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Difference Between MPEG2 and MPEG4

mpeg-formatMPEG2 vs. MPEG4

The Moving Pictures Experts Group, or MPEG, is the body responsible for the standards that we often use for video encoding. MPEG2 is the standard that was created to encode high quality videos, meant to be used for the, then emerging, DVD media. MPEG4 was developed much later, as an encoding method for devices with limited resources. Portable devices, like media players and mobile phones, use this format, as well as online stores who provide the hiring of video and audio files.

MPEG4 is the preferred format for devices, as it yields a file that is under 1G for most full length movies. This is a far cry from MPEG2, which can only produce files with five times the size. Storing MPEG2 files will not be a problem on DVDs, as the usual DVD capacity is over 4GB, but is a major issue with portable devices. MPEG4 also made it practical to buy and download videos online, as MPEG2 videos are quite large, and take a long time to download. The small file size of MPEG4 files directly translates to a lower bandwidth needed, when streaming recorded or real-time videos through the internet.

Setting file size aside when considering the better format, MPEG2 wins hands-down, as it provides a far superior image quality. The difference in quality is minor when viewing the files through a tiny screen, like those installed in mobile phones and even netbooks, but when it comes to large displays, like most current HDTV displays, you can clearly notice the difference in the final picture. We can attribute this to the amount of data lost, since both MPEG2 and MPEG4 are compression methods that lose data. MPEG4 simply discards more information, which results in poorer picture.

MPEG2 compresses the video by discarding the information in portions of the image that do not change from one frame to another, and saving only the portions of the image where new information is added. The MPEG4 compression mechanism is a bit more complicated compared to that of MPEG2, as it needs better algorithms to scan and determine which pixels can be discarded, to reduce the data even further.


1. MPEG2 is the encoding method for DVDs, while MPEG4 is the encoding method of choice for portable devices and online use.

2. MPEG2 encoded video files are much bigger compared to MPEG4.

3. MPEG2 requires a lot more bandwidth for streaming compared to MPEG4.

4. MPEG2 produces the best video quality compared to MPEG4.

5. MPEG2′s compression is much simpler compared to MPEG4.

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  1. This article provides false information.

    MPEG4 was not developed for encoding method for devices with limited resources, it was developed for use with any devices.

    MPEG4 with appropriate codec will be better for any purpose (portable and HDTV media alike), providing higher quality for much lower bitrate.

    “MPEG2 wins hands-down, as it provides a far superior image quality.. HDTV displays, you can clearly notice the difference in the final picture” – completely false. Encode with the same settings and MPEG4 will be better for less size.

    The cost of MPEG4 compression is complexity and processing time, not the picture quality which is better compared to MPEG2.

    Strictly speaking, MPEG4 and MPEG2 are just containers, and H.264 transport stream can be incorporated inside MPEG2 providing the same quality as MPEG4 with size overhead.

  2. mp4 has a higher quality. MP4 is the backbone for cellphone videos and b-rays. very scalable.

  3. completely wrong!!!!

  4. mmm… i think i donĀ“t understand some responses..
    why do you say mp4 gives us a better image when it
    is a smaller archive?
    if it compresses more it give you less… am i wrong?

  5. Yep, you are wrong.

    If it compresses more it gives you more, because you can target the same size as old technology and get better picture, or you can target less size and still get the same quality.

    The poor quality picture you may see with some MP4 is just because people compressing it to the edge. Still you will get better quality than mpeg2 for half or less than mpeg2 file size. It’s people choice to encode it to lower quality, not codec fault.

    Btw. Blu-ray discs use Mpeg4/H264

  6. Yes, this article is completely wrong, and I encourage the author to update it in order to avoid spreading this wrong information.

    To clarify:
    mpeg-4 makes more efficient use of data than mpeg-2. mpeg-4 can achieve the same quality as mpeg-2, but requires less data to do so.

    However, for mpeg-4 to achieve this quality, it requires more CPU resource for both encoding and decoding.

    • Not necessarily it requires more CPU on decoding, especially on low profiles.

      It is important to understand that codec itself does not impose computational complexity, it just defines a contract between encoder and decoder.

      The contract is designed in such a way that in ~reasonable~ implementation, most complexity will fall on encoder – optimal MV search and so on. Decoding is mostly straightforward, actually comparable to MPEG2.

      As a corollary, compression quality is completely implementation dependent, with x264 leading the best video quality/compression ratios of all times. Some others, less hardware hungry, giving terrible results and lagging good MPEG2 implementations.

      There is nothing revolutionary in MP4, but with new H264 features it allows more fine-tuning, hence better compression.

      Good utilization of this tuning is expensive to compute, with known CPU/GPU algorithms. But it is very suitable for special-purpose hardware, especially on decoding side. As a matter of fact, even cheapest graphic chip-sets come today with hardware H264 decoders.

  7. So what’s better for converting DVDs, BDs, and ISOs for streaming to a new Samsung 4K TV??
    I’ve tried mp4, but the results are horrible.

    • Saying “I’ve tried mp4 but the results are horrible” is like saying “I’ve tried a computer but it did not work well”.

      Just to remind, BD itself is mp4. And people are doing smaller BD rips of exceptional quality.

  8. I too feel that the author is not correct. My observation is that 1080p videos of some of the current movies in mp4 format on Youtube are of stunning quality while the corresponding DVD videos are no where near.

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