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Audio & video formats in HTML5

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 by Servage

For video, the most common options are:

  • Ogg container + Theora video codec + Vorbis audio codec.

This is typically called “Ogg Theora,” and the file should have a .ogv suffix. All of the codecs and the container in this option are open source and unencumbered by patents or royalty restrictions, which makes them ideal for web distribution, but some say the quality is inferior to other options.

• MPEG-4 container + H.264 video codec + AAC audio codec.

This combination is generally referred to as “MPEG-4,” and it takes the .mp4 or .m4v file suffix. H.264 is a high-quality and flexible video codec, but it is patented and must be licensed for a fee. The royalty requirement has been a deal-breaker for browsers that refuse to support it.

• WebM container + VP8 video codec + Vorbis audio codec.

“WebM” is the newest container format and uses the .webm file extension. It is designed to work with VP8 and Vorbis exclusively, and has the advantage of being open source and royalty-free. Of course, the problem that I referred to earlier is that browser makers have not agreed on a single format to support. Some go with open source, royaltyfree options like Ogg Theora or WebM. Others are sticking with the better quality of H.264 despite the royalty requirements. What that means is that we web developers need to make multiple versions of videos to ensure support across all browsers.

Meet the audio formats
The landscape looks similar for audio formats: several to choose from, but no format that is supported by all browsers.

  • MP3.

The MP3 format is a codec and container in one, with the file extension.mp3. It has become ubiquitous as a music download format. The MP3 (short for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3) is patented and requires license fees paid by hardware and software companies (not media creators).

• WAV.

The WAV format (.wav) is also a codec and container in one.

• Ogg container + Vorbis audio codec.

This is usually referred to as “Ogg orbis” and is served with the .ogg or .oga file extension.

• MPEG 4 container + AAC audio codec.

“MPEG4 audio” (.m4a) is less common than MP3.

• WebM container + Vorbis audio codec.

The WebM (.webm) format can also contain audio only.

Video and Audio Encoding Tools
There are scores of options for editing and encoding video and audio files, so I can’t cover them all here, but the following tools are free and get the job done.
Video conversion

  • Miro Video Converter ( is a free tool that converts any video to H.264, Ogg Theora, or WebM format optimized for mobile devices or the desktop with a simple drag-and-drop interface. It is available for OS X and Windows.
  • Handbrake ( is a popular open source tool for getting better control over H.264 settings. It is available for Windows, OS X, and Linux.
  • Firefogg ( is an extension to Firefox for converting video to the Ogg Theora format. Simply install the Firefogg extension to Firefox 3.5+, then visit the Firefogg site and convert video using their online interface.
  • MP3/WMA/Ogg Converter ( is a free tool that converts the following audio formats:

Audio conversion
MP3, WAV, WMA, OGG, AAC, and more.

Sorry, Mac users; it is Windows only.

  • On the Mac, try Max, an open source audio converter available at Audacity ( also has some basic conversion tools in addition to being a recording tool.
Audio & video formats in HTML5, 3.7 out of 5 based on 3 ratings
Categories: Guides & Tutorials


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