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What is MOV?

Patrick Wensink
Updated May 17, 2024
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MOV is an audio and video file type that was developed by Apple Inc. and primarily is used with the company's QuickTime media player. It acts as a multimedia container for digital videos, and its multitracking ability allows editors to shape the file in a variety of ways. MOV has enjoyed one of the longest lives of any file type during the digital age.

First appearing in 1991 when Apple unveiled QuickTime 1.0, the MOV file type was one of the first multimedia files available to the public. Over the course of its lifetime, this media format has seen seven versions of the QuickTime program but has remained the primary format for viewing videos through the player. The file type's simplicity is the chief reason for its longevity.

An average MOV file contains one or more tracks of data. Tracks are organized in a hierarchy of information called atoms. Atoms often parent other atoms or allow for editing, but their most popular function is housing media data. The primary media that makes up an MOV file are video tracks, audio tracks, effects tracks and text tracks.

Video is more often than not the primary track of any file and provides the visual element of a QuickTime movie either as animation or actual video footage. An audio track also is common in a QuickTime file and provides all of the sound for the video, ranging from dialog to music and sound effects. A less common but still important element of the atoms are effects tracks that allow video techniques such as fades and transitions to happen onscreen. Text tracks also are found embedded into an MOV file and are most commonly found as movie subtitles.

Because the primary elements of a QuickTime file are separated so clearly, MOV files are popular for editing. This allows editors to change the makeup of a file without having to completely rewrite it, as they would with other file types. Apple's Final Cut program is a common tool for the editing job. MOVs can have any of the four primary tracks changed for time, cut out completely and easily replaced. This freedom produces a variety of video options with a single file.

The MOV format has been the format for some of the most used video files for nearly two decades. By providing a multimedia file that is simply organized and easily rearranged, it remains popular today. Whenever someone watches a video using QuickTime or edits using Final Cut, there is a good chance that a MOV file is being used.

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Patrick Wensink
By Patrick Wensink
Patrick Wensink, a bestselling novelist and nonfiction writer, captivates readers with his engaging style across various genres and platforms. His work has been featured in major publications, including attention from The New Yorker. With a background in communication management, Wensink brings a unique perspective to his writing, crafting compelling narratives that resonate with audiences.
Discussion Comments
By giddion — On Sep 16, 2012

Just about every forwarded email I get containing a funny video has an MOV file attached. I didn't know anything about the file type, but I've watched a ton of them in my lifetime.

By healthy4life — On Sep 15, 2012

@shell4life – VLC is a good free MOV player. You can watch the files, but you can also convert them and reformat them.

My friend has VLC, and he can even open broken files with it. He can add effects, which he likes to do as a hobby.

By shell4life — On Sep 14, 2012

QuickTime is a good free MOV player. Just about everyone I know has it on their computer.

I'm not very tech savvy, so I'm not even aware of what other MOV players are available. Does anyone care to enlighten me?

By lighth0se33 — On Sep 14, 2012

I think that my digital camera saves the videos I record using it as MOV files. I know that whenever I open them on my computer, QuickTime starts playing them.

They are not of the highest resolution and clarity, but it doesn't really matter. I only use the video recording function of my camera when there is some action that I want to capture in the moment. I'm not trying to make award-winning movies here!

Patrick Wensink
Patrick Wensink
Patrick Wensink, a bestselling novelist and nonfiction writer, captivates readers with his engaging style across various...
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