What File Format Is Best for Streaming Video HD?

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Choosing for a file format for your streaming video depends on a number of factors. Obviously you want the right spot between video quality and file size, but any video format is capable of this -- no one format handles high definition exclusively. To make an informed decision, consider the plug-ins your visitor needs to view your video, the amount of bandwidth and space available for sharing that video and which formats are the easiest to create.

MP4 Video

  • The MP4 video container, also referred to as MPEG-4 video, is one of the most widely supported formats in use. Created by the Moving Picture Experts Group, a subset of the ISO, it lacks the limitations of proprietary formats. Most handheld devices, computers and gaming consoles play MP4 formats without requiring additional plug-ins. You can create an MP4 file using nearly any video editing software, from Windows Movie Maker to Adobe Premiere.

Flash Video

  • Flash video is used on websites dedicated to video sharing, most notably YouTube and Vimeo. FLV is the more recognizable Flash video format, but SWF is also Flash video. Flash video is popular because it's capable of HD and uses a lightweight in-browser player, but it does require the free Adobe Flash plug-in to view. Considering the ubiquity of YouTube and Flash content, this plug-in is usually one of the first that users install when setting up their browsers. The down side to FLV video is the specific software required to create videos in this format.

QuickTime Video

  • The QuickTime format, or MOV, is familiar to people who use Apple products. Developed by Apple, this is the format the iPhone and iPad record video in. As such, MOV is great for content geared at Mac users, who already have all the necessary software for viewing MOV files installed in their systems. The QuickTime plug-in is available for free for Windows computers as well, but not every Windows user is likely to have the plug-in.

Windows Media and AVI Video

  • Two formats are specific to Windows computers. The Windows Media video format, or WMV, is much like QuickTime in that the necessary software to play those files is automatically built into the Windows operating system. However, AVI is also a video format designed by Microsoft. While it's a relatively widely supported format, non-Windows visitors must have a codec designed for their system to view these files. Xvid is the most commonly recommended codec for users trying to view AVI files.

Including Multiple Video Formats

  • Use the <video> tag to include multiple files and let the browser select the best one. Using an MP4 file, Windows Media file and QuickTime file as examples, the code looks something like this:

    <video width="320" height="240" controls="controls">
    <source src="video.mp4" type="video/mp4" />
    <source src="video.wmv" type="video/x-ms-wmv" />
    <source src="video.mov" type="video/quicktime" />
    This video file is not supported by your browser.
    </video>​

    ​The "type" attribute tells the browser what kind of file you're using; this is also called the MIME type. The last line is included in case your visitor is using a browser that doesn't support any of those video types. At that point, it's either because your visitor doesn't have support for your chosen formats or her browser doesn't support the <video> tag. You can also consider using a service like YouTube and embedding the video that way, as YouTube automatically converts uploaded videos to FLV or MP4 formats.

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