Encoding: Wrappers and Codecs

The world of file encoding is very complicated and technical. After years of encoding files to different formats and finding encoding solutions for different purposes, the subject still makes me completely hazy ;-)

Nevertheless I will try to explain some basic principles in the most intelligible way I can, and point out the difference between wrappers and codecs, but remember, there is no magic formula for all your encoding needs. A lot of the time it is a matter of trial and error and experience will come after many, many exports or encodings.

You also will get different results using the same codecs and settings in different video converting software.

Make sure that before you start converting you know the type of destination use, that way you know where you are going and you can test it if it works.


A codec is a certain technology that compresses video and audio files to make them small enough to travel over the internet or to fit in specific parameters. That means that you need different codecs to author DVD’s, to place video on a website or on YouTube, to send files over the internet, for broadcasting and so on.

We can use a wide variety of compression software or video converters. Making the right choices in software settings, ultimately affects how the video will look once it is decompressed in your player.

For instance the H264 codec is now very popular because it gives a relative good quality and a small file size which is ideal for FTP or to place on websites.


Wrappers or “containers” are the “envelopes” that holds everything together in one file.  Most commonly used wrappers are .avi, .flv, . wmv, mp4, mpeg2  and .mov. Within these wrappers you can find video, audio and metadata and it describes how these different data elements have to function together. There also are wrappers exclusively for audio like: .aiff, .wav or .XMF.

RM is the container used by Real player, the format sucks as much as the player - that comes with some unwanted adware - so avoid if you can.

Sometimes confusion arises because there are codecs and wrappers that have the same name. Just to make it all a bit easier :-)

Colors: RGB or 601/709?

When exporting a file from an editing program, you often have a possibility to choose your color levels: RGB or 601/709.

A general rule is if you are exporting to use in another video processing application (after effects, etc…) you use 601/709. For Avid, dvd and most other editing programs use RGB. If you are not sure, export a little test and watch with your own eyes.

When encoding files we are confronted with a jungle of possibilities. Encoding a small test and watching the result is still the best quality check.



on 29 Oct 2021

Fantastic explanation! I've been editing with Avid Media for years and some old editor told me what "wrapper" my project would be exported. I was embarassed in not knowing the meaning of "Wrapper". I wasn't able to find any other resource that explained what a wrapper was.

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