Video Formats for Cell Phones

Recently, Pyramid Research released a report that mobile video usage is expected to rise at annual compound growth rate of 28% over the next five years. At this rate, by 2014 more than 500 million users worldwide will subscribe to a mobile TV service. The popularity of Mobile TV and mobile video has earned it the title of the Fourth Screen, after movie, television, and computer screens (first, second, and third, respectively).

As Mobile TV and mobile video grow in popularity and more people are carrying smart phones with them everywhere, television viewing habits are changing. Today people are watching TV programs, news, and even social video sharing sites on their cell phones anywhere and at any time.

Typically, the term Mobile TV refers to video viewed on a mobile device. But, for our purposes, we will differentiate between Mobile TV (broadcast television programs and advertising and pay TV services) and mobile video (watching and sharing videos from video sharing sites and peer-to-peer).

Cell Phone Video Formats

Mobile TV and mobile video come in only a few formats, and all are compressed; 3GPP, MPEG-4, RTSP, and Flash Lite.

3GPP (.3gp)

3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) is a globally standardized communication system between 3rd generation GSM-based mobile phones and is the primary format for cell phone video. This is the format in which your cell phone will save video. Most Prosumer editing systems will output 3GPP files. There are also many format conversion programs and plug-ins on the market available as freeware and shareware. In reality, 3GPP is a variety of MPEG-4 (Part 12), but is often classified separately from the other MPEG-4 formats.


MPEG-4 (Motion Picture Experts Group) is a very popular and universal format for video and comes in several flavors, classified as Parts. For example, Part 2 includes Windows Media Video (.wmv), DivX, Xvid, 3ivx QuickTime 6, and Nero Digital. Part 10 is the H.264 or AVC standard and includes QuickTime 7. Virtually any mobile video device will play MPEG-4 video.


RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol) is a protocol used to establish and control streaming media sessions. Although it starts and controls the data stream, RTSP does not handle the actual transmission of the stream. That task is usually accomplished with RTP (Real-Time Transport Protocol), although some vendors use proprietary transport protocols. The RTSP protocol is used by many players including QuickTime, RealPlayer, Skype, VLC Media Player, and Windows Media Player.

Flash Lite

Flash Lite is a highly optimized version of Flash intended for mobile phones and portable devices. Flash Lite supports the H.264 standard and, of course, supports FLV, which is used by most popular video sharing sites.


This codec, developed by Actimagine, is based on its work with mobile gaming consoles and optimizes response to the battery life and video quality requirements of mobile platforms. It is used to deliver video on memory cards for mobile phones. Mobiclip files can also be downloaded or streamed over a telecom network.


Video Distribution has always been a problem for new producers trying to get their work seen. The easiest video to produce and distribute, at least as far as cell phones are concerned, is live video shot with the phone and distributed with a video sharing service such as Qik. Web services, such as Qik, enable users to easily share their videos through e-mails, SMS and social network sites by distributing to the sites for you. However, for those who want to distribute edited videos there are other choices.

There are, of course, internet media publishing companies, such as Multivu and QuickPlay, that distribute advertising and news videos to cell phones and other Mobile TV devices for their clients. We won’t spend time on these companies or other mainstream broadcasters sending television and advertising over Mobile TV. We will discuss how you can distribute your own videos.


Vidcasting is the video version of Podcasting and operates much the same, downloading from web syndication. The files can also be served up over a local Wi-Fi network or sent via Bluetooth.

Wi-Fi (WAP) networks

Set-up your own public WAP network and serve your video to anyone in the area. Or you can contact local businesses with a public network and make a deal with them to offer your video program on the businesses’ public network.

Bluetooth networks

By adding a Bluetooth emitter to your PC you can send your video to anyone with a mobile phone walking past your office, venue, or park bench, completely free of charge.

On the Internet

Publish to social network and video sharing sites, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Myspace, and others (there are many). Then just send links using text messages, SMS, Twitter, and the others.

There are also distributing services such as Umundo. Umundo, a free service, works with any mobile device to publish video and pictures to popular social networking sites. Video clips can be sent from camera phones using a multimedia messaging service or e-mail.

The Pass it On, Peer-to-Peer

In Pass It On, a peer-to-peer method, you send your video file to a few people via cell phone and encourage them to pass it on to as many people as possible. This method was used by UNICEF in the country of Georgia to distribute a film about AIDS to the young adults, the vast majority of whom have cell phones.

You can also turn to services like BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file sharing software client, that will deliver any type of file to and from anywhere on the web. Many filmmakers distribute trailers or whole movies using BitTorrent.

On Memory Cards

By encoding with the Mobiclip codec you can distribute your video on microSD memory cards. This method has the disadvantage of giving away memory cards (hopefully with your logo and contact information on them) and the advantage of holding and playing full-length feature movies, in a high-quality format that plays smoothly.

Remember when you just picked up a new telephone at the phone company store and plugged it into the ubiquitous phone-jack? Those days are long-gone. There is no universal plug, or card or format. It might all seem daunting, but every camera and every phone is different, so there is no standard process, yet. Until then, keep your ear (and mouse) pointed to the internet for the sources you need to develop your videos via cell phone. Check out the websites in the associated sidebar for more and for tips on the best shooting techniques for cell phones read our associated article at


Web sites for Mobile Video Distribution Sites:

Jim Martin, a defense contractor, produces multimedia materials for the Defense Language Institute and the U.S. Army Garrison Presidio of Monterey.