Understanding Video Formats for use in Courses

For each video in your content library, you will want to know:

  • file size
  • length of the video
  • aspect ratio
  • resolution
  • container and
  • video and audio codecs

See the below table for common values of these properties.

Aspect RatioResolutionContainerVideo CodecAudio Codec
16:9 (wide screen) 1920 x 1080 M4V (MP4 - Video) H.264 AAC
4:3 (letter box) 1280 x 720 OGG H.265 (4K) MP3
  640 x 480 FLV MP4  

What does all this mean?! In the next section, we provide more information for a deeper understanding of video encoding technology and how to take best advantage of it. You can easily provide video content to your learners without this deeper understanding. Feel free to jump down to “Embedding with the HTML Template” if you wish.

Common Formats Used and Video Compatibility

Part of the challenge with video comes down to browser and device compatibility and the flexibility of your chosen formats. In general, you can stick with three formats: M4V (AAC audio), WebM, and FLV. M4V and WebM will cover 90% of your user base for Chrome, IE11 and Firefox users. The other 10% (IE8), will be covered by FLV.

See the table below for further information:

Column 1Column 2Column 3Column 4Column 5Column 6Column 7Column 8
  Internet Explorer 11 Chrome Firefox Internet Explorer 8 Safari (OSX) Safari (iOS) Android
Primary Video Format M4V M4V WebM FLV M4V M4V M4V
Primary Video Codec H 264 H 264 VP8 H.264 H 264 H 264 H 264
Primary Audio Codec AAC AAC Vorbis MP3 AAC AAC AAC
Secondary Video Format WebM WebM M4V N/A N/A N/A WebM
Secondary Video Codec VP8 VP8 H 264 N/A N/A N/A VP8
Secondary Audio Codec Vorbis Vorbis AAC N/A N/A N/A Vorbis

Sources and further reading: Mozilla Foundation Developer Guide, JPlayer Media Formats, HTML5 Videos: 10 Things Designers Need to Know.

You can use CloudConvert.com or Handbrake for free, simple and reliable video conversion.

What is M4V?

M4V is H.264 video and AAC audio. In general, M4V offers excellent compatibility, performance and quality. However, it's not necessarily the best choice for all scenarios. For example, due to patent issues, Open Source browsers such as Mozilla Firefox rely on applications on the user's system outside of the browser to play M4Vs and not all users will have those applications installed.

What is WebM?

WebM is an open source project backed by Google designed to offer a high quality, cross browser compatible solution that is patent free. Born out of Google nearly dropping MP4 support due to the high royalties cost, WebM has been around since 2010 and was initially slow to catch on. In the last few years, the format's popularity has exploded and has replaced the OGG/OGV format as the open source format of choice due to superior quality and performance.

Many popular video sites, such as YouTube, are using WebM as their primary video formats due to the rising cost of patents. WebM is a very safe format and should be provided in your ICE template in conjunction with M4V for reliable browser support.

What is FLV?

FLV is flash video. Once very popular and the main driver for web interactivity, its use has been greatly diminished by the advent of HTML5 and Apples refusal to support it due to licensing disputes. The only browser still in use that supports FLV video is Internet Explorer 8 and 9.

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