It’s 2023, and video content has become the default online interaction and entertainment format. As we navigate this digital landscape, two widely used video formats stand out: AVI (Audio Video Interleave) and MP4 (MPEG-4). These formats have distinct features and advantages that cater to varying needs, making them suitable for different scenarios.

Each format has its own capabilities, advantages, drawbacks, and best use cases. As web developers or content creators, choosing the right one can make or break the overall video experience for your user.

So let’s dive right into the world of AVI and MP4, shedding light on how to make an informed choice between the two.

An Introduction To AVI and MP4

AVI (Audio Video Interleave) is a multimedia container format developed by Microsoft in 1992 as part of the Video For Windows suite for video editing and playback on Windows-based systems. AVI stores data in a container format that holds video and audio streams and metadata in one file for synchronous playback. The `.avi` file extension identifies AVI files.

The popularity of AVI stems from its early adoption as a commonly used video format before other alternatives became available in the market.

MP4, on the other hand, is a more recent technology than AVI. MP4 is an abbreviation for MPEG-4 Part 14, where MPEG stands for Moving Picture Experts Group, which defines a set of standards for video compression. It was developed in 2003 to improve the older standard, MPEG-4 Part 12, based on the QuickTime File Format and produced collaboratively by the ISO/IEC and Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG). MP4 files are identified by the `.mp4` or `.m4v` file extension, though technically `.3gp` files being part of the MPEG-4 Part 12 specification, are very similar, and could also be counted.

Similar to AVI, MP4 also stores video and audio data in a container, but it goes a step further by being capable of accommodating other data, such as subtitles and still images.

Both formats, AVI and MP4, continue to enjoy support on many devices. Despite being an older technology, AVI is still utilized in various scenarios. When deciding which video format suits your needs best, understanding the apparent differences and characteristics between the two can be beneficial.

Let's compare the two for some critical features.

AVI Vs. MP4: Comparing the Characteristics and Differences

Video Compression AVI is an older specification that cannot use any frame data beyond the current frame for compression (So no lookahead B-frame compression techniques, without going off-spec and sacrificing compatibility). For this reason, AVI has less compression potential. MP4 is a modern format that can incorporate I-Frame (intra-coded), P-frame (predicted), and B-frame (bidirectional predicted) compression strategies, leading to more compression potential.
File Size The lower compression potential of AVI leads to video files being larger in size. (Approximately 2-3 GB per minute of video.) MP4 supports more advanced/efficient video codecs that offer better compression, resulting in smaller file sizes without sacrificing video quality. (Approximately 300-500 MB per minute of video, for the same quality.)
Quality While quality is dependent on the codecs used, less compression means slightly better image quality, though this comes at the expense of larger file sizes. For similar compression settings, the image quality of MP4 files is comparable in quality, if slightly worse.
Platform and Device Compatibility AVI being an older standard, is only guaranteed compatibility on Microsoft platforms and devices. The real value of AVI, however, lies in its extensive legacy compatibility (older DVD players, workstations, and so on) which may not support modern formats like MP4. Near-universal compatibility. Supported on almost all contemporary platforms and devices.
Codecs Not limited in choice of codec. However, AVI being an older standard is mostly associated with older codecs like DivX, XviD, Cinepak, Indeo Video, MJPEG, etc MP4 is associated with pretty much all modern codecs like H264, H265, VP9, AV1, etc.
Audio Formats Supported AVI being an older specification supports fewer audio codecs than a modern format like MP4. It also has issues incorporating variable bitrate (VBR) audio streams without desync issues.
But the real value of AVI lies in its support for Uncompressed PCM audio, guaranteeing stellar audio quality for even legacy devices.
Supports pretty much all modern audio codecs without issues.
While it also supports uncompressed audio, the lack of legacy compatibility holds it back in niche use cases.
Players Supported AVI files are well-supported by Windows Media Player (which is available on most Windows-based devices), and most third-party players like VLC Player, KMPlayer, etc.
However, on macOS and certain mobile devices, AVI files might require additional codecs or specialized players for smooth playback.
Compatibility of the AVI format for web video players is limited. It is not natively supported on the HTML5 specification, which favors MP4 (H.264) and WEBM (VP9).
Near-universal compatibility, whether hardware, software, or web-based players.

