Common Intermediate Format

Definition of Common Intermediate Format

Common Intermediate Format (CIF) is a standardized video resolution format used in video conferencing and video processing applications. It ensures compatibility across different devices by defining a resolution of 352×288 pixels for PAL systems and 352×240 pixels for NTSC systems. As a result, CIF helps deliver consistent video quality for real-time communication and reduces system complexity.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Common Intermediate Format” is:K-O-M-UH-N I-N-T-ER-M-E-D-I-E-T F-O-R-M-A-T/kɒmən ˌɪntərˈmiːdiət ˈfɔːrmæt/

Key Takeaways

  1. Common Intermediate Format (CIF) is a standardized video resolution format used in video encoding and decoding, which provides a balance between video quality and reduced storage space by specifying 352×288 (PAL) or 352×240 (NTSC) pixels as the default resolution.
  2. It was developed as an industry-wide standard to ensure a consistent format for video communication systems, such as video conferencing, making it easier for various devices and applications to communicate seamlessly with one another.
  3. Regardless of the changing technology advancements and newer formats, CIF still remains a widely used resolution in surveillance systems, IoT devices, and other low-bitrate applications where storage and bandwidth considerations play a major role.

Importance of Common Intermediate Format

The technology term Common Intermediate Format (CIF) is important because it serves as a standardized format for video resolution, ensuring consistent quality and compatibility across various video encoding and decoding systems.

Developed for videoconferencing in the early 1990s, CIF provides a resolution of 352×288 pixels for the PAL system and 352×240 pixels for the NTSC system.

By setting a baseline format for video transmission, CIF allows disparate systems to communicate effectively while minimizing issues related to resolution scaling and video quality differences.

This standardization also helps reduce the computational complexity and bandwidth requirements for video processing, facilitating smoother video communication for various applications like video streaming, broadcasting, and video conferencing.


Common Intermediate Format (CIF) serves a significant purpose in the realm of video processing and communication, facilitating interoperability among various systems and applications. Its primary role is to provide a standard resolution and format as a medium for the exchange and conversion of videos between systems, transcending diverse encoding schemes and resolutions.

The CIF acts as a bridge to ensure seamless integration and communication between systems that may employ different video formats. Consequently, it paves the way for smoother operations across an array of devices, transcending technical disparities.

The utility of Common Intermediate Format is particularly pronounced in video conferencing applications and video streaming services, which often need to cater to users with different devices and network conditions. The CIF enables these services to function smoothly by providing a standardized video format that balances quality and performance.

Videos can be downscaled or upscaled to match this format in real-time, ensuring that the transmitted video content remains accessible to a variety of users, despite hardware or software limitations they may encounter. Ultimately, the Common Intermediate Format contributes to a more consistent and unified video sharing experience across diverse platforms and systems.

Examples of Common Intermediate Format

Common Intermediate Format (CIF) is a video format that is used in various video-related applications and services. It was developed to standardize the resolution and frame rate for videoconferencing. Here are three real-world examples of CIF technology:

Video Conferencing Systems: Several video conferencing systems, such as Polycom and Cisco, incorporate CIF technology to allow users to communicate via video across different platforms. The standardized resolution of 352×288 (CIF) or 176×144 (QCIF) ensures a consistent video quality regardless of the device’s original resolution.

Security Cameras: CIF is often used in the security and surveillance industries, where IP cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs) utilize this technology to capture footage. As a result, the footage recorded can be shared and viewed consistently across multiple systems, with no need to worry about compatibility issues.

Streaming Video Services: Online streaming platforms like YouTube sometimes use CIF technology to transcode and standardize the video files uploaded to their servers. This ensures that the video playback is consistent across a wide range of devices and operating systems, without any compatibility issues, and makes it easier to stream content with low bandwidth requirements.

Common Intermediate Format FAQ

What is Common Intermediate Format (CIF)?

Common Intermediate Format (CIF) is a standardized video resolution format used in video encoding and video conferencing systems. It was developed to ensure compatibility between different video systems by specifying a standard resolution and aspect ratio.

What are the dimensions of a CIF video frame?

A video frame in Common Intermediate Format has a resolution of 352 pixels width by 288 pixels height. This yields an aspect ratio of 4:3, which is the same aspect ratio used in standard definition television (SDTV) broadcasts.

Why was the Common Intermediate Format created?

The CIF was created to simplify the process of video encoding and transmission in video conferencing systems, by providing a standardized resolution that can be used across different systems and devices. This reduces the need for complex format conversions and improves the compatibility between different video conferencing solutions.

In what applications is Common Intermediate Format used?

CIF is typically used in video conferencing systems and video encoding applications where compatibility and bandwidth efficiency are important factors. Many video codecs, such as H.261 and H.263, were designed to work well with CIF resolution, enhancing interoperability between different systems and devices.

What are the alternatives to Common Intermediate Format?

There are several alternative video resolutions that can also be used in video conferencing and encoding applications, such as QCIF (Quarter CIF, 176×144), 4CIF (4 times CIF, 704×576), or VGA (640×480). The choice of resolution depends on the specific requirements of the application, as higher resolutions typically require more processing power and bandwidth.

Related Technology Terms

  • Video Encoding
  • Resolution Conversion
  • Aspect Ratio
  • Image Scaling
  • Video Conferencing Standards

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