A short list of the most common container formats, the file extensions they use, and a bit of history:
QuickTime (.MOV, .QT): as the first real multimedia format, it was successfully unveiled by Apple Computer in 1991 and its first versions were only limited to Mac OS with the following Windows version. It is in a high-level even from the beginning for it can not only support any amount of streams but also contain multi-segmented files. It is simple and full of personal senses activity for editing and people even permit some scripting and interactive features in later versions. Although my experience is very short, I can still recall when I was watching movies about the launch of Apollo and the process of a pile of camel bones changing into skeletons, and watching a living GIF on a computer was the most exciting thing.
RealVideo (.RM): it was honored to be among the first rather successful competitors of QuickTime, in spite of the fact that it has never gained a popularity either, which might be resulted from its limitation to the extremely proprietary RealPlayer. And RealAudio (.RA, .RAM) also can only play audio.
Windows Media (.WMV, .WMA, .ASF, .ASX): the second try done by Microsoft to win over QuickTime was actually more successful, which proved that it would eventually succeed only if it owns time and market share. The use of video on the PC is quite opposite to the time of VfW’s introduction. No matter how good or bad it was, Windows Media has being connected with Windows. The pre-installation is a big advantage over QuickTime, for which users have to install by themselves. Of course, the rest was done by the MS monopolies.
DivX (.DIVX): we can say now that this format is the same as AVI or at least an unofficial AVI with its non-standard codecs, which is why the production of DivX codec has been changed its file extension. Even if AVI has been discarded by, Microsoft still hates it has something to do with pirated movies. And its name has been changed from DivX format to DivX codec.
MPEG-1 (.MPG, .MPEG, .MPE): it’s a format created by the ISO, which is the abbreviation for Organization for Standardization. Although it is almost as brain-dead as AVI, the fact that it belongs to a standard ISO and connects with a good compression scheme make it much more popular. It was once was and it is still used in Video CD’s, or VCD. As an open standard, it is good for that you can playback anywhere you want even if you have to pay a license for an encoder.
Video for Windows (.AVI): VfW is a clone of QuickTime made by Microsoft within a year, which might caused the initial VfW instruction book a so brain-dead format for it owned nothing of QuickTime’s high-level features. Therefore, in order to solve the problem, the OpenDML group developed this format. Soon, Later on, AVI lost its support from MS which turns to support its new WMV format. The fact that VfW didn’t succeed might be one of the reasons, however, the more important reason was that AVI had used by pirated movies which might be caused by the simple connection between the format and the ordinary teenage scriptkiddie pirate. Strictly speaking, however, they are not belong to AVI files since the typical pirate codecs are not permitted to use according to Microsoft’s VfW instruction book.