What is the 3GP Format?

What is 3GP, and why do I need to know about it?

Silhouette of office lady using smartphone in city
Silhouette of office lady using smartphone in city. d3sign (Getty Images)

Like many file formats, the 3GP extension is often misused or misunderstood. In this article, we take a minute to examine this useful format and discuss it's relationship with the other light, efficient and powerful video file container, the MP4 format.

.3gp and .3g2 are file extensions for video in 3GP format. This is a multimedia container format used by mobile phones. 3GP is a simplified version of the MP4 format and was designed to make file sizes smaller so mobile phones could support video.

There are two standards for this format: 3GPP, with the file extension .3gp, and 3GPP2, with the file extension .3g2. 3GPP and 3GPP2 stand for 3rd Generation Partnership Project and 3rd Generation Partnership Project 2 respectively. These were separate collaboration agreements between several countries standardizing mobile phone formats. 3GPP files are for GSM based phones, 3GPP2 files are for CDMA based phones.

The 3GP file format can store video streams as either MPEG-4 Part 2, H.263 or MPEG-4 Part 10 (AVC/H.264), and audio streams as AMR-NB, AMR-WB, AMR-WB+, AAC-LC, HE-AAC v1 or Enhanced aacPlus (HE-AAC v2).

So which devices support 3GP?

#1: Most 3G or better mobile phones will support the playback and recording of video in the 3GP format, though limits can exist for memory, maximum file size for playback and recording, and resolution. Those limits will vary from device to device.

#2: A handful of higher-end devices without 3G capabilities might also be 3gp playback and record capable, though with their own set of limitations.

A good example is audio imported from a CD onto a PlayStation 3 when it is set to encode to the MPEG-4 AAC codec will copy the audio files onto USB devices using the 3GP format.

#3: Some portable game systems, including the Nintendo DSi, support .3gp on SD cards.

It is important to point out that there are options to view 3GP files when they are not on a phone or mobile device.

Windows Media Player or VLC should be able to open 3GP files, but if it won't open them on your system try open source software FFmpeg to convert the 3GP file to another format your machine likes a bit more.

There are also dozens of other applications that can convert 3GP files to MP4, AVI or another popular format. A quick Google search will reveal many (MANY) options for conversion software. Use these at your own risk, however, as many are from small software development companies.

It's always best to go with applications such as Adobe Media Encoder, EditReady or Compressor to encode video files. All of these include great options for batch jobs and include a suite of current and popular video formats.