MPEG is short for the Moving Pictures Experts Group who is responsible for the video encoding standards that we often use. Both MPEG2 and MPEG4 codec are widely used audio/video compression standards in many multimedia applications, ranging from mobile devices to DVD players.
What is MPEG2?
MPEG-2 coding format which was developed in 1995 was commonly applied to digital television broadcast, DVD, VCD and similar discs. It uses lossy compression techniques for audio and video files, to substantially reduce file sizes.
What is MPEG4?
MPEG-4 which was created in 1998 was mainly developed with the aim of achieving higher compression, lower bandwidth while providing superior audio and image quality compared to the earlier MPEG-2 format. In brief, its goal is to gain better picture and audio quality with smaller file size. It was specifically developed for mobile devices and online streaming or transmission. Most modern video codecs are based on MPEG4 like DivX and Xvid.
Differences between MPEG2 and MPEG4
MPEG2 vs MPEG4 – Application
MPEG2 is the encoding method used for television broadcast and DVDs, while MPEG4 coding standard is primarily applied to portable devices and Internet streaming.
MPEG2 vs MPEG4 – Filename Extensions
MPEG2: .mpg, .mpeg, .m2v, .mp2, mp3 are some of a number of filename extensions used MPEG-2 audio and video file formats.
MPEG4: .mp4, .m4a, .m4b, .m4r, .m4v are some file extensions of MPEG4 video/audio.
MPEG2 vs MPEG4 – Compression
Video or audio compression is all about maintaining the same audio or video quality in lesser number of bits. In this respect, MPEG4 is much more compressed than MPEG2 because of the superior compression algorithm used.
MPEG2 vs MPEG4 - File Size
MPEG4 encodes video files with much smaller size as it can produce a full-length movie file less than 1G while MPEG2 can only yield movie files with 5 times the size. You can store MPEG2 files on DVDs for many DVD capacity is larger than 4 GB, but it is not applicable to portable devices. On the other hand, MPEG4 is smaller and makes it possible to buy and download videos online.
MPEG2 vs MPEG4 – Quality
MPEG2 produces flawless quality compared to MPEG4 but it is not made for multimedia applications or online streaming. Its large size makes it impractical for network streaming. While MPEG4 provides better video audio quality when streamed online.
MPEG2 vs MPEG4 – Bit Rate & Bandwidth
MPEG4 is aimed at low bit-rate video transmission. Files encoded in MPEG4 format have a much lower bit rate ranging from a few kilobytes per second to megabytes per second while MPEG2 is tens megabytes per second. MPEG2 requires much more bandwidth when streaming recorded or real-time videos online compared to MPEG4 because of its large size.
Summary: In conclusion, compared to MPEG-2, MPEG-4 is a far more versatile encoding format overall for its higher compression, smaller size and extensive applications, so ripping DVD to MPEG4 would be a good choice. Anyway, both MPEG2 and MPEG4 are popular formats used in different domains. Which one is more suitable for you is depend on your specific demands.
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I've recorded a couple of shows from two TV providers but one is MPEG-4 and the other is MPEG-2.
Here's some data (from MediaInfo):
TV provider #1 is on top and provider #2 is on the bottom.
Show #1 (SD)
1006 Kbps, 480x480 @ 29.970 FPS, AVC (Component) (Main@L3.0) (CABAC / 4 Ref Frames)
3148 Kbps (15.0 Mbps), 704x480 @ 29.970 fps, MPEG Video (NTSC) (Version 2)(Main@Main)(BVOP)
Show #2 (SD)
1495 Kbps, 480*480, AVC (Component) (High@L3.0) (CABC / 4 Ref Frames)
2818 Kbps (15.0 Mbps), 704x480, MPEG Video (Version 2) (Main@Main) (BVOP)
Show #3 (HD)
3447 Kbps, 1280x720 @ 59.940 fps, AVC (Component) (High@L4.0) (CABAC / 4 Ref Frames)
20 Mbps, 1280x720 @ 59.940 fps, MPEG Video (Version 2) (Main@High) (BVOP)
Show #4 (HD)
3953 Kbps, 1440x1080 @ 29.970 fps, AVC (Component) (High@L4.0) (CABAC / 3 Ref Frames)
12.9 Mbps (80.0 Mbps), 1920x1080 @ 29.970 fps, MPEG Video (Version 2) (Main@High) (BVOP)
The first thing to notice is the resolution is higher on provider #2 (bottom) in most cases. Even one of the HD channels is full 1080i as opposed to 1440x1080i.
Is it possible to analyze which one is "better" based off this data?