Modern Internet video formats

If you’ve used the Internet long enough, you’ve at least streamed or downloaded at least on movie whether it was intentionally or in an ad. I want to write about some of the more popular, modern video formats that exist.

It all starts with the AVI (audio video interleaved) format. The video can be uncompressed or be encoded and played back with a proper codec. AVI’s most popular codecs are DIVX, XVID, .h264, .x264

MPEG is a compressed video format. This was the shit in the beginning of the Internet, prior to YouTube, because it provided smaller files and superior video quality. This was known a MPEG-1 format.

When DVDs came out, now with even better video quality, they were encoded with MPEG-2 video. MPEG-2 videos were not supported by Internet browsers or even media players at the time. If people were ripping them from DVDs’ VOB files, they’d still have to unencrypt them to watch it. Otherwise, MPEG-2 videos were superior at the time with the biggest resolution and best compression.

ASF (active stream format) was used to stream videos or audio. Videos could be encoded up to 500kbps. At the time of dial-up Internet speeds, these videos were looking good. Of course, we don’t see this format anymore because Internet users weren’t able to download (keep) the videos on their hard drives. However, Microsoft has since changed it to the WMV (Windows Media Video).

WMV video is practically high definition video. It uses MPEG-4 quality compression, so it retains almost the same HD quality as Blu-rays and HD-DVDs, but with a drastically smaller file size.

YouTube utilizes these same MPEG-4 encoding/decoding for their Flash videos, FLV format.

Blu-rays use M2TS or AVC video streams. These are the least compressed video formats with the biggest resolution and file size. They are not ideal for Internet streaming.

Google is rolling out the WEBM video format, which is based on the MKV (Matroska) format. MKV is an open-source file which acts as a container and can house many video and audio formats. Therefore, WEBM aims to be open-source too, as Google wants it to replace Flash as the default Internet video format. WEBM would use the competent VP8 video codec, which produces HD-like quality video. I’d say VP8 was muddy, but it does stream well. I think DailyMotion uses it.

As for the future of backwards compatibility, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s ironic that some older formats have lost support for playback, including RealMedia and other formats and codecs. It’s not like these things are hardware, as an 8-track cannot be played in a CD player. These are digital files which are interpreted by digital software. Hopefully, there will be a universal format soon. Until then, if you really want to watch those obsolete or near-obsolete file formats, make sure you get a media player that supports those like VLC. Otherwise, with whatever media player that works, you’ll have to record the older videos over to the newer formats. What a pain, huh?

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