AVI, WMV, MOV or MP4? Which Should You Use?

handbrakeAVI, WMV, MOV and MP4 are video formats. Okay, technically MP4 can be audio-only, but most people consider MP4 to be primarily for video use.

Both AVI and WMV are Microsoft formats. MOV is Apple QuickTime and MP4 is by ISO.

When it comes to video formats, oftentimes you simply don’t have a choice of which video format to use – but you do always have the option of converting existing files. More on that in a moment.

If the video files you have were rendered by software on your PC, you’re usually in pretty good shape because it will still be able to be played as the years go on. For example, a video encoded by Windows Movie Maker for Windows XP will easily play in Windows 7, a video encoded by QuickTime for MacOS 9 will still play in modern Macs, Windows and Linux PCs.

The real problem comes in when using video files generated by digital devices. Some of these devices are notorious for requiring a special codec just to view them. Now you may already have this codec installed on the computer you’re using now, but what happens when you switch computers? What if you decide to go from Windows to Mac or Linux? What then? The video probably won’t play (even in VLC), that’s what. Not without that special codec, anyway. And you don’t want to clog up your new computer with crap software for an old digital video device you don’t use anymore just for that codec.

AVI files are usually the worst when it comes to special codecs. MOV is the next-worst, and WMV is after that.

The format that works everywhere with zero complaint is MP4. Video in that format will play very smoothly in any modern operating system.

How to convert existing video to MP4? That’s easy: Handbrake. No matter what OS you’re using, you can use Handbrake now – and it’s free. Install the software, pick a video file, press “Start” in the software using the “Normal” setting and that’s it. The file converts. After conversion, test to make sure it plays, then archive. Done deal.

3 thoughts on “AVI, WMV, MOV or MP4? Which Should You Use?”

Avatar Mateo says:
all of these formats are wrappers – you could put whatever codec you want inside them. the only reason mp4 works MOST of the time is because H264 is the most common codec utilize for MP4s.
WMV doesn’t quite work on macs without extras.
AVI and MOV hold many codecs and can become a headache to figure which codec you need to install.

Also to convert the file to MP4 you still need to make sure handbreak can even play it.

Another option is MPEG Streamclip from Squared 5.

Avatar salabim says:
Handbrake is a tool targetted at absolute newbies and does not produce satisfying results.

For real quality, and much more freedom, you better use something like MeGUI or Avidemux.

Avatar Rich says:
If you want the utility that gives you the absolute most control over how the conversion is performed, use FFMPEG direct from the command line. That’s as ‘un-newbie’ as you can get.
Avatar David says:
With a little work, you can get any format to play on a PC or Mac. The better question to me is, what format is best supported on mobile devices?

I picked avi (with DivX codec) some years ago, due to the compact size with decent quality. However, some devices, such as PSPs, don’t support it.

Maybe you could do some synopsis to this end? It may well be that MP4 is the winner here as well.

Avatar Rich says:
“With a little work” is the exact issue you want to avoid. What should happen is that you load up a video and it plays without issue. MP4 does exactly just that.

On mobile, MP4 also has wide support and ‘acts nicer’, so to speak, compared to other formats like 3GPP or Flash Lite. Personally, if I had to choose which to go with on the mobile side of things, I’d also use MP4.

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