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Better Media Container Formats? 54

altaic asks: "Today I was looking for a container format to store my anime collection (multi-language audio and subs), and I discovered popular media containers actually suck. AVIs are a hacked mess and don't even support multiple audio tracks. OGMs are catching on, but they don't have an index, nor do they support variable framerates (the fps value is stored in the header). I found some info on the Matroska container, which looks really cool (it supports multiple subtitle streams, multiple audio streams, a slew of other nice features), as well as the very young MPCF (mplayer container format). I'd really like to hear about other people's experiences with newer, more useful media containers."
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Better Media Container Formats?

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  • Now, I understand the value in variable bit rates for efficency's sake. Unless I am wrong OGM supports supports VBR just fine. Now what would the use of variable frame rate be? Virtuall all video I can think of operates at a set frame rate for given display formats. (Mabye I'm just ignorant but hey, that seems useless)
    • A lot of Animes are made with a philosophy of minimal cell count, so they will drop the frame rate at which the film is made in spots where they can get away with it. For stuff like this you could probably save a lot of space using variable frame rates.
    • Look again, he said variable BIT rate, XVID allows you to set a different bit rate for credits at the beginning and end of a video, it also allows you to set the color to black and white for those periods...
    • So you can merge two videos together from different sources without having to recompress them.
  • I must disagree (Score:3, Informative)

    by DemoLiter3 ( 704469 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @06:59PM (#7213948) Homepage
    Multiple audio tracks AND multiple subtitle tracks can be muxed into AVI and play very well.

    You'll need only these 2 tools to achieve this:
    VobSub [] and MMSwitch []

    VobSub package contains the SubMux utility for muxing an AVI video, multiple audio tracks and subtitle files (in SRT, SUB, SSA and other formats) into AVI. MMSwitch will allow separate playback and easy selection of multiple audio tracks in any media player based upon DirectShow graphs, WMP for example.

    In WMP, audio tracks and subtitle tracks can be then easily selected via context menu.
    • AVI doesn't support VBR audio. AVI doesn't support seeking within the file well. AVI is bloated. AVI isn't very extensible. AVI isn't fault tolerant. AVI doesn't support very large files.
      • > AVI doesn't support VBR audio. AVI doesn't support seeking within the file well. AVI is bloated. AVI isn't very extensible. AVI isn't fault tolerant. AVI doesn't support very large files.

        Sounds like everything else Microsoft put out!
  • by phraktyl ( 92649 ) * <(wyatt) (at) (> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @06:59PM (#7213950) Homepage Journal

    Well, if they are CDs you don't really care about, you can store them on a CD spindle. Otherwise, the old 5 1/4" floppy containers work fairly well.

    You can also get some fairly nifty CD storage racks, like This one [].

    Oh, wait... You were talking about... Never mind.

  • Please, just give me a file format that doesn't require me to do -aspect x:y whenever I launch mplayer... I'm trying to stick my dvd collection onto HDD (easier for moving between home and university) and it's driving me insane...
    • matroska can do that fine, just compile mplayer with matroska suport and tag the display AR of your files in mkvmerge when muxing them .... works like a charm ...
  • by mikecheng ( 3359 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @07:09PM (#7214065) Homepage Journal
    I followed the discussion of a "better" universal a/v container format with interest in Feb/Mar 2003 on the mplayer mailing list.

    It was first raised in Feb2003 here [].

    The conversation died for a while, and then it was brought up again [] in March. (Although the conversation seemed to get bogged down on selecting a name for the format).

    The format description [] is now included in the DOCS/tech directory of the mplayer tarball. Not sure whether any of it's actually implemented in the mplayer code.

  • by reynaert ( 264437 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @07:09PM (#7214071)

    It may be that most media players can't deal with it, but the AVI format certainly supports multiple audio tracks, and it always has, as Google confirms []. BTW, have you looked at MOV (QuickTime)? It's better than AVI, and it is better known than the other formats you list.

  • Seriously - look at the QuickTime .mov format.
    1. It's well documented [].
    2. Subtitles are easy with text atoms [].
    3. It supports variable bit and frame rates.
    4. It can be hinted [] for rtsp streaming via the Open Source Darwin Streaming Server [].
    5. They have an Index [] for fast seeking in large VBR files.
    6. They support as many audio and video tracks as you want.

    Seriously - I don't know why more projects don't use it, it seems perfect to me...

    • Re:Quicktime. (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Interesting, mov container supports more features than I was aware of. As a guess for why people don't use it more - lack of free, easy to use muxing utilites. I'm not aware of any, if you can link to any for windows or linux platform it'd be nice. As an example of why I like matroska - last week I took an HDTV transport stream, demuxed the video and audio parts, resized and reencoded the mpeg2 video into xvid (didn't feel the need to store 18mbps mpeg2 video that was at a res bigger than my monitor -_-)
      • Um... It sounds like the only thing you actually used matroska for was muxing the final file.
        Quicktime is quite capable of taking a Xvid video track, an AAC audio track, and a properly formated text track and rolling them into a movie with nothing more than Quicktime Player, so it can be used for what you just did.

