What is MP4?

MP4 Information

MP4 is an abbreviated term for MPEG-4 Part 14. It may also be referred to as MPEG-4 AVC, which stands for Advanced Video Coding. As the name suggests, this is a format for working with video files and was first introduced in 1998. The ‘MPEG’ refers to Motion Pictures Expert Group who are responsible for setting the industry standards regarding digital audio and video.

MP4 works in a similar although much more complex way to MP3s, by compressing the files without losing any of the quality. MP3 technology revolutionised the way in which music and audio files are used and it’s looking like the MP4 format will do the same for the video market.

The MP4 is a container format, allowing a combination of audio, video, subtitles and still images to be held in the one single file. It also allows for advanced content such as 3D graphics, menus and user interactivity.

How It MP4 Works

Traditionally video files were of a substantial size. By converting them to the MP4 format, any unnecessary information, undetectable to the viewer, is stripped out, leaving the files a much more manageable size. It’s all down to compression and decompression techniques – more commonly known as codecs.

MP4s allow for streaming via the internet, which means the content can be watched in real time as it downloads as well as being saved on a hard drive. There are many portable MP4 players available, although the content can also be watched through hooking up to a television, one of the more novelty devices such as a watch or simply through your PC or laptop. MP4 players are also capable of playing the lower MP versions such as MPEG-2, which is the earlier video standard and MP3 audio files, which are officially named MPEG-1 level 3. The format MP3 doesn’t actually exist and is simply the file extension used for the standard! The file extension associated with MPEG-14 format is .mp4, although sometimes the extension .mp4a is used referring to audio content, or .mp4v, referring to video.

MP4 format gives a high quality output, equal to that of DVD. With the high-speed broadband connections now available, videos can be quickly and easily downloaded from the internet. This does, however, give rise to concerns over piracy issues similar to that experienced by the music industry over MP3s, as illegal copies of movies are widely available for download on the internet, through websites such as those using bit torrent technology. MP4 format videos on sites such as these will be named as Xvid or DivX.

The format has many advantages and is not only confined to the illegal side of things. Many websites use the technology to incorporate short pieces of video to their pages and in the business world it is an invaluable tool for advertising and promotion via the web. For the general user watching and sharing files has never been easier.

Will the older MP formats become obsolete? Not necessarily. The MP4 technology is undoubtedly better quality than its predecessors; however, for activities such as listening to music on the move, MP3 players are a lot smaller and more portable. The MP4 format is expandable, meaning it can be adapted in the future to allow for new technologies, so will be around yet for quite a while!