The Pros and Cons of Using MKV vs. MP4 for Video Streaming

By Frederik Nielsen

7 Min Read

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Frederik Nielsen

Frederik is a writer, marketer, podcaster, musician, tech enthusiast, and overall curious person.

    As a professional broadcaster or live streamer, you must understand the technology that makes or breaks your content. Choosing the appropriate video streaming format is part of that learning curve. A hotly debated topic in the world of streaming is the choice between two video formats: MKV vs. MP4.

    Streamers often need help deciding which format works best with their brand. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut answer. Each video format has pros and cons, so a deeper analysis is required to make an informed decision.

    Both the MKV and MP4 video formats are used for streaming content. The newer of the two, MKV, offers better quality than its older counterpart. However,  compatible devices, or media players, are more limited for MKV compared toMP4. Most devices support MP4 without any problem because of its backward compatibility. The format you choose depends on your preference and what works best in your situation.

    We’ve done a detailed MKV vs. MP4 analysis to help you decide. Keep reading to understand the main differences, areas where each video format shines, and where they fall short. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to answer the question, “Which is better, MKV or MP4?

    Table of Contents

    • MKV: A Quick Overview
    • MP4: A Quick Overview
    • MKV vs. MP4
    • Pros and Cons of MKV and MP4
    • Converting between MKV and MP4
    • Which Video Streaming Format Is Right for You?
    • Final Thoughts

    MKV: A Quick Overview

    MKV is short for Matroska Video, which Steve Lhomme developed in 2002. Today Lhomme works as a Google developer, while MKV is the most common video streaming format.

    MKV is a free, open-source container format that allows various audio and video tracks, as well as subtitle files, to be packed into a single file. The name Matroska is derived from the Russian Matryoshka dolls, which come in decreasing sizes and can be placed inside one another.

    With an MKV file, you can watch a video that features audio in multiple languages with their respective subtitles. This helpful feature allows for smoother sharing and distribution of such files.

    MP4: A Quick Overview

    The Moving Picture Expert Group introduced MP4 in 1998, making it their standard video format. Of all the container formats available today, MP4 is one of the most widely used file formats due to its many benefits. It can be used with most devices, such as phones, laptops, computers, and tablets, without any buffering or lagging issues. 

    While MP4 is a digital container file, MPEG-4 is the standard format for encoding the video content stored within MP4 files. Although several MPEGs are available, the MPEG-4 Type 12 is the standard output format for all your video files. Aside from storing video and audio multimedia, MP4 can also contain subtitles and images.

    MP4 supports various audio and video codecs similar to MKV format, including H.264, H.265, and AAC. MP4 is also compatible with the two powerful streaming protocols, Apple’s HLS and MPEG-DASH. 

    MKV vs. MP4

    Now that you know the basics of MKV and MP4 let’s review the major differences between the two formats. Learning the aspects in which they differ will help you understand which format suits you best. 

    1. Licensing

    MKV is an open-source and free video format. It’s licensed under GNU L-GPL for personal use. MKV is also available for commercial use under a BSD license, offering free parsing and playback libraries. On the other hand, MP4 is not royalty-free. It’s patent protected and uses DRM to prevent piracy

    2. Quality

    Video and audio quality also differ when it comes to MKV vs. MP4. Although MKV files are typically larger as they pack multiple data files, it does not provide higher video quality than MP4. That’s because the video quality is influenced by the codecs used in the container rather than the container format itself. 

    Since MP4 and MKV are output formats instead of encoding formats, the final video quality will depend on the video and audio codecs you pack. If the same codecs are encapsulated using the same settings in both MKV and MP4, the quality will be similar.

    3. File Size

    As with video quality, the file size is influenced by the multimedia codecs and video bitrate instead of the container format. When you’re using similar codecs and video bitrate with MP4 and MKV, the file size of both will be the same. 

    MKV files are typically larger than MP4 since they support additional features such as subtitles and multiple audio tracks. On the other hand, if you find an MKV file that’s comparatively smaller in size while featuring higher resolution. This is because of the more advanced codecs used in MKV format.

    4. Supported Platforms

    MKV format supports a wide range of video and audio tracks, HD quality movies, and movies with numerous subtitles tracks. Other than that, mainstream video editing software like iMovie and Final Cut Pro are compatible with MKV, as are video players like VLC Player and Blu-Ray. Unfortunately, the number of MKV-supported platforms is limited compared to the MP4 output format. Considering the large number of platforms on the internet, MKV is only supported by a select group of video and audio players.

    MP4, on the other hand, is compatible with almost every media player, operating system, browser, and operating device, such as Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Windows devices, and more.

