MOV vs. MP4 | Video file formats

Both MP4 and MOV use MPEG-4 video encoding, but MP4 has wider support across more devices.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • Understand what digital container files are
  • Learn about MOV and MP4 files, and the differences between them
  • See which platforms support which file types

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What is MP4?

MP4 is a multimedia file storage format used for storing video. MP4 is widely used and works with a vast range of devices. Technically, an MP4 is a digital container file, which means it contains compressed video data and other associated data necessary for playing the video, but the MP4 is only a wrapper around the video, not the video itself.

MP4 files are typically more compressed and thus smaller than other video file types. The video content within MP4 files is encoded with MPEG-4, a common encoding standard.

What is MOV?

MOV is another type of digital container file for videos and other multimedia. Apple developed MOV for use with the Apple QuickTime Player. Like MP4 files, MOV videos are encoded with the MPEG-4 codec.

What is a digital container file?

A digital container file (not to be confused with container computing) is a wrapper for data and metadata that belong together. Think of it as a filing cabinet, with different digital container formats (such as MOV or MP4) representing filing cabinets of different sizes that organize their files in different ways.

For instance, a typical MP4 file contains video tracks, audio tracks, and metadata about both. "Metadata" is information about the data that helps computers find the right data – just as a library card catalog offers information about a book but is not the book itself. It can also contain images and subtitles.

What are the differences between MOV and MP4?

The main difference between these two container formats is that MOV is a proprietary Apple file format for QuickTime, while MP4 is an international standard. Most streaming platforms recommend the use of MP4 files instead of MOV, since MP4 files work with more streaming protocols.

MP4 are typically more compressed and smaller in size, while MOV files are often higher in quality and larger in size. MOV files are better for video editing on a Mac, since they're specifically designed for QuickTime.

Which online platforms support MOV and MP4?

Most platforms for uploading video files for online distribution support both formats, although they may recommend converting to MP4 before uploading. YouTube and Vimeo accept both MOV and MP4 files, as well as other file formats. Wistia accepts MOV files but recommends using MP4 files.

Which video file format does Cloudflare Stream support?

Cloudflare Stream also supports both MOV and MP4 formats. Cloudflare Stream is an on-demand video streaming platform that leverages the Cloudflare global network, which spans 320 cities in more than 120 countries, for fast and efficient video distribution. Cloudflare Stream includes video storage, encoding, and a customizable player for embedded video.

The full list of video file formats that Cloudflare Stream supports is: MP4, MKV, MOV, AVI, FLV, MPEG-2 TS, MPEG-2 PS, MXF, LXF, GXF, 3GP, WebM, MPG, and QuickTime.

Once a video is uploaded, Cloudflare Stream encodes it with H.264, which is compatible with both HLS and MPEG-DASH, with adaptive streaming levels from 360p to 1080p. Learn more about Cloudflare Stream.