Audio files come in many, many formats like MP3, WAV, FLAC. What file format your choose for your audio file is determined by more than just the audio player. For instance, there is a difference that has to be considered on whether to use lossless of lossy compressed audio files.
Lossless compressed audio
Lossless compressed audio is considered the audio form closest to the original sounds. When an audio file of your favourite band is created, you might think it consists of the sound of the vocalist, the guitarist, the bassist and the drummer, but there is more to it. Lossless means that every sound from the original take is still in the file, while still compressing the audio to a smaller file size.. The tracks on a music album, in their original form, take around 50MB of memory. A lossless compressed file contains more bits of audio data and clocks around 30MB per track. Compare that to the 4MB audio files that you know of regular audio files and you know exactly what the big difference between lossless and lossy compressed audio is.
Lossy compressed audio
This brings us to the other type of audio: lossy compressed audio. As the name indicates, these file are compressed in comparison to lossless audio files. When lossy compressed audio file are created, a process is used to discard sounds. The sounds that are left out are sounds a machine thinks the human ear cannot hear. This greatly reduces the amount of memory a track needs in order to store all its information in an audio file.
As a consequence, many people consider these audio file to be of lower quality because there are bits of the original audio missing. This is reflected by the bit rate. The more information that has been discarded from the track, the lower the bit rate. The lower the bit rare, the lower the audio quality.
The best sounding audio format
By now you have learned that for the highest quality, you will need lossless compressed audio files. Some of the best known lossless file formats are FLAC, WAV and AIFF. But which of the lossless formats delivers the best sound quality? The tracks on a music album are commonly PCM (Pulse-Coded Modulation) files. However, as been said above, these files tend to be quite large. So the music world has been looking for an answer, to make them easier to transfer.
When you ask the audiophiles, most of them will tell you that FLAC or WAV is a must. Flac retains the high quality sounds, but it still compresses the audio file by over 50%. Another advantage of the FLAC format is that it’s open source. This makes it compatible with a lot of devices and applications. WAV, like AIFF, is a wrapper for a PCM file. Wrapping PCM files make them more usable and enable you to play them on devices like Windows pc’s. WAV do not compress the files and leave the sound in tact.
Without a doubt are MPEG-4 part 14 and Matroska Video (or as most people know it: MP4 and MKV) the most popular video formats around. When it comes to choosing the appropriate file format for your own video files, a few things have to be considered in order to make a choice between MP4 and MKV.
Containers, not formats
Let’s start with bursting the myth around the assumption that both MP4 and MKV are video compression formats. They are simply not. They are what you call video containers. A video container, as the name implies, contains things a video needs in order to play properly on your tv or pc. They contain items like video codecs, audio codecs and even subtitles. Having them all in one file makes it easier to playback, but also enables the editor to choose methods to reduce file the file size. The editor might choose to reduce the video quality, but improve the audio quality.
MP4 and MKV being containers is important to remember because they might have a .mkv or .mp4 extension, they might have different video extensions for the video media inside the container.
Matroska Video, or MKV, is developed by Mastroska.org as an answer to replace the old AVI video format. The name is similar to that of the Russian ‘dolls’ called matryoshka. You know, the big doll that each container a smaller matryoshka doll. This is quite fitting, when you consider the fact the MKV is a container format. MKV video formats enable the user to capture endless amounts of video, audio and subtitle formats in one single file.
MKV and WebM files are related. WebM is a restricted version of MKV. The restriction is in the video codecs. WebM only allows the use of VP8 and VP9 codecs. In short, all WebM files are MKV, but not all MKV files are consistent with WebM
MPEG-4 part 14
MP4 is the probably the better known video format of the two. It is the standard output of many video camera’s and smartphones. Although MP4 is, similar to MKV, a container format, it offers a bit more restrictions in terms of encapsulating formats. For instance, MP4 doesn’t offer the possibility to embed ASS like MKV does.
So how to MP4 and MKV compare head to head? Check out the table below.
H.264, H.265, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4 …
H.264, H.265, Xvid, MPEG4, …
FLAC, ALAC, AC3, AAC, …
ALAC, MP3, AAC, …
ASS, SSA, …
Not ideal for mobile devices.
Ideal for mobile devices and pc
As has been said above, MKV has been developed to overthrow AVI. MP4, however, is the successor to the popular MPEG-1, MPEG-2 etc and has become the industry standard. Being the industry standard, MP4 has a much greater compatibility with videosoftware and video players. For instance, YouTube practically demands MP4 for uploads. This is the reason Iphones and Androids have chosen MP4 for their players. Third party software might still enable you to play MKV files on your smartphone though.
It’s worth noting that MP4 is controlled and patented by MPEG, while MKV is an open-source project. This makes licenses for players, editors and video software a lot easier.
So, which is better?
Both containers are similar, and the choice for video format lies in personal preference and usability. There is no clear difference in quality. The difference are less subtle than that. MP4 has broad browser, device and software support and are often smaller in file size compared to MKV. MKV, being open-source software, is much better supported in free software. It also supports practically all codecs and has better subtitle support. If you prefer Google’s latest codec VP9, you should go for MKV (or WebM). Do you want broad device support? Go for MP4.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does MP4 or MKV have better quality?
Both file formats support H.264 video codec. This means the quality of the video is similar. The difference are in the usability and functionality of the two container formats.
Is MKV open-source?
MKV is designed by Mastroska in order to replace the AVI format. Everything that has been used in creating the MKV format is patented, which means it can be used and distributed without licenses.
Does MP4 container support subtitles?
MP4 supports different subtitle formats, but not as many as MKV. MKV support ASS formats, whereas MP4 does not.
Ever wondered why the list of different filetypes is so exhaustive? It all starts with the software company’s desire to make the consumer dependable on their product. Take Photoshop PSD files. These files are created in the software by Adobe and enable to option to edit the layers of a project after saving. This automatically implicates that the user has to use Photoshop the next time he wants to continue or edit the project. But this also adds the necassity for other purchases, were the PSD file to be sent to another person. They would only be able to open the project file with Photoshop.
But why so many? Why does Microsoft Excel product XLS, XLSX, CSV and many more. Again, same reason: commercial purposes. Yes, of course the XLSX version has some compatibilities that are not available in the XLS version, but the main purpose is the repurchase of the Microsoft Excel project. Since the updated version (where XLSX format made his appearance) is backwards compatible with the older versions, but not the other way around, the consumer is eventually “forced” to purchase the updated version as everyone around him (especially in school or business markets) are starting to send in XLSX formats.
And so, almost every single utility produces their own special kind of output format. A big thank you to all the converter sites and software that can be found on our site. They make the world a bit easier in their own way!
Easily convert videos to HTML5 formats using Miro Video Converter
As a front-end developer I build websites that have videos on them quite regular. Not so long ago using flash or other plugins was the only real option to play videos on websites. Now with HTML5 videos browsers have added the possibility to stream videos to users without having to rely on flash. The newer modern browsers all support this however there is still a downside to this story. Not all browser support the same type of video files.
The W3C has listed the browsers below with the filetype they support:
NO Update: Firefox 21 running on Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Vista, and Android now supports MP4
Converting videos to all these sorts of file types was hard to do because not all converters support all the file types so I moved from converter to converter to convert my videos. With the help of Google I stumbled upon a converter I didn’t quite know yet: Miro Video Converter. This converter proved to be able to convert my videos to all the HTML5 file types. It also support a wide list of Android, Apple and other mobile devices. A full list can be found here . The software can be downloaded for free and is easy to use.