be supported by various devices and platforms.

Processing power

As mentioned previously, videos can be viewed after they are decompressed by software or hardware decoders. However, what was not mentioned is that the former requires much more processing power than the latter.

That is why hardware support for video formats is always preferable – especially if you’re viewing the video on mobile devices or devices that have a fixed battery span.

Additional features

Last but not least, videos can have numerous other components that provide them with additional features. Support for such features largely comes down to the container that is used, and some are more flexible than others.

While the exact features that may be present in your video can vary, some of the more common include subtitles, menus and chapters. Some features may be less obvious, however, such as support for streaming, 3D video, and so on.

Overall you should see just how important the video format is, and the impact that it can have. Suffice to say the right video format could help you to store your videos more effectively and in smaller file sizes.


Due to the important role that video formats play, it helps to be able to convert them between various formats to ensure they are compatible or to optimize and compress them. For example, you could try using Movavi Video Converter, as it will make it easy to do that.

Now that you know what videos are and why they are important, you should be able to figure out when you need to focus on the specific ways that they affect videos. In fact, you may even find it a whole lot easier to pick the right format when you encode your own videos.

Lana Martinez is a freelance technical writer living in the Santa Clara. She's a gadget and tech geek who loves to write how-to articles about a wide range of topics. When she's not writing about technology, Lana loves watching and reading mysteries, cross stitching, and attending musical theatre. She's also an avid Doctor Who fan.