AVI vs. MP4: Pros and Cons

Let's discuss the pros and cons of both video formats. This should help you decide what is best for your use case.

AVI (Audio Video Interleave):


  1. High Quality: Due to its lower compression potential for video and support for uncompressed PCM audio, AVI videos maintain excellent video and audio quality. It is well-suited for creating shorter (<60 seconds) promotional material, presentations, and ads where visual fidelity is crucial, and keeping file sizes small isn’t as large a concern.
  2. Wide Codec Support: AVI enjoys universal codec support, whether DivX/XviD for legacy applications or H.264 for the modern day.
  3. Legacy compatibility: AVI is well-suited for legacy platforms and devices such as old Windows-based PCs, older DVD players, and standalone devices, as long as you’re not using compression techniques that go off the AVI specification. Then, compatibility is up in the air.
  4. No licensing fees: While AVI is not an open format, it is free, with no licensing fees.


  1. Large File Size: Lower compression potential for its video stream, unfortunately, means that one of the biggest drawbacks of AVI is its larger file size compared to modern formats, for only marginally better image quality. This can lead to storage and bandwidth issues.
  2. Issues with VBR Audio: VBR (variable bitrate) audio can be problematic with AVI files, causing desynchronization between video and audio streams. AVI is an older standard and relies on a simple index to locate different parts of the audio and video data in the file. With VBR audio (where the bit rate can vary from moment to moment), this affects synchronization, and seeking a specific time in the audio only accentuates the issue.
  3. Streaming is impossible: Multiple issues cause AVI not to be compatible with streaming video. Lack of metadata compared to MP4 and larger file sizes are the biggest blockers, but another critical issue is that modern streaming protocols – HTTP Live Streaming (HLS)  and Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH) – do not support the AVI container at all.

MP4 (MPEG-4 Part 14):


  1. Can Contain Multiple Tracks: MP4 files can contain multiple tracks, such as video, audio, subtitles, and even Timed Metadata Tracks (as part of the MPEG-4 Part 17 (ISO/IEC 14496-17) standard) – which are used to store any data (text or image) associated with a specific timestamp. This can be used to add chapters, or timestamp-triggered ads, for example.
  2. Supports many embedded metadata: The MP4 container can embed all kinds of metadata, including even JPEG/PNG/PDF.
  3. Wide Platform Support: MP4 is almost universally compatible with various devices and operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
  4. Streaming-Friendly: Due to its smaller file size, being part of the native HTML5 video specification, and being the container of choice for HLS and DASH (including adaptive streaming), MP4 is the de-facto format for streaming video.
  5. Multiple Codec Support: MP4 supports all modern video and audio codecs, providing flexibility in choosing the appropriate codec for different purposes.
  6. Native Subtitle Support: MP4 has native subtitle support, meaning creators no longer have to hardcode subtitles into the video like with AVI.


  1. Compatibility on Older Devices: While the MP4 container is widely supported, legacy devices or media players may be limited in playing certain MP4 files with newer codecs or compression techniques. This is where ImageKit – a cloud-based digital asset management, optimization, and transformation service – can help.

    Using ImageKit, you upload your video files to its Media Library, and ImageKit’s automatic format conversion feature automatically converts them to the best-fit format as they are served to your viewers, based on which platform they are on. Fast, secure conversions, protected by per-file private access control and the option only to allow signed requests. You achieve this with a simple toggle in your ImageKit dashboard, with no code, additional infrastructure, or software downloads needed to cater to legacy devices.

