The Complete Guide to iPad Video Format

Have you ever tried to play a video on an iPad only to realize that it doesn’t work at all? Even though it works just fine on your PC? Then you already got a small taste of unsupported video formats for iPad devices.

Video formats can make all the difference not only in terms of video quality and file size – but also in compatibility. By default, certain devices, such as iPads, support only a limited number of video formats. Here is all you need to know about them!

What is a Video Format?

Let’s start with the basics. A video format is basically a file format for storing digital video data. Depending on the format, you can get different:

  • Quality support
  • Video codec support
  • Audio codec support

And it’s worth keeping in mind that all our everyday, common video formats are actually lossy. The original, uncompressed video that we get is almost always converted and compressed – which means that you are always losing a bit of video quality unless you are playing the video straight from the source. And this is often not possible not only due to hardware limitations but also due to codec and format support across different devices – including iPads.

Supported Video Formats and Codecs for iPad Devices

Officially, iPad devices support:

  • MP4 (Encoded with MPEG-4)
  • M4V
  • MOV
  • AVI (only support AVI files that are compatible with the Mothion JPEG standards.)

Along with animated images such as GIFs. Mind you, video formats are not the same as encoders. If a supported video format is encoded with an unsupported encoder, it’s still not going to play.

The most popular supported codecs for iPads are:

  • 264
  • 265
  • MPEG-4
  • HEVC (For newer models)
  • And M-JPEG

So, even if a video is encoded with a non-supported encoder, then you are not going to be able to play it no matter what. Even if it’s in a supported video format.

For example, YouTube 4K videos may be MP4, but unlike their lower-resolution videos, YouTube 4K videos use the VP9 encoder. Not H.264. So, older iPads won’t be able to play them at all due to the unsupported encoder (And that’s leaving resolution aside – which is a topic for another day). Thankfully, iPadOS 14 now has support for the aforementioned codec. But we assume that older iPads still don’t support it. And even if they did, it would be kind of meaningless due to their lower-resolution displays.

Unfortunately, among the most popular video formats, iPads do not support:

  • FLV (Which is outdated anyway)
  • MKV
  • And WMV

If you can’t open a video due to its file format or resolution, the most effective way of making it work is by relying on a video converter such as UniConverter. But, more about that later.

Don’t worry too much about finding the best format. As long as the video is supported, it shouldn’t make too much of a noticeable difference if any at all. The video resolution, aspect ratio, and framerate are much bigger factors.

That said, do keep in mind that MP4 is generally the format that’s supported by most devices nowadays.

Default Video Formats for iPads – Apple’s Choice

By default, iTunes, and, by extension, iPads as well, rely on the M4V video format. M4V files can be DRM-protected and we assume that’s one of the main reasons why Apple prefers using it as their go-to format.

But keep in mind that video recording is a different matter. Newer iPad models use either the HEVC/H.265 or the MP4 format.

In some cases, you are pretty much forced to use HEVC due to its compression properties and efficiency. For example, 4K at 60FPS or 1080p at 240fps only works with HEVC.

Some operating systems such as Windows 10 don’t actually support this format out of the box. But, that’s a problem that you can easily solve with either VLC or a converter such as UniConverter – depending on how powerful your PC is. Again, more about that later towards the bottom of this article.

Video Resolution and Framerate

Video formats and encoders are not the only things that can prevent you from enjoying your favorite movie. Unfortunately, both video resolution and frame rate can also make a massive difference.

Video resolution refers to the number of pixels that a video contains horizontally. Nowadays, 1920 x 1080 (1080P) is considered the sweet spot for most devices.

The higher the resolution of a video, the better the overall image quality (Unless the bitrate is low – more about that in the FAQ section). But the thing is that videos with a higher resolution also require more powerful hardware to be played.

The latest iPad can easily play videos up to 4K. However, some of the older generations can’t even handle 720P. So, consider Googling your iPad’s model and see how much it can handle.

Framerate, on the other hand, refers to how many frames are being drawn each second. A higher framerate results in a smoother image but it also asks for more space and powerful hardware.

Typically, most videos sit at about 27-30FPS (Frames Per Second). But 60FPS videos are also becoming more and more common nowadays.

It’s worth noting that anything older than iPad 3rd gen can’t handle 1080P 60FPS. Even if the video format and encoder are supported, the hardware is just not powerful enough to handle that many frames at that resolution.

The Future of Video Formats

The more that we move towards the future, the more that the demand for higher resolution videos increases. Not to mention anything about framerate or features like HDR and VR (360-degree videos).

And, thus, it’s no surprise how the overall size of videos is also becoming much larger than before. For a point of reference, 4K contains 4 times as many pixels as 1080P. And that’s without even talking about bitrate, HDR, or other things like that.

We need all the efficiency that we can get. And while HVEC has served us well, we are still moving on to greater things.

At the moment, the H.266 codec, also known as VVC, seems to be the next big thing. The new codec is designed with 8K video recording in mind. It claims to be able to offer the same image quality as the current H.265 codec but while only needing around 50% as much space at the same data rate. And that’s most likely thanks to more efficient compression.

This is a big deal not only for saving disk space, but also for those who can’t afford to stream 4K videos – either due to bandwidth or data limitations. Not to mention anything about server maintenance costs on the streaming platforms’ side.