        Of course, it could have been used for much of the rest of the process too.

        Hell, Apple even provides a tool to get the MPEG2 transport stream off your HDTV receiver in their firewire dev tools.
  • Mpeg4 or perhaps MOV (Score:2, Informative)

    by Zorton ( 2520 )
    Take a look at mpeg4. On my machine (OS-X) I use a program called OpenShiiva ( to dump DVD's. It uses mpeg4 for the container and Xvid or 3vix/AC3 for the audio-video stream. As far as changing frame-rates on the fly I don't know if that type of thing is in the spec or not. As far as subtitles and multiple audio streams I think it will work just fine. However I'm not an expert so feel free to correct me on this. Nice thing about mpeg4 is the mpeg standard. Hopefully
  • Ask Doom9 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DeadMeat (TM) ( 233768 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @07:25PM (#7214304) Homepage
    Doom9's "New A/V Formats" forum [] is a good place to ask; besides the FAQs, there's a ton of technical expertise there (the programmers of OGM and Matroska filters and muxers sometimes hang about to answer technical questions).

    The quick-'n'-dirty answer is that, as long as you've got muxers and demuxers for the formats you're working with, converting from one container format to another is generally lossless, so you don't really need to worry about losing data to an obsolete format. In this layman's opinion (I'm not an A/V software programmer, but I play one on Slashdot), Matroska looks like a good choice here, since you can mux practically everything under the sun into a Matroska file. But be warned that practically-speaking not all of the existing Matroska filters recognize data like chapters; in contrast, formats like OGM may not support as much metadata, but the existing filters generally recognize all of it.

    • The current OGM filters have a built in audio stream switcher, but as a result of that you can only use audio streams of the same sampling rate and channel number in it ... no way to mux a 5.1 AC3 and a 2.0 Vorbis in the same file and play it fine .... matroska can do that, but you need mplayer, MPC, BSplayer, TCMP or VLC to be able to switch the streams during playback ...
  • QuickTime? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RevAaron ( 125240 ) <> on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @07:40PM (#7214500) Homepage
    What about QuickTime? The format seems to be open, or at least known in various Free software libraries so that working with it is doable. You can use any number of codecs within a QT file, though.

    And no, QT isn't one codec. There have been issues in the past about QT support on OSes like Linux- but that was because of a lack of support for the Sorensen codec that QT can use.

    What are the limitations of QT? What does it do better or worse than AVI or the others? Myself, I've no clue, but would be intersted in finding out...
    • .MOV sounds like a spectacular container for video and audio, however all the problems are in the Quicktime Player. Let's face it, it just sucks. Video doesn't always appear when it should, scanning through videos takes forever, and it's got nagware. The need to use QT Player, in plugin form or otherwise, is what keeps this shit from spreading.
    • In Quicktime you cant store AAC Vorbis RealVideo 9 RealAudio SRT subs SSA subs vobsub subs while matroska does support all fo that fine ...
  • by RalphBNumbers ( 655475 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2003 @08:03PM (#7214728)
    They're practically the same thing in terms of container formats, and they're so extensible it isn't even funny.

    Want multiple overlapping video tracks, various text tracks (perhaps one for each language, with the machine auto selecting, or asking the user if you want), SMIL support for web integration, sprite tracks, static picture tracks, built-in realtime effects, user interaction, chapter markers, searchable subtitles, etc?
    It's all there, and *MUCH* more. most of people don't have a clue how absurdly versatile that format is, it's done everything you've asked for 'since the '90s.
  • (Not a comprehensive list ;)

    You CAN do 2 audio streams in AVI, just like you CAN do VBR MP3 in AVI, but it's not a good idea. By default, most media players will render both audio streams simulatenously, which is not what you want, unless the user has a filter like Morgan's Stream Switcher installed or uses an advanced player like BSPlayer or ZoomPlayer.

    Using VBR MP3 in AVI requires the well-known "Nandub hack" now available in a few other programs as well. AVI is NOT designed to handle VBR audio formats,
  • I have many, many AVIs with multiple audio tracks. You just need to install the Morgan StreamSwitcher plugin. It's great for dvd rips with audiocommentary.
  • I don't know how good an ASF file is overall, but I know it supports multiple frame rates.
  • XML!
    • matroska backbone, EBML, is a binary form of XML ;) , but we didnt update the CVS for a long time, the latest version of EBML and the specs are to be found on ...
  • ... and we are already working on this, together with a very well respected company doing MPEG4 players. Dont expect it in the near future though, current decoder chips like the SIGMA EM 8550 are not powerful enough to decode MPEG4 video and Vorbis audio at the same time, and this is the most used profile in matroska files, followed by MPEG4 video and AAC audio ( together with SRT or SSA subs ) and RealVideo9 and Vorbis audio. Soon we will launch the latest features for matroska files, that will be the ab

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