MPEG4 – it’s not all the same

This was originally published as part of an article ‘Digital Home Standards’ in Personal Computer World

MPEG4 – it’s not all the same

When you’re looking for media players, you’ll usually see a list of the support formats on the box, or the in-store information. And very often you’ll see ‘MPEG4’ listed as one type of video you can play back, alongside MPEG2. But beware – while MPEG2 video, used on DVD, is just one type of compression, the same’s not true of MPEG4.

For aficionados of high definition, MPEG4 probably means the H.264 codec used for high def discs, and satellite transmissions – and perhaps, in time, Freeview HD. Also known as the ‘Advanced Video Codec’ or MPEG4 Part 10, it’s becoming increasingly popular as the format supported by both PSP and iPods.

However, the 3GP format used by some mobile phone cameras, DiVX and XviD are also formats that come under the MPEG4 video umbrella – and those are about the only ones that some media players can manage.

If you’ve spent hours converting video to H.264 format for your iPod, or just want to be future-proof, don’t simply assume ‘MPEG4’ means a media player will handle the files; check for ‘H.264’, ‘MPEG4/AVC’, or ‘MPEG4.10’ before you part with your cash.

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