What is MP4? | MPEG-4 vs. MP4

MP4 is a commonly used file storage format. Video content within an MP4 file is encoded with a standard called MPEG-4.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • Identify the advantages of using MP4 for streaming
  • Understand the differences between MP4 and MPEG-4
  • Learn which streaming protocols are compatible with MP4

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What is MP4?

MP4 is a widely used multimedia file storage format used for storing video and streaming. It is an international standard that works with a vast range of devices.

MP4 refers to the digital container file that acts as a wrapper around the video, not the video itself. It contains compressed video data and other associated data necessary for playing the video.

During the encoding process, a video file is optimized for various platforms, programs, and devices. This involves both compressing (making the file smaller) and transcoding (changing the video format).

Compared to other video file types, MP4 files are typically more compressed and thus smaller. Since audio and video components are compressed separately, it has relatively high post-compression video quality.

What is the difference between MP4 and MPEG-4?

While the full name of the MP4 standard is MPEG-4 Part 14, the terms “MP4” and “MPEG-4” do not mean the same thing. MP4 is the digital container file and MPEG-4 is the standard for encoding the video content within MP4 files. The video content inside an MP4 file is encoded using the MPEG-4 standard.

As an example, consider a can of soda. The MP4 container is like the can that contains the beverage, while the MPEG-4 standard is like the soda inside the can. Just as someone might request a soda but really mean a can of soda, MP4 and MPEG-4 are sometimes used interchangeably when referring to an MP4 container file.

What are the advantages of using MP4?

  • MP4 has wide support for user devices (e.g. computers and smartphones), streaming services, and video editing software — this helps ensure compatibility with future devices and programs
  • It has relatively high post-compression video quality — while compressing a file usually results in a loss in video quality, the effect is minimal with MP4
  • Unlike many video file formats, MP4 works with HTML5, one of the most common methods for embedding video in webpages
  • MP4 can be used with multiple streaming protocols

Which online platforms support MP4?

Most platforms designed for uploading video files support the MP4 format, including YouTube and Vimeo. Wistia accepts MOV files but recommends using MP4 files.

Which streaming protocols can MP4 be used with?

Streaming allows a client device to play video from a server without downloading the whole video file. MP4 is compatible with many streaming protocols, including:

What are the alternatives to MP4?

Formats differ in their compatibility with platforms, browsers, and devices. MP4 alternatives include:

  • MOV — a proprietary Apple file format for QuickTime
  • WebM — open source and supported by Android devices
  • AVI — high video quality at the expense of file size

Is Cloudflare Stream compatible with MP4?

Cloudflare Stream, an on-demand video streaming platform, supports a wide range of video file formats, including MP4. Learn more about video storage, encoding, and signed tokens on Cloudflare Stream.