If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth an infinite number of words. Videos convey messages like no other medium. However, in their raw state, video files can be prohibitively cumbersome, which makes them difficult to use. That’s where knowing how to compress video files comes in handy.
In this guide on how to compress video files, you’ll learn:
- What video file compression is and how it works
- Why video file compression important is
- What happens when you don’t compress videos
- What a codec is
- Types of video files
- How to compress a video file
- How to reduce video file size
- Video compression FAQs
What is video file compression and how does it work?
When you compress a video file, you make it smaller so that it’s easier to use. Compression uses encoding algorithms, called codecs, to reduce bits per frame. Encoding means converting raw video files into a standardized format.
Codecs reduce bitrate by grouping similar pixels together. For example, a video of a person speaking into a microphone in front of a static background is easy to compress. The background pixels, microphone pixels, and most of the facial pixels don’t change much from frame to frame and can be grouped together. The pixels that represent the speaker’s mouth and blinking eyes, however, will need to be rendered in each frame.
The higher the bitrate and frame rate of the compressed video, the better the quality of the video, but the larger the file size. The lower the bitrate and frame rate, the lower the quality of the video, but the smaller the file size.
There are two types of compression methods: lossy and lossless. Lossless compression keeps all original data intact, while lossy compression erases data that wouldn’t be noticeable to the human eye.
After video files are encoded, they are placed in containers that include audio files and metadata, and are ready for distribution.
Why is video file compression important?
Video file compression is important because it reduces prohibitively large video files and makes them easier to share and use.
For example, emailing a 5 GB video to a colleague would take what seems like an eternity to upload and send. Most email providers don’t even allow attachments that are that large. However, when you compress the video and shrink it to a couple of megabytes, you can upload and send the video more quickly.
What happens when you don’t compress videos?
Many platforms automatically compress videos with codecs. However, if this wasn’t the case, an uncompressed video would majorly slow down any action you wanted to take with the video.
Not only would the file take up a lot of space on your device, but it could take from minutes to hours to edit the video in a video editing software, upload it to a cloud-based storage system like Dropbox or Google Drive, or text it to a friend, for example.
What is a codec?
Codec is a portmanteau for the phrases “encode-decode” and “compressor-decompressor.” A codec is an algorithm that encodes (i.e., records and compresses) and decodes (i.e., opens and decompresses) video and audio footage.
Computers, other devices, and platforms come preloaded with codecs to deliver videos faster. For example, videos uploaded to Snapchat are compressed with an H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC, VP9, or AV1 codec.
Types of video files
File formats are relevant to the discussion of how to compress a video file because you may want to convert to a different video file format to save space, or adjust your recording or compression format to account for different file types.
These are some of the most popular video file types:
- MP4 is today’s video format of choice. These files are high quality and can be played in all browsers and devices. They’re great for playback on social media.
- WEBM of HTML5 videos are of comparable quality to MP4. These small files load fast and are therefore good for embedding.
- AVCHD files were created for camcorders and therefore compress easily without compromising quality.
- MOV files were created for Apple’s QuickTime Player. These files are high quality but large.
- WMV files were created for Microsoft’s Windows Media Player. This file type is also large and high quality.
How to compress a video file
Here are step-by-step guides for how to compress a video file depending on your operating system.
How to compress a video file in iOS
If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, the best way to compress a video file after recording it is to use a third-party app.
- In the App Store, download an iOS-supported video compression app like Filmr or Video Compress.
- Open the app.
- Upload the video you want to compress.
- Choose your desired output file size.
- Compress the video.
- Share the video however you’d like.
You can also adjust the format in which you record to create smaller video files. You can do this either from your iPhone’s “Settings” or from the “Camera” app.
From the camera app:
- Select the “Video” option via the slider at the bottom of your screen.
- In the top right corner, you’ll see resolution and frames per second, represented by “HD” or “4K” for the former and “30” or “60” for the latter.
- To minimize file size, tap this corner until the settings are at “HD” and “30.” This represents high-definition resolution at 30 frames per second, which is the lowest resolution available on the iPhone.
To do this from your iPhone’s settings:
- Open “Settings.”
- Tap “Camera.”
- Select “Record Video.”
- The default setting on an iPhone is “1080p HD at 30 fps.” To enter “space saver” mode, select “720p HD at 30 fps.”
How to compress a video file on Mac
If you want to compress a video file on a Mac device, you can do it via either iMovie or QuickTime Player. Both of these applications come pre-loaded on Macs.
How to compress a video file with iMovie
- If you’ve removed iMovie from your device, you can re-download it for free via the Mac App Store.
- Open iMovie.
- Click “Create New” and then “Movie.”
