Distribution Formats 101

What is the Best Video Format for Distribution?

This question gets asked a LOT. The answer is generally "Whatever is best for you" - but that doesn't really help you much if you don't know the pros/cons of one format over another.

This page is a quick and dirty look at what's what and what's worthwhile.

Ease of Playback
User Acceptance
Very easy. Anyone with a pentium
processor can play these files.
Well accepted
universal format.

Easy. Depending on the frame
size and options these can be played
on most 400+Mhz systems with a
good media player.
Very well accepted.
Media 9
Reasonably easy. Anyone with the
misfortune of using a recent version
of Windows Media Player will be fine.
Others will need the codec.
Medium. WMV is often
associated with low
quality due to bad or small
Requires a faster computer
than the other formats.
Many users may currently have
to install additional things
in order to play the video.
Not yet as high as
the others, but quickly
gaining in popularity.

Deciding which one to use really depends on what your priorities are. If you want the most people to be able to watch your video, you would choose MPEG-1. If you want a really high quality video with a small filesize, you could choose h.264. DivX/XviD is a nice medium. I don't really recommend Windows Media because it can be difficult to play for people who don't use Windows, or those with older versions of Windows/Windows Media Player.

What is the Best Audio Format for distribution?

With audio, you don't really have as much as a choice as you do with the video format. This is because certain audio codecs are usually strongly tied or associated with a particular video format. For example, Windows Media Video files will also use Windows Media Audio. If you make an Xvid encode in an AVI container, you will almost certainly want to use MP3 audio. With h.264 video, the AAC audio codec is usually expected.