Popular Video Container Formats

Audio Video Interleave

This is an .avi extension. The AVI container format was invented by Microsoft in a simpler time, when the fact those computers could play video at all was considered pretty amazing. It does not officially support many of the features of more recent container formats. It does not officially support any sort of video metadata. It does not even officially support most of the modern video and audio codecs in use today. Over time, various companies have tried to extend it in generally incompatible ways to support this or that, and it is still the default container format for popular encoders such as MEncoder.

Flash Video

This is an .flv extension. Flash Video is, unsurprisingly, used by Adobe Flash. Prior to Flash (a.k.a. Flash Player 9 Update 3), this was the only container format that Flash supported. More recent versions of Flash also support the MPEG 4 container.


The MPEG 4 container is based on Apple’s older QuickTime container (.mov). Movie trailers on Apple’s website still use the older QuickTime container, but movies that you rent from iTunes are delivered in an MPEG 4 container.


This is a new container format. It is technically very similar to another format, called Matroska. WebM was announced at Google I/O 2010. It is designed to be used exclusively with the VP8 video codec and Vorbis audio codec. It will be supported natively, without platform-specific plug-in, in the next versions of Chromium, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. Adobe has also announced that the next version of Flash will support WebM video.


This is an .ogv extension. Ogg is an open standard, open-source-friendly, and unencumbered by any known patents. Firefox 3.5, Chrome 4, and Opera 10.5 support — natively, without platform-specific plug-in.

The Ogg container format, Ogg video called (“Theora”), and Ogg audio called (“Vorbis”). On the desktop, Ogg is supported out-of-the-box by all major Linux distributions, and you can use it on Mac and Windows by installing the QuickTime components or DirectShow filters, respectively. It is also playable with the excellent VLC on all platforms.