    5. Compatible Audio and Video Codecs

    MKV can store a wide range of supported multimedia content, including video, audio, subtitle tracks, still images, and more. The list of MKV-supported audio-visual encoding formats is extensive, making it ideal for streaming TV shows and movies.

    On the contrary, MP4 has a comparatively narrow range of supported audio and video codecs. Another area whereMP4 falls behind is that it doesn’t support FLAC. MKV does, which allows for better audio. FLAC is short for Free Lossless Audio Codec, one of the top audio coding formats that allow for lossless digital audio compression.

    That doesn’t mean MP4 doesn’t have alternatives for lossless compression. It supports Apple Lossless and ALAC, though it is far less efficient than FLAC. MKV and MP4 can be encoded with the HEVC/H.265 video codec, which supports UHD resolutions such as 4K 2160p and 8K 8320p.

    Pros and Cons of MKV and MP4

    Understanding the difference between MKV and MP4 isn’t enough to know which of the two container formats would work best in your situation. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Where one video format lacks, the other can shine. So let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

    Pros of MKV

    • Open Source: The key advantage of using MKV is that MKV container files have no licensing requirements. This helps developers optimize their files and provides better compatibility with the latest systems.
    • Active Developer Community: While many might overlook this benefit, it makes using MKV extremely convenient. The highly active developer community helps you navigate the world of MKV while ensuring the format adapts to changes.
    • Adaption: MKV file format has enough compatible platforms, devices, and OSes. When compatibility with another platform is required, it usually does not take long before an update is released to tackle and eliminate any errors.
    • Support: The range of supported menus is extensive, including those found in DVDs and Blu-Rays. In addition, the audio tracks and subtitles can be assigned in multiple languages, which you can manage independently for each video file. That means users don’t have to keep the subtitles activated at all times.
    • Quality: MKV files usually offer higher video and audio as they’re packed with certain additional features. Many prefer MKV over MP4 when projecting the display on a bigger screen to get a higher video resolution.

    Cons of MKV

    • Audio Quality: While MKV offers high-resolution video, the audio quality is usually compromised when recorded using a low bit rate with subpar equipment. You may also encounter issues with decoders and even experience several pauses in files when the volume goes above a certain level.
    • Compatibility: Since the MKV file does not offer compatibility for all devices, it may require frequent updates if it fails on any device.
    • Structure: At times, you may need to acquire specific components for playing MKV files, as their structure is independent of most platforms.

    Pros of MP4

    • Support: As the latest audio and video codec, MP4 files have all the necessary support and compatibility for various devices and platforms.
    • Compression: MP4 files are known for improved compression of files compared to their predecessors. This type of compression produces smaller files without compromising the quality of the content. 
    • Streaming: One of the main advantages is streaming video to MP4, for which MKV files are generally not preferred. Hence, an MP4 container file is the best option for playing videos over the internet. Not just that, you can even use YouTube live stream to MP4 for a smoother experience.
    • Compatible: MP4 files are also compatible with preceding format types. That means devices that don’t support MP4 but do support their predecessors will experience no trouble in playing the video encoded in the stated output format.

    Cons of MP4

    • Compression loss: The compression of MP4 files results in a loss of information in the original file.
    • Copyright: MP4  files are copyrighted. However, they are sometimes distributed illegally by removing the metadata.
    • Codecs: MP4 files do not support all codecs, so users must acquire them from a third party.

    Converting between MKV and MP4

    If you’ve decided on a container format but have your content available in the other, don’t worry. There are numerous video converters available that you can rely on for this purpose. Most of them are paid, and they easily gain users’ trust. But, it gets a bit difficult to find a free alternative.

    If you’re not ready to pay for such a tool, here’s a list of free online MP4 or MKV online converters that work best with Windows and Mac systems:

    Which Video Streaming Format Is Right for You?

    How do you decide which format is right for you? Each container file has its pros and cons. 

    For instance, MP4 provides backward compatibility, better compression capabilities, and a wide range of support for most platforms, including Dacast. But if you prefer video quality over convenience, then MKV is the way to go.

    It’s your call, but consider the reliability and compatibility of the software you’re using and whether it meets your requirements and preferences.

    Final Thoughts

    Which format takes the lead, MKV or MP4? Both video formats offer features the other doesn’t. Ultimately, it comes down to your preferences and the purpose for which you want to use the video formats. 

    In short, MP4 is more popular for watching online content, while MKV is better for converting DVDs and Blu-Ray discs into video files.

    Both output formats’ quality and file size usually depend on the codecs they use. However, the number of supported platforms and devices is greater for MP4. It’s also common among users to YouTube live stream to MP4. Dacast also supports both formats, so you can stream MP4 content and upload MKV without problems.

    Now that you’ve learned about these different video formats, it’s time to choose which one will work best for your situation. With Dacast’s video streaming solutions, you can use either format