    Then you can copy out the video URIs from your ImageKit Media Library, and embed them wherever you need. Using ImageKit's Transformations API, you can even customize videos according to your specific needs, tweaking resolution, bitrate, frame rate, and aspect ratio as needed.
  2. Licensing and Patents: While MP4 is an open format, it is not free. Its Video licensing (for manufacture of devices, as well as for playback) is managed by MPEG LA LLC, while its Audio licensing (for manufacture only) is managed by Via Licensing Corporation an independent subsidiary of Dolby Laboratories.

AVI Vs. MP4: Best Use Cases

Here are some of the best use cases for the two video formats. This should help you choose the right format for the right purpose:

AVI is best suited for:

  1. Creating high-quality promotional videos and commercials: AVI is best suited for creating them due to its minimal compression and support for uncompressed PCM audio, ensuring high fidelity for both.
  2. Educational, Research, and Non-profit: AVI is a free format with no licensing fees or patents to manage. This makes it ideal for educational, research, and non-profit sectors, particularly for archiving and preserving historical audio and video content.
  3. Legacy Platforms: AVI has existed since the early '90s and is widely supported by older systems, devices, and media players. AVI could be a suitable option if an application or platform needs to cater to legacy hardware or software that may not support more modern video formats.

MP4 is best suited for:

  1. Online video streaming: MP4 is the most popular format for streaming video content over the internet for its great file size-to-image quality ratio, extensive codec support, extensive metadata support, and adaptive streaming compatibility. Major streaming platforms like YouTube, Netflix, and Vimeo use MP4 to deliver videos to users across different devices and network conditions.
  2. Mobile and low-powered devices: MP4 is the preferred format for videos (both native and web) on smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices due to its native compatibility and efficient compression, allowing users to store and stream videos with minimal system resources, storage, and data usage needed.
  3. Video Marketing and Advertising: MP4 is commonly used for embedding videos on websites and in online advertisements due to its small file size, widespread support, and adaptive streaming that ensures that the content can be easily displayed on varied websites and devices, leading to maximized reach and engagement.
  4. User-Generated Content: MP4's widespread support on both user devices and host platforms ensures that it remains the best choice for storing (and streaming) user-generated content on forums, social media, Twitch, and so on.
  5. E-Learning and Training: MP4’s extended metadata and interactivity (the ability to include video, audio, images, subtitles, and other multimedia elements within the same file and have it be synced to timestamps using Timed Metadata Tracks) allows e-learning platforms to create engaging and interactive learning experiences that combine multiple audiovisual elements.

The future of AVI and MP4

While AVI remains relevant due to zero licensing fees and legacy compatibility, the current universal popularity of MP4 is undeniable.

With the emergence of low-latency video streaming and advanced compression technologies like HEVC (High-Efficiency Video Coding) and AV1, the industry is witnessing a shift from AVI towards formats like MP4, WEBM, and OGG. These offer better compression and improved video quality and are designed to cater to the growing demand for low-latency, high-definition, metadata-rich content, especially on streaming platforms.

So yes, the adoption of AVI has stagnated for natural reasons because of how old the specification is, but its role in legacy applications, non-profit and educational ventures, and archiving raw footage looks to sustain its usage for some time safely.


AVI offers distinct advantages over MP4 in specific scenarios – its support for uncompressed audio and wide codec compatibility ensures high-quality video and audio, making it suitable for short-form content where visual fidelity matters most. Additionally, AVI's legacy compatibility with older devices and platforms is valuable, and no licensing fees are a significant benefit.

However, the trade-offs are apparent, as AVI suffers from larger file sizes and issues with VBR audio, leading to potential storage and bandwidth problems and desynchronization concerns. Its incompatibility with streaming protocols like HLS and DASH also limits its use for online video distribution compared to MP4.

In conclusion, while AVI remains relevant for certain applications, MP4's efficient compression, near-universal compatibility – particularly with mobile and other low-powered devices – and support for modern streaming technologies make it the preferred choice for widespread distribution and online sharing.