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My company is soliciting entries for a contest that's kind of like the Jolt awards. Companies are asked to send evidence of what makes them special, including videos.

Because I'm the tech guy, I've been asked to write up instructions for submitting videos -- specifically what format(s) we accept. All that really matters is that people in various cities are able to open the files and watch it on their computers (a mix of OSX and Windows).

What format(s) should I require? Should I specify the container, codec, or both?

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Does it have to be watchable in out-of-the-box versions of Mac OSX and Windows? How many versions of Windows are we talking about? (XP, Vista, 7?) – David Thornley Nov 2 '09 at 20:29
If it had to work out of the box, I don't think there would be an answer. I'm looking for the format that's most likely to work on a typical corporate computer when you double-click the file. (Most of our users are on XP or OSX 10.4-6. I left those details out for the sake of keeping the question generic and future-proof.) – Patrick McElhaney Nov 2 '09 at 21:53

You may want to consider not specifying the type, and converting all videos to one specific type before you release them. If you want your submitters to do the video encoding, the most widely available is either .avi or .mpg. Both are good. Divx or xVid would be a common codec to use.

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Use ffmpeg ( and you can convert almost anything to a single format for the benefit of your judges. – CarlF Nov 2 '09 at 19:40
I wish I could do that. I <3 Postel's Law. But guess who would be responsible for converting the videos? I just don't have time. – Patrick McElhaney Nov 2 '09 at 19:54
plus you may not want to deal with the problems of your 'clients' having to install a video codec, especially if these are corporate workstations under scrutiny of an IT department. KISS is the rule of thumb. :) – Molly7244 Nov 2 '09 at 20:00
Allowing multiple formats is OK, but he should make a list of what's supported. Don't leave it up to the submitter. – Badaro Nov 2 '09 at 20:07

I would recommend MP4, if only because it's pretty system neutral.

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why using a multimedia format that is not supported 'out of the box' on either operating system? doesn't make sense to me. – Molly7244 Nov 2 '09 at 19:32
@Molly It's supported "out of the box" by both OSX and Windows 7. It's also well supported on XP, Vista and Linux. – Badaro Nov 2 '09 at 20:01
right from the horses mouth, check the section "File formats that are not supported": – Molly7244 Nov 2 '09 at 20:40
That article only goes up to WMP11, Windows 7 uses WMP12. I don't think MS has an updated version of that article including this latest version, but a quick Google search finds many articles about it. Two samples:… or – Badaro Nov 2 '09 at 20:50
Windows users are not restricted to WMP12 for MP4 support. Just naming the most obvious ones, anyone with iTunes, QuickTime, VLC or one of the many codec packs can play MP4 videos. Plus, it's supported by Flash, meaning he can just put a player on his website for those without the proper codecs. And I don't think you can beat Flash as far as installed base goes. – Badaro Nov 2 '09 at 21:23

Formats that are popular and well supported on all platforms:

  • MPEG1
  • AVI (Container), XVid or DivX5+ (Video Codec), MP3 (Audio Codec)
  • MP4 (Container), h264 (Video Codec), AAC (Audio Codec)

MPEG1 should be supported out of the box by everything, but it's outdated and has far inferior quality to the other two.

AVI/XVid is very popular and has great quality, but AFAIK is not supported out of the box by either OS.

MP4/h264 is turning into the de facto standard for internet and HD video, it's supported by Quicktime (which guarantees support for all Macs, plus a good number of Windows users), and support for it is included by default on Windows 7.

I personally would go with MP4, since it offers the best quality, and if someone can't play it you can just say "install Quicktime" and send a link to the download page on the Apple website.

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I'm hardly an expert on video formats, but I don't know about AVI/XVid. This is apparently for corporate use; do most corporate Windows machines the necessary codecs? – David Thornley Nov 2 '09 at 20:30
From what I understood of the question, companies will be submitting the videos but the viewers will be regular people around the net. – Badaro Nov 2 '09 at 20:39
@Barado: It's a panel of judges, all of whom are corporate users. Sorry, I wasn't clear on that. – Patrick McElhaney Nov 2 '09 at 20:59
@Patrick: Edited to account for this. The overall content doesn't change much, but you probably should speak first with the companies to see if they're willing to install the required playback software. Also, one more thing to point out is that MP4 is supported by Flash, so another option (if you have the bandwidth for it) is to just stream them using a player on your website. If go through this route, make sure to specify the resolution and bitrate for the videos as well. – Badaro Nov 2 '09 at 21:14
Thanks. It sounds like MP4 is the best option. If that doesn't work out too well, I'll come back and let you know. – Patrick McElhaney Nov 2 '09 at 22:05

the vast majority of computers are running Windows operating systems, so you can't go wrong with WMV, Apple users will have to install the Windows Media® Components for QuickTime

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Previous experience taught me that these components (aka Flip4Mac) are a bit finicky, and sometimes break after updating Quicktime (or Safari, if you're using embedded videos). If you decide do use WMV, test with a specific version of QT and Flip4Mac and tell your users to stick to that version, will save you some headaches. – Badaro Nov 3 '09 at 1:22

What about asking people to upload it to Youtube, or some other similar site? Privacy might be an issue, but if it isn't, that might save you a lot of time and trouble. You can then create a single page on a server you control and embed all the entries into it for the viewers.

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