Have you ever wondered about the differences between MKV and MP4 video files? You may have seen these two formats when downloading or streaming videos online or exporting or converting videos on your computer. But do you know what they stand for, how they work, and which is better for your needs?
MKV and MP4 are video file formats that can store video, audio, and other data in a single file. However, they are not the same and have different features, advantages, disadvantages, compatibility, and use cases. Choosing the right format for your video can make a big difference in quality, size, performance, and user experience.
In this blog, we will compare and contrast MKV and MP4 in detail and help you decide which one is best for your purposes. We will also show you how ImageKit can help you optimize, transform, and convert your videos in different formats according to your needs.
What Is MKV?
MKV stands for Matroska Video, a file format that stores multiple video, audio, subtitle, and metadata streams in one file. It is based on an open standard and requires no licensing fees to use or create.
- As a container format that can hold various types of video and audio codecs. A codec is a method of encoding and decoding data, such as video and audio. Some of the common video codecs supported by MKV are:
- MPEG-4, and
On the audio side, MKV supports the following codecs:
- MP3, and
What makes MKV good?
You can choose MKV for your video requirements if the following advantages excite you.
✅ MKV can preserve the original quality of the video and audio data without any loss of information.
✅ It supports lossless compression, which means the data is compressed without reducing the quality or removing any details.
✅ It also supports multiple tracks, which means that you can have different versions of video, audio, or subtitles in one file. For example, you can have a video track with annotations and another without, or an audio track in English and another in French.
✅ Support for metadata, such as chapters, menus, tags, attachments, etc., can provide additional information or functionality to the file.
However, be informed of these drawbacks of MKV as well before you make a final decision:
❌ The high quality and multiple tracks can result in large file sizes, which could be detrimental for online streaming.
❌ Also, large video files make storing, transferring, or streaming files over the internet or on limited storage devices difficult.
❌ It is not widely supported by many devices, platforms, or applications. You may need to install special software or hardware to play or edit MKV files on some devices or platforms.
❌ You may also need to convert MKV files to other formats to upload them to some websites or applications.
When to use MKV?
MKV is suitable or preferred for some use cases or scenarios where quality, versatility, or functionality are important.
For video archiving
MKV is a good choice when you want to archive old videos that you want to preserve in their original quality and format.
For ripping DVD
It is also useful for ripping DVDs or Blu-rays that have multiple audio and subtitle tracks or extra features. However, how relevant this capability is in the age of audio streaming services like Spotify is another question. It might still be required archiving old video and music records for safekeeping.
For video playback
MKV is also great for watching movies that have subtitles or different languages that you can switch between easily.
However, you cannot decide on MKV based on these capabilities alone. It is necessary to stress-test the format for various scenarios. We have compared MKV and MP4 and determined which wins as the ideal choice for the specific scenario.
MKV files can support codecs that offer better quality than MP4 codecs. Further, MKV files can support lossless compression, while MP4 files only support lossy compression. This makes it an ideal choice when video quality is of the highest importance.
MKV files can support any video codec, which means that they can use the most advanced and efficient codecs available. For example, MKV files can use HEVC (High-Efficiency Video Coding), which is a video codec that can provide higher quality and smaller file size than H.264, which is the most common video codec for MP4 files.
Another factor that affects the quality of the video data is the compression method. There are two types of compression: lossless and lossy.
Lossless compression reduces the size of the data without affecting the quality or removing any information.
Lossy compression reduces the size of the data by affecting the quality and removing some information.
MKV files can support lossless compression, which means they can compress the video and audio data without losing quality or information. This is ideal for preserving the original quality of the video and audio sources.
MP4 files only support lossy compression, which means that they compress the video and audio data by losing some quality or information. This can result in artifacts, noise, or video and audio output distortion.
Verdict: When it comes to retaining original quality, MKV wins.
Suitability for Streaming
When streaming video over the internet, MP4 files have an edge over MKV files. This is because MP4 files support codecs that are more efficient and optimized for streaming than MKV codecs and also because MP4 files support adaptive bitrate streaming while MKV files do not.
MP4 files can use H.264, a video codec that can provide high quality and low bandwidth consumption and is also widely supported by most devices, platforms, and applications that stream video. Recalling our previous section, MKV uses HEVC, which, while helping retain video quality, is a deterrent for video streaming. To make matters difficult, there are only a handful of devices, platforms, and applications that stream HEVC.
Another factor that affects the streaming performance and user experience of the video is the adaptive bitrate streaming. Adaptive bitrate streaming is a technique that adjusts the quality and bitrate of the video according to the network conditions and device capabilities of the viewer. This can improve the streaming quality and reduce buffering or lagging issues.
MP4 files support adaptive bitrate streaming, while MKV files do not. This means that MP4 files can automatically switch between different quality levels and bitrates of the video depending on the viewer’s situation.
Verdict: When it comes to video streaming, MP4 has the upper hand.
Ease of Creation
When creating video files, MP4 files are easier to create than MKV files using various software and hardware tools such as video editors, cameras, screen recorders, etc. For video creation, MP4 files can be created using all popular video editors such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, etc. support MP4. Also, MP4 files can be created using common cameras such as any DSLR camera, smartphone, or hand-held cams to create MP4 videos, making it a versatile and layman’s video format.
On the other hand, MKV files are harder to create and require heavy video experience on the technical side. You will have to dabble with video conversion from other formats using specialized video converters such as HandBrake, VLC Media Player, FFmpeg, etc. Also, the raw files are not easily sourced and may have to be ripped from DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
Verdict: MP4 trumps MKV in ease of video creation
MKV is more capable than MP4 files. It can support multiple tracks, which means that they can store different versions of the video and its subtitles in one file. This allows the user to switch between different languages, formats, or video or audio qualities. They also support metadata, such as chapters, menus, tags, attachments, etc., which can provide additional information or functionality to the file. This makes video navigation easier and more interactive.
On the other hand, MP4 files are capable of supporting only one track for video, audio, and subtitles. The user will be forced to choose one language, format, or quality for the video before creating or playing the file. However, MP4 files can provide support for basic metadata, like album title, artist, album, etc., but not as detailed as MKV files. Also, when it comes to subtitles, MP4 files can only support 3GPP subtitles, which are text-based and have limited formatting options.
Verdict: MKV is more capable than MP4.
MKV Vs. MP4: Which should be your final choice?
We have compared and contrasted MKV and MP4 video file formats in terms of their features, advantages, disadvantages, compatibility, and use cases. We have seen that MKV files offer higher quality, lossless compression, multiple tracks, metadata support, and more versatility than MP4 files. However, we have also seen that MP4 files offer smaller file size, wider compatibility, easier creation or editing or streaming, and more efficiency and optimization than MKV files.
There is no definitive answer to which format is better for your needs. It depends on your preferences and purposes. If you value quality, functionality, and customization over size, performance, and convenience, you may prefer MKV files. If you value size, performance, and convenience over quality, functionality, and customization, you may prefer MP4 files.
However, you don’t have to worry about choosing between MKV and MP4 formats if you use ImageKit. ImageKit is a powerful and easy-to-use media optimization platform that can help you optimize, transform, and convert your videos in different formats according to your needs. ImageKit can automatically select the best format for each device, platform, or application using automatic video format selection and dynamic URL-based video transformations.
If you want to experience the benefits of ImageKit’s video optimization, transformation, and conversion features, you can try it for free today.
Just sign up for an account and start uploading or importing your videos. The forever-free trial comes with 20 GB of storage for images and videos.