Learn about the Audio Video Interleave (AVI) format, its key features and characteristics, pros and cons, and comparison with MP4. Discover when to choose AVI over MP4.

What is AVI Format?

AVI, which stands for Audio Video Interleave, is a video file format developed by Microsoft in 1992. It was designed to store both video and audio data within a single file, ensuring synchronized playback of audio and video. AVI files use the Resource Interchange File Format (RIFF), a general container format for multimedia data. As a native format to Microsoft Windows operating systems, AVI files can be easily opened using Windows Media Player.

AVI files can contain video and audio data encoded with various codecs, such as DivX and XviD. Additionally, AVI files often use format extensions introduced by Matrox OpenDML in 1996, sometimes unofficially referred to as AVI 2.0. One of the characteristics of AVI files is their typically large size, which often necessitates compression to reduce them to smaller file formats for easier storage and sharing.

In comparison to MP4 files, which are smaller and more efficient for storage and streaming, AVI files are generally larger. AVI files are best supported on Windows platforms, but may require specific codecs or players on other operating systems. Meanwhile, MP4 files are universally compatible with almost all media players and operating systems, making them a versatile choice for various devices.

AVI is known for potentially better video output quality due to less compression, though this depends on the codecs used. While MP4 is smaller in size, the video quality can be slightly inferior due to higher compression. However, modern codecs have significantly improved the quality-to-size ratio of MP4 files, making them a popular choice for many users.

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AVI Format: Key Features and Characteristics

Here are the key features and characteristics of the AVI format:

  1. Container Format: AVI is a container format, meaning it can encapsulate various types of video and audio streams. This flexibility allows AVI files to support different codecs for both audio and video.

  2. Structure: AVI files consist of multiple chunks, each containing different types of data. These chunks include:

    • Header: Contains metadata about the file, such as frame rate, frame size, and codec information.
    • Data Chunks: Hold the actual audio and video data, which can be interleaved (i.e., mixed together) to ensure synchronized playback.
    • Index Chunk: Facilitates quick access to specific points in the file, improving seek performance during playback.
  3. Compatibility: AVI files are widely compatible with various media players and editing software, especially on Windows platforms. However, depending on the codecs used, compatibility may vary across different systems and software.

  4. Compression: AVI files can use different codecs for compression, such as DivX, Xvid, and MP3 for audio. This allows for flexibility in balancing video quality and file size. However, not all codecs are supported by all players.

  5. Quality: AVI can store high-quality video and audio, but the quality largely depends on the codecs used and the compression settings. Because it supports both lossy and lossless compression, it can be used for various purposes, from high-quality video archiving to streaming.

  6. File Size: AVI files tend to be larger compared to more modern formats like MP4 or MKV, especially when using less efficient codecs. This is because AVI was designed in an era with different technological constraints and considerations.

  7. Use Cases: AVI is commonly used for storing and distributing standard-definition and high-definition video. It is also popular for video editing and processing due to its support for various codecs and high compatibility with software.

AVI Format: Pros and Cons

Here are the pros and cons of using the AVI (Audio Video Interleave) format:

Pros of AVI:

  1. High Quality: AVI can provide high-quality video output, especially when using codecs like DivX.

  2. Alpha Channel Support: It can store an alpha channel, allowing for transparency effects and higher-quality output for certain types of content.

  3. Wide Software Support: Despite its age, AVI is still supported by a wide range of video editing and playback software.

  4. Lossless Compression: AVI supports both lossy and lossless compression methods, offering flexibility in encoding options.

Cons of AVI:

  1. Large File Sizes: AVI files tend to have larger file sizes compared to more modern formats like MP4, leading to storage and bandwidth issues.

  2. Limited Compatibility: AVI may require specialized players for playback, particularly on newer devices and platforms.

  3. Less Efficient Compression: The compression algorithms used in AVI are less efficient compared to newer formats, resulting in larger file sizes without necessarily better quality.

  4. No Streaming Support: AVI lacks native support for streaming protocols, making it less suitable for online streaming applications.


While AVI offers high-quality video output and wide software support, its large file sizes, limited compatibility with modern devices, and lack of streaming support make it less ideal for certain use cases compared to newer formats like MP4. However, for scenarios where quality is paramount and compatibility is not a concern, AVI remains a viable option.

AVI vs MP4


  • AVI (Audio Video Interleave): A multimedia container format introduced by Microsoft, often associated with the DivX codec.
  • MP4 (MPEG-4 Part 14): A widely-used format that can store video, audio, subtitles, and images, known for its compatibility and efficiency.


  • AVI:
    • Typically uses the DivX codec.
    • Can store an alpha channel, which allows for higher-quality output.
    • Offers slightly better video quality compared to MP4.
  • MP4:
    • Uses the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec, among others.
    • Known for efficient compression and high performance.
    • Although MP4 is highly efficient, some argue that it has slightly inferior video output quality compared to AVI, especially at the highest quality settings.

Storage Efficiency

  • AVI:
    • Less efficient compression leads to larger file sizes.
    • Typically results in about 2-3 GB per minute of video.
    • Can be compressed by converting to other formats like MOV, FLV, or MP4.
  • MP4:
    • A lossy format with strong compression capabilities.
    • Requires much less storage space compared to AVI.
    • Ideal for users with limited storage.


  • AVI:
    • May require specialized players to run.
    • Less universally compatible than MP4.
  • MP4:
    • Compatible with most devices and media players.
    • Offers greater flexibility across different platforms and devices.


  • AVI:
    • Provides slightly better video quality.
    • Results in larger file sizes and may have compatibility issues.
    • Suitable for scenarios where quality is the paramount concern.
  • MP4:
    • Highly efficient with strong compression, leading to smaller file sizes.
    • Widely compatible across various devices and platforms.
    • Superior for most use cases due to its balance of quality, efficiency, and compatibility.

In conclusion, while AVI may offer marginally better quality, MP4 is generally the better choice for most users due to its efficient compression, smaller file sizes, and broad compatibility.

When to use AVI over MP4?

While MP4 is generally more efficient and compatible for most uses, AVI excels in scenarios where the highest quality is necessary, alpha channel support is required, or you’re working within specific software and legacy systems that favor the AVI format. Consider using AVI for professional video editing, archival purposes, or environments with controlled playback settings where file size and compatibility are less of a concern.

When to use MP4 over AVI?

MP4 should be chosen over AVI in most scenarios due to its superior compression efficiency, smaller file sizes, and broad compatibility across devices and platforms. MP4 is particularly beneficial when storage space is limited, as it significantly reduces file size without compromising quality as much as AVI. Its compatibility with nearly all modern devices, including smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs, makes MP4 ideal for widespread distribution and playback. For streaming video content online, MP4 is the preferred format because it supports streaming protocols, ensuring smoother playback experiences. Additionally, MP4’s support for various codecs and its ability to include video, audio, subtitles, and images in a single file enhance its versatility. Thus, MP4 is generally the better choice for everyday video use, online streaming, sharing on social media, and scenarios where efficient storage and broad device compatibility are critical.

Further Reading