We can safely assume that things will keep on changing for the better. But with that said, compatibility is always something to keep in mind. Older devices may need software updates, 3rd party apps, or conversion software for videos to play properly – which is already happening with older iPad models.

Whether that’ll be the case with H.266 remains to be seen.

How to Fix ‘Unable to Play Video’ Error on iPad (Any Gen)

As you’ve probably already realized by now, there are tons of reasons why you may be getting the ‘Unable to play video’ message. Just to mention a few:

  • Unsupported codec
  • Unsupported video format
  • The resolution of the video is too high
  • Too many frames

Some of these issues can be solved by simply using a 3rd party player. However, the only fix that works 100% of the time is using a iPad video converter in order to convert your videos into a supported format with a supported codec, resolution, and framerate as well.

There are tons of converters to use out there. But, we’d personally recommend UniConverter.

All you have to do is install it, add the videos that you want to convert, and add them to its list.

It doesn’t matter if you are using a Windows or Mac computer. UniConverter works on both platforms without any issues.

After all the videos are ready and all queued up, simply click on the ‘Output format’ and find your iPad model. The program will automatically choose the best settings and video format. So, no need to worry about any of the complicated stuff.

After your previously unplayable video is converted into a playable format, you’ll obviously need to send it back to the iPad. And while that’s perfectly feasible to do over iTunes wired or wirelessly, UniConverter offers its own transfer tool that’s extremely easy to use. Find it under the ‘Toolbox’ section.

And make sure to click on ‘Trust’ on the iPad’s prompt when connecting the phone with the computer.

After selecting the videos and sending them, all you have to do is wait until the transfer is done and you can try playing the video on your iPad once more. This time, chances are that everything is going to go smoothly. Best of luck to you.


Why Can’t I Open MP4 Files on my iPad?

MP4 is officially supported on iPad devices. If you can’t open an MP4 video, one or all of the below potential issues may apply:

  1. Unsupported encoder
  2. Video resolution is too high
  3. Framerate is too high

In which case, all you have to do is use a video converter such as UniConverter that will automatically fix everything for you.

But it’s worth keeping in mind that not all iPads are all the same. Newer iPads support videos with a higher resolution and/or framerate. That’s why you may notice that your iPad can’t play certain videos while another iPad, potentially from a newer generation, works just fine.

So, video converters don’t just change the format and the encoder of videos. They can also downscale them into lower resolutions and/or framerates for compatibility reasons.

What is Video Bitrate?

If you look around for video converters, editors, and other stuff like that, chances are that you’ll come across the term ‘bitrate’ at some point.

Bitrate refers to the video transferred over a period of time. The higher the bitrate, the better that your video is going to look – but also the more size that it’ll end up taking.

The demand for bitrate goes up as you increase the resolution and framerate of a video. In fact, it’s better to have a high bitrate with a low resolution and framerate rather than a video with high resolution and framerate but a low bitrate.

While most of you won’t ever have to worry about such things, a good rule of thumb for bitrate is:

  • 1080P: 8 Mbps for 30FPS and 12 Mbps for 60FPS
  • 720P: 5 Mbps for 30FPS and 7.5 Mbps for 60FPS

If we are talking about video streaming, keep in mind that the encoder is going to play a massive role as well. Software encoders generally look better than the hardware variants. But, that’s an entirely different topic for another time.

Why are Videos not Playing on my iPad?

There are quite a lot of reasons for such a thing to happen.

  • Video uses an unsupported format or encoder
  • Your iPad is not powerful enough to handle the video’s resolution and/or framerate
  • Hardware damage
  • Software bugs
  • App bugs

And depending on what’s wrong, you may have to take a different course of action. For example, as we mentioned above, unsupported formats, encoders, and videos with unsupported resolutions can be solved by using a video converter.

Hardware damage can only be solved by taking your device to a qualified professional and this should only be your last resort.

Software and app bugs can come in all sorts of patterns. If you can’t play a video on a single app only, try re-installing only that specific app. And don’t forget about clearing its cache. Rebooting your iPad is also always worth a try.

Why Can’t I Play YouTube Videos on my iPad?

YouTube videos are natively supported on iPad devices. If you can’t use YouTube at all:

  • Try reinstalling the app
  • Clear its cache
  • Or reboot your iPad

And if you can’t play videos anywhere, at all, no matter the app or video format and resolution, there is a chance that your iPad is damaged either at the core software or hardware level. In which case, all you can really do is take it to a qualified technician.

What’s the Best Video format for iPad Pro?

More often than not, MP4, MOV, and M4V files offer the best balance between quality, size, and compatibility.

In fact, MOV is created by Apple and it works with both Windows computers and Macs. It’s just that MP4 is compatible with more portable devices and various kinds of multimedia players, in general.

Wrapping Up

That’s about all you need to know about iPad video formats and how you can use that knowledge to troubleshoot problems.

Generally, if your videos are using the right encoders, MP4, M4V, and MOV are the most popular formats that all iPads support. If a video is using an unsupported format, resolution, or framerate, one of the easiest ways of getting around it is by using a video converter for iPad.

That’s all for now. If you want more, feel free to hang around our website for more content like this!

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