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What are the Differences between Dash Cam File Types?

Every dash camera saves video files on the micro SD card. And all of those files are recorded in a video format. Since dash cams constantly record your drive, they can take up a lot of space on the SD card, so having it use a proper file type that balances conserving space and video quality is paramount.  

However, not all cameras save their files in the same format. Older dash cam models typically save the footage in MP4, MOV, and AVI, while premium dash cams record save files with the more advanced H.265 and H.264. In this article, we’ll differentiate the difference between these file types and determine which works best.

What is H.265?

H.265, commonly known as High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), is the most advanced video compression technology used to encode and compress video content in dash cams.

It is an upgraded version of the previous H.264 (AVC) codec and is meant to give the best video quality while reducing file sizes, highly recommended for 4K UHD dash cams. Notably, it maintains high video quality even at lower bitrates, which is crucial for capturing important details such as license plates. Additionally, H.265 produces smaller file sizes, reducing the space required for storage and extending the recording capacity of your dash cam. As a relatively newer standard, H.265 is also future-proof, likely to receive broader support and updates as time goes on. This also requires more premium devices for smoother playback. Modern dash cams like the Thinkware U3000, Thinkware Q1000, VIOFO A139 Pro, and VIOFO A119 Mini 2 are saved through this format.

While H.265 is the most advanced option, it can leave some older hardware behind, with older computer models struggling to process it.

What is H.264?

H.264, also known as Advanced Video Coding (AVC), is known for compressing video data while maintaining relatively good video quality, recommended for full HD dash cams.

While it may not provide the same compression efficiency as newer codecs like H.265, it offers a good balance between video quality and file size with less processing power for encoding and decoding. This means that it can work well with a broader range of dash cam and computer hardware, including those with lower processing capabilities. H.264 is a mature and well-established codec, known for its stable performance and reliability. This makes it a cost-effective choice, as H.264 dash cams are often more affordable than their H.265 counterparts. While not as efficient as H.265, H.264 still delivers decent video quality, making it a suitable option for most practical purposes.The latest BlackVue dash cams, like the DR970X and DR770X series, save footage in H.264 format.

What is .MP4?

MP4 is a versatile file format that can store video and audio data encoded with a variety of codecs, including H.264 and H.265. Because of this versatility, dash cam manufacturers can utilize a variety of video compression schemes while remaining compatible with a wide range of media players and editing applications with the MP4 format.

The .MP4 format, while commonly used, will not offer the same level of efficiency and optimization for dash cam recordings. H.265 and H.264 are tailored to the specific needs of dash cam users, offering better compression, video quality, and compatibility, making them preferable choices for this purpose. This option, and options from here on, will frequently take a tangible effect on the video quality, as well as on how much space is taken up on the SD card, resulting in much less footage stored on the memory card.

Beyond that, MP4 files are supported by a wide range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, desktops, and smart TVs which allows you to see dash cam footage on multiple platforms without the need for additional software or conversion.

What is .AVI?

AVI stands for Audio Video Interleave. AVI is an older video file type that is used less frequently in modern dash cams. It compresses less efficiently than H.265 and H.264, resulting in greater file sizes. Moreover, footage saved in AVI format generates bigger file sizes than more current formats and is not suitable for high-video-resolution dash cams.

What is H.265?

H.265, commonly known as High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), is the most advanced video compression technology used to encode and compress video content in dash cams.

It is an upgraded version of the previous H.264 (AVC) codec and is meant to give the best video quality while reducing file sizes, highly recommended for 4K UHD dash cams. Notably, it maintains high video quality even at lower bitrates, which is crucial for capturing important details such as license plates. Additionally, H.265 produces smaller file sizes, reducing the space required for storage and extending the recording capacity of your dash cam. As a relatively newer standard, H.265 is also future-proof, likely to receive broader support and updates as time goes on. This also requires more premium devices for smoother playback. Modern dash cams like the Thinkware U3000, Thinkware Q1000, VIOFO A139 Pro, and VIOFO A119 Mini 2 are saved through this format.

While H.265 is the most advanced option, it can leave some older hardware behind, with older computer models struggling to process it.

What is H.264?

H.264, also known as Advanced Video Coding (AVC), is known for compressing video data while maintaining relatively good video quality, recommended for full HD dash cams.

While it may not provide the same compression efficiency as newer codecs like H.265, it offers a good balance between video quality and file size with less processing power for encoding and decoding. This means that it can work well with a broader range of dash cam and computer hardware, including those with lower processing capabilities. H.264 is a mature and well-established codec, known for its stable performance and reliability. This makes it a cost-effective choice, as H.264 dash cams are often more affordable than their H.265 counterparts. While not as efficient as H.265, H.264 still delivers decent video quality, making it a suitable option for most practical purposes.The latest BlackVue dash cams, like the DR970X and DR770X series, save footage in H.264 format.

What is .MP4?

MP4 is a versatile file format that can store video and audio data encoded with a variety of codecs, including H.264 and H.265. Because of this versatility, dash cam manufacturers can utilize a variety of video compression schemes while remaining compatible with a wide range of media players and editing applications with the MP4 format.

The .MP4 format, while commonly used, will not offer the same level of efficiency and optimization for dash cam recordings. H.265 and H.264 are tailored to the specific needs of dash cam users, offering better compression, video quality, and compatibility, making them preferable choices for this purpose. This option, and options from here on, will frequently take a tangible effect on the video quality, as well as on how much space is taken up on the SD card, resulting in much less footage stored on the memory card.

Beyond that, MP4 files are supported by a wide range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, desktops, and smart TVs which allows you to see dash cam footage on multiple platforms without the need for additional software or conversion.

What is .AVI?

AVI stands for Audio Video Interleave. AVI is an older video file type that is used less frequently in modern dash cams. It compresses less efficiently than H.265 and H.264, resulting in greater file sizes. Moreover, footage saved in AVI format generates bigger file sizes than more current formats and is not suitable for high-video-resolution dash cams.


Recommended Programs for Watching Dash Cam Footage

Many dash cam manufacturers include software that allows you to view and manage dash cam recordings on the PC and Mac Viewer. Check out our list of desktop dash cam viewers for our dash cam brands: BlackVue Web Viewer, Thinkware PC/Mac Viewer, and Dashcam Viewer (Recommended for VIOFO and other dash cam brands)

Got More Questions?

Not to fret, our in-house product experts are here to help. We have spent years curating helpful content and video guides, helping customers with their dash cams, but we understand that we can always do better. Contact us using the form below and we'll get back to you as soon as we can. We love what we do, because we're here to help you make the most informed purchasing decision.