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MPEG-2 vs MPEG-4: Which Compression Offers Better Video Quality?

MPEG-2 vs MPEG-4 Explained

The main difference between MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 is video quality and file size. MPEG-2 offers video quality with large file sizes. With MPEG-4 file size is reduced but the video quality is lowered.

Let’s say you want to rip a DVD. In the video output option, you’ll be given a number of options under the output settings.

Among them are MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 videos.

You may be wondering which of the two you should choose.

If so, read on to find out the difference between MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 to help you make a decision.

First, let’s learn about MPEG-2 and then about MPEG-4 before we look at the facts of MPEG-2 vs MPEG-4.

Both are compression standards set by MPEG. MPEG stands for Moving Pictures Experts Group.

The ISO ( International Standards Organization) formed the group to set standards for AV compression and transmission.

MPEG-2

MPEG-2 compression was developed by MPEG in 1995. It was an improvement on MPEG-1.

MPEG-2 uses lossy compression to reduce video and audio file sizes.

MPEG-2 is an improvement on MPEG-1 which compressed video at a maximum bitrate of 1.5MBps.

Also known as H.262, MPEG-2 supports bitrates ranging from around 2 to 30 Mbps. 

MPEG-2 compression works well for progressive and interlaced video. 

MPEG-2 Uses

MPEG-2 is the preferred video coding standard for DVDs. It’s also used in Blu-ray for its ability to support high video bitrates.

MPEG-2 for DVD and digital TV broadcast

MPEG-2 is also used for digital television broadcasts. This would include SDTV and HDTV broadcasts over terrestrial, satellite, or cable TV networks.

To a limited degree, they have been used for live and prerecorded video streaming over broadband Internet.

MPEG-2 Advantages

The main advantage of MPEG-2 compression is video quality.

You would have noticed this with DVD videos and digital television broadcasts.

MPEG-2 Compression

MPEG2 compresses video by examining every frame. It removes information that doesn’t change from one frame to another. It saves only parts of the image when new information is introduced.

MPEG-2 Extensions

File extensions associated with MPEG-2 include .mpg, .mp2, .m2v, .mpeg, and mp3.

MPEG-2 Disadvantages

There’s a price to be paid though for video quality. MPEG-2 comes with large file sizes.

MPEG-4

MPEG-4 was introduced in 1999. It was mainly developed for the transmission of video over the Internet.

MPEG-4 for Internet video and  video for portable devices

MPEG-4 compression is also suitable for video playback on portable devices like mobile phones.

MPEG-4 Compression

MPEG-4 compression works in a more sophisticated way compared to MPEG-2.

It needs to undertake complicated scanning of each frame to determine which pixels it can remove to reduce the amount of data in a frame.

MPEG-4 Extensions

MPEG-4 files carry any of the following extensions – .mp4, .m4a, .m4b (audiobook), .m4r, and so on.

MPEG-4 Advantage

Owing to MPEG-4’s sophisticated compression technology video can be reduced to smaller sizes.

Smaller-size video files are suitable for transmission over the Internet and for playback on portable devices like smartphones.

MPEG-4 Disadvantage

In order for file size to be reduced, a lower bitrate has to be employed.

The lower the bitrate, the lower the quality.

This may not be evident when the video is played back on smaller screens. But the difference in quality can be telling on larger displays.

MPEG-2 vs MPEG-4 Summary

  • MPEG-2 videos offer better quality than MPEG-4.
  • MPEG-2 compression is used for DVDs and digital television broadcasts. MPEG-4 compression is used for video on portable devices and web streaming.
  • MPEG-2 videos have larger file sizes than MPEG-4 videos.
  • MPEG-2 videos take up a larger bandwidth compared to MPEG-4.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is MPEG-4 the Same as MP4?

MPEG-4 is a video codec. It compresses video to smaller sizes for playback online and on portable devices. MP4 is a container format. It accepts video encoded in MPEG-4 and also other compression formats and it can also accept images and subtitles.

Read more about the difference between MPEG-4 and MP4.

Which is better? H.264 or MPEG-4?

H.264 offers better compression efficiency. It is up to twice as efficient as MPEG-4.
You can record about twice as much data as MPEG-4 and yet maintain video quality.

Does MPEG-4 have Audio?

Yes, MPEG-4 audio is known as the M4A format. The format usually comes with the .m4a extension.

The format is popularly used for audiobooks and podcasts.

There’s also the M4P audio format available over iTunes and Apple Music. It comes with Apple Fairplay DRM, though.

References

MPEG Official Website.

Digital Video: An Introduction to MPEG-2
By Barry G. Haskell, Atul Puri, Arun N. Netravali

The MPEG-4 Book
By Fernando C. N. Pereira, Fernando Manuel

Understanding MPEG 4: Technology and Business Insights
By Sebastian Moeritz, Klaus Diepold

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