What is the difference between MPEG2 and MPEG4?

Posted on 2006-05-15
Last Modified: 2008-02-01
Hi Everyone:

       I have a friend who will be getting a digital camera which will also capture live audio video data.  One format for saving the multimedia stream is MPEG4.  While I am somewhat familiar with MPEG2, I am not sure about MPEG4.  How is this format different from MPEG2?

      Any followups to this question will be appreciated.  

      Thank you

Question by:GMartin
    LVL 45

    Accepted Solution

    Hi George,

    Mpeg2 has better picture quality but consumes more bandwidth, i.e. heavier file size ...
    Mpeg4 has relatively inferior picture quality but file size is less too ... Aim of Mpeg4 is to provied Mpeg2 type of quality while comsuming lesser bandwidth making it more suitable to transfer across networks ... It is still evolving in that direction

    LVL 10

    Assisted Solution


    MPEG-4 is an ISO/IEC standard developed by MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group), the committee that also developed the Emmy Award winning standards known as MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. These standards made interactive video on CD-ROM and Digital Television possible. MPEG-4 is the result of another international effort involving hundreds of researchers and engineers from all over the world. MPEG-4, whose formal ISO/IEC designation is ISO/IEC 14496, was finalized in October 1998 and became an International Standard in the first months of 1999. The fully backward compatible extensions under the title of MPEG-4 Version 2 were frozen at the end of 1999, to acquire the formal International Standard Status early in 2000. Some work, on extensions in specific domains, is still in progress.

    MPEG-4 builds on the proven success of three fields:

    Digital television;
    Interactive graphics applications (synthetic content);
    Interactive multimedia (World Wide Web, distribution of and access to content)
    MPEG-4 provides the standardized technological elements enabling the integration of the production, distribution and content access paradigms of the three fields.


    Basically, MPEG2 and MPEG4 are different types of codecs.

    MPEG2 is the standard for DVD's. MPEG4 seems to be a standard that includes a wide variety of codecs, including Apple Quicktime.

    You can't really compare quality to one another... it depends on what bitrate each video is encoded at.

    Generally, MPEG2 on DVD's are encoded in very high bitrates, which means very high quality. MPEG4 seems to be mostly used for videos found on the Internet... and the quality can be very good if the bitrate is high.

    LVL 10

    Assisted Solution

    Both MPEG2 and MPEG4 are lossy compression types.

    While MPEG2 is just one codec, MPEG4 is the base of many codecs, including 3ivx, DivX, XviD, H.264, ASF, and WMV.
    LVL 70

    Assisted Solution

    Hi George,

    To keep this simple -- they are simply different compression algorithms;  with MPEG-4 supporting a much higher level of compression.

    MPEG-2 is the standard used for DVDs.   MPEG-4 is used (among other things) for portable media, since it can compress to much smaller file sizes.

    Neither is "better" -- they are focused on different objectives, and each accomplishes that pretty well.  As was mentioned above, the quality of any lossy compression scheme depends on two things:  the characteristics of the compression algorithm (MPEG-2, MPEG-4, etc.) and the selected bit rate.   In practice MPEG-2 generally results in better quality, but it requires higher bit rates to achieve this.   Since MPEG-4 is targeted at more portable applications, however, videos compressed with this are generally viewed on smaller screens -- so they are often perceived as "just as good" as DVDs.   If you compare them on large screen TVs, however, you'll see the difference.
    LVL 70

    Expert Comment

    ... one final comment on this:   Any lossy compression scheme generates what are referred to as "artifacts" ==> visual flaws that are a result of the compression algorithm (or in the case of an audio compression - like MP3 - audible flaws).   In the ongoing debate between Blu-Ray and HD DVD, the Blu-Ray advocates insist that high bit-rate MPEG-2 produces fewer artifacts than high bit-rate MPEG-4 based compressors.   Most reviews I've read agree this is the case (although the HD DVD advocates insist that's just a matter of refining the algorithms).   As you might suspect from what I just said, Blu-Ray is based on MPEG-2;  HD DVD is based on MPEG-4 :-)

    In other words, the answer to your question is what I first said:   They're simply different compression algorithms.

    LVL 44

    Assisted Solution

    For complete compatibility to files that can be played on Media Player, or burned to DVD, stick with MPEG2 format.  Right now Mpeg4 is not a widely accepted standard for any DVD burning, so most apps not support it.  If you look at situation again in maybe 2 years, Mpeg 4 might be tops, but right now, Mpeg 2 is the standard for all playable Mpeg files and DVD burning files or CD burning files, or for video playback.
    LVL 18

    Assisted Solution


    Motion Picture Experts Group - A digital file format using compression to store movie files.
    Very deep FAQ on MPEG-1 , MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. Reely deep.


    Author Comment

    Hi Everyone:

           Thanks so much for the information.  I found each expert's shared views on this thread to be interesting and thought provoking.  I greatly appreciate the point of mpeg2 being the standard for DVD playback, and not mpeg4.  Additionally, the clarifications made regarding the fundamental differences between these codecs also helped clear up some confusion about the multimedia file types.  

           Many thanks once again everybody for giving me a better understanding of mpeg2 and mpeg4.


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