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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.

  9. I am a audio and video system designer. I challenge you to do your own test on which picture (Video) is best. Which is better MPEG2 (HD-DVD) or MPEG4 (BLU-RAY). Side by side comparison using the same display (Samsung 4K, UN78HU9000), same movie (300), same HDMI cables (AudioQuest Carbon 2 meter), obvisouly different players (format). Conclusion you will get better picture quality playing movie on the HD-DVD format. Why? MPEG2 uses less compression on HD-DVD format than MPEG4 on BLU-RAY format. (SIDE NOTE: By the way, the only reason why Sony won the format was due to Warner Bros dropping HD-DVD format and the release of the PS3.) Bottom line when you compress video, audio, or anything, you remove information from the mastered original. Thinking logically, when you subtract something from the original, how does that make it better. You want to hear and see high quality audio and video come by any Magnolia Design Center.

  10. There are many things wrong in your reply.

    First, regarding HD-DVD, as a video systems designer you should know that HD-DVD supports H.264 (part of MP4), so BLU-RAY vs HD-DVD is completely irrelevant to the discussion, those are just containers.

    The discussion is about MPEG4 vs MPEG2. Both use quite similar algorithms but H.264 gives more efficient ways to compress, just as an example motion vector resolution. Think logically, H.264 is capable to do exactly the same thing as MPEG2 and just has more options and possibilities to utilize redundancy and controlled loss.

    If you are video system designer you should know that H.264 supports any range of compression up to lossless. For example MPEG-2 lossless and MPEG-4 lossless would make the same quality picture, equal to original. So your comment about “more compression” is a non-sense, it depends on particular compression parameters.

    You compared particular instance which was compressed more, so it is comparing oranges to apples.

    The quality also depends a lot on the encoder, which you even don’t mention.

    Given the SAME compression level, equal target file size and proper parameters, X.264 encoder will beat any MPEG-2 encoder.

    Mpeg4 codec gives AT LEAST the same quality as MPEG2 for the same file size. Of course if you use mediocre H.264 encoder and super quality MPEG2 encoder, the results may differ. Compare things of the same level.

  11. you all left me so confused…………. now I don’t know, I got a company who is charging me money because I bought 2000 android tablets from china they claim that my device is part of MPEG2 systems and that I have to pay around 0.25 cents, how can I know if they are right? I ll always appreciate your response

  12. I am no expert, but I agree with this. MPEG2 is an older format, and has limited option, both in the encoder and decoder. MPEG was designed to standardize video (encoding) format standards, thus does not encompass the emerging new standards of today. To readily compare MPEG2 to MP4 would be slightly skewed. MP4 contains more (container) option and wider format standards than MPEG2. Also they use different compression algorithms, the only true comparisons would be image quality to file size ratio using same setting for frame size, frame rate, for NTSC or PAL standards.

    From personal experience I find the MP4 to be visually more pleasant for online streaming, and the image quality is superior not due to MP4 but due to better frame size (1280×720) compared to (720×480), which allows more pixel depth, which yields less video blocking, smoother motion transfers and better color matching.

    So in a nut shell, MP4 would visually appear better because

    1. Higher frame sizes (1280, 1440, 1600, 1920 as compared to just 720) and HD-DVD standards were never finalize

    2. More modern encoder (container) option
    3. Better hardware support
    4. Better vendor support.
    5. Better standardize standards

  13. Please make it clear! I used to watch various FTA TV channels through Mpeg2 decoder, since the end of March I don’t access most of them the reason is being said that most stations have shifted from Mpeg2 to Mpeg4! How shall we!

  14. Darknight, like you note, the comparison should be done on compressed size / picture quality under the same settings and H264 wins both hands with descent encoder (and now there is H265 which has potential to be almost twice better than H264!).

    However, this has nothing to do with dimensions because there is no is no such 720 limit in MPEG2. This was the limit of DVD-Video container standard which used MPEG2 as codec but has nothing to do with limits of MPEG2 itself.

    They use not so different algorithms. Rather, H264 improves and refines similar algorithms. In some sense, MPEG2 is a subset of H264, so of course H264 is superior because it can do at least exactly the same and more.

    • I agreed with you, but my observations were based on the restriction applied for DVD Standards,and not necessarily mpeg2 itself. To be fair most software manufacturers limit there software to supported DVD Standards, to use non-standard mpeg2 on a computer requires licenses and codecs to support the non-standard mpeg2 file. I use Pinnacle Studio Versin 12 and that software only supports standard DVD formats and frame sizes, (720*480, 352^480 for NTSC), even though my capture card can capture (1920*1080), I know that newer version of Pinnale support higher frame sizes but those are direct at Blu-ray and not DVD, since HD-DVD never made the grade, and to create video on DVD which is strict on the formats to allow to play on desktop DVD players. For the internet mpeg2 in it’s large file size makes it a poor choice for streaming, thus MP4 wins. I have mpeg2 files in 1920*1080 and they are gorgeous, but at a 10gb – 12gb file sizes most medium to low end software editing tools just cannot handle, besides my pinnacle studio 12 has major issues supporting mp4 even with licensed codecs installed.

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