Tip #303: What is MXF OP1a?

… for Codecs & Media

Tip #303: What is MXF OP1a?

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

MXF is an industry-workhorse because it is so flexible.

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MXF (Material Exchange Format) was invented by SMPTE in 2004. MXF is a container that holds digital video and audio media. OP1a (Operational Pattern 1a) defines how the media inside it is stored.

MXF has full timecode and metadata support, and is intended as a platform-agnostic stable standard for professional video and audio applications.

MXF had a checkered beginning. In 2005, there were interoperability problems between Sony and Panasonic cameras. Both recorded “MXF” – but the two formats were incompatible. Other incompatibilities, such as randomly generating the links that connect files, were resolved in a 2009 redefinition of the spec.

MXF generally stores media in separate files. For example: video, audio, timecode and metadata are all separate. This means that a single MXF container actually supports a variety of different media codecs inside it.

Another benefit to MXF OP1a is that it supports “growing files.” These are files that can be edited while they are still being recorded. (Think sports highlights.)

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2 replies
  1. Brandie Perron
    Brandie Perron says:

    MXF is typically a delivery and acquisition container from my understanding. Until the last few years editing systems had difficulties with MXF files. Now that Premiere and FCPX recognize MFX files, is it a good idea to edit with MXF? Or, should editors still use an intermediate format like ProRes or DNxHD? Thank you!

    • Larry Jordan
      Larry Jordan says:


      If your editing system supports MXF, there’s nothing inherently wrong with editing MXF. It, like QuickTime, is simply a container for the files inside. The KEY question is the codecs that are used for the files it contains. If you get good performance with MXF – no stuttering or dropped frames – feel free to use it. If you are, consider using an intermediate codec, like ProRes.



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