Video delivery formats – what you need to know

When it comes to producing videos, there is a confusing variety of file formats and specifications. Here’s a quick guide that will help you, whether you’ve made your own videos, or procured them from someone else.

File format choices when filming are worth a whole separate article. This post will concentrate on what to do with your finished video.

If you are editing the video yourself, or someone else is providing that service, you have a choice of which format to export the final production. Here is what we do with our video productions here at contentgroup:

1. The final deliverable – MP4

The MP4 container file is a universal delivery format, happily accepted by Macs, Windows PC’s, YouTube, Vimeo, mobile devices. But it’s just a container, and the contents depend on what settings are used when exporting from your editing software. It is also compressed, which means picture quality is traded off for a smaller file size. If you use a default YouTube setting you will end up with decent quality and manageable file sizes.

If your video is short (a few minutes) with lots of fast movement, you should select a higher quality setting (bitrate). If it’s an hour long speech fest, then you can afford to lower the bitrate and achieve a smaller file. You should know that YouTube and Vimeo will compress your video even further, so choose the largest (best) file you can to upload.

The other consideration is resolution. 4K is nice to have, but it has four times the pixels of Full HD, and requires four times the file size at equivalent quality settings. We deliver our productions in Full HD (1080p) which YouTube and Vimeo scale to fit the viewing device, from TV’s to desktop computers to phones.

2. Master – MOV

The other file we export is a high quality ProRes MOV file. This is too large to use for delivery, and not every computer can play it. This master file is used to archive in the best quality, and can be used to make new distribution copies when newer, more efficient delivery codecs become mainstream.

The MOV file format can contain many other codecs, so can be used in a similar way to MP4, but is only recognised by Macs or Windows PC’s with pro editing software installed.
What about the other file formats?

There are some other file types you may see, and sometimes your IT requirements might dictate something special.
m4v – an MP4 file used by Apple devices and iTunes
AVI – mostly only work on PC’s, a legacy format from last millennium.
WMV – Windows video – only on PC’s, and generally replaced by MP4
FLV – Flash video – another old format, not seen much since Flash was killed off.
MKV – popular for ripped and “acquired” movies, but not for business use.
MXF – a broadcast acquisition and delivery container format. If you know what this is you don’t need to be reading this blog post.
MTS / AVCHD – these are camera video files, not used for delivery


For compatibility, use MP4 files to share and deliver videos. When it comes to filming there is a huge number of format choices out there, and that’s a topic for another day.

Extra reading

Larry Jordan breaks this topic down into great detail here:

To find out the difference between a codec and a format, Wikipedia is a good place to start:

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