- Click “File” then “Import” and choose the file you want to shrink.
- Drag the video into the timeline at the bottom of your screen.
- To export and compress the video, click “File” then “Share” then “File” and select your desired export settings. To reduce file size and compress the video, adjust the “Quality” and “Resolution” settings or select “Faster” from the “Compress” dropdown.
- Click “Next.”
- Give the video a name.
- Select a destination for the file.
- Click “Save.”
How to compress a video file with QuickTime Player
- If you don’t have QuickTime Player on your device, download it here.
- Open QuickTime Player.
- Click “File” then “Open File” and select the file you want to compress.
- Click “File” and “Export As” then choose from one of the video resolutions. Selecting the lowest resolution, 480p, will compress the video the most.
- Give the video a name.
- Select a destination for the file.
- Click “Save.”
How to compress a video file on Windows
To compress a video file on Windows you can either use a built-in video editor or zip the file.
How to compress a video file on Windows with the built-in video editor
- Open the “Start” menu and search for “Video Editor.”
- Create a new project by clicking “+.”
- Click “Add” and select the file you want to compress.
- Right click the video and click “Place In the Storyboard” to activate it.
- Click “Finish Video.”
- In the “Video Quality” dropdown, select a resolution. The lower the resolution, the greater the compression and the smaller the final file will be.
- Click “Export.”
- Name the file and select where it’ll be saved.
How to compress a video file on Windows by zipping it
Zipping a video file creates an archive containing a file that’s smaller than the original video.
- On your desktop, find the file you want to compress.
- Right click on the file.
- Click “Send To” and select “Compressed (zipped) folder.”
How to compress a video file on Android
Want to make a video smaller from an Android device? Follow these steps to compress a video file on Android. Like with iOS devices, it’s best to use a third-party compression app.
- In Google Play, download a video compression app, like Video Compressor or Video Compressor to MP4.
- Open the compression app.
- Select the video file you want to compress.
- Select your desired video size.
- Save the new, smaller video file.
- Share the video however you’d like.
Alternatively, you can adjust the settings on your phone or tablet to change how large a video file is based on how you want to share it. Instructions can vary from device to device.
- Open your phone’s camera.
- Enter video camera mode by moving the slider at the bottom.
- Select your camera’s resolution settings.
- Select the option that matches the way in which you want to share video files.
How to reduce video file size
If the methods or tools we suggested above are too cumbersome for you, you can also use a free in-browser tool to reduce video file size. While these video compression tools are free, they place limits on the file sizes you can upload. You’ll also likely encounter ads. These free online video compressors have paid versions that give you more options when it comes to uploading, compressing, and saving videos.
There are countless tools for free online video compression, including:
- Online Converter supports MP4, AVI, FLV, MOV, 3GP, MKV, WMV file types of up to 200 MB and lets you choose your desired compressed file size. You can also select the video’s audio quality output.
- Video Candy automatically compresses any video you upload. Because it doesn’t give you compression setting options, Video Candy is a good option for people who don’t need a specific output resolution or size.
- Media.io’s video compressor supports MP4, WEMB, MOV, AVI, MKV, WMV file types.
- Clideo lets you compress MP4, WMV, MOV, VOB, and AVI video files of up to 500 MB from any device, Google Drive, or Dropbox.
- Free Convert has a generous 1GB file size limit and lets you select how you want to compress your video. You can choose from an H264 or H265 codec.
- Veed.io supports ASF, AVI, FLAC, FLV, GIF, M4V, MKV, MOV, MP4, WEBM, and WMV file types and lets you select the output resolution for your compressed video.
Say goodbye to compression
Compressing video files makes them smaller, and therefore easier to share and edit. Although you have many options when it comes to compressing videos, the easiest option is to not have to compress videos at all. JW Player’s video platform creates final encodes that are meant to be streamed, so no compression is necessary when uploading videos. Learn more about JW Player.
Video compression FAQs
What is the purpose of compressing a video file?
The purpose of compressing a video file is making the file smaller so you can use, manipulate, and share it more easily and faster.
What is a compressed video file?
A compressed video file is a video file that’s been shrunken to make it easier to use, store, and send.
What is the name of the software to compress a video file?
You can compress a video file using a variety of software, depending on the operating system you’re using. To compress a video file on a Mac, you can use iMovie or QuickTime Player iMovie. Use Windows’ video editor to compress a video file on a Windows device. The best way to compress a video file on iOS or Android is to use an app from the App Store or Google Play. Alternatively, you can use a free online compression tool like Clideo or Free Convert.
What is the extension of a compressed video file?
A compressed video file can have any of a number of extensions, depending on the file type. Common file types include .mp4, .mov, and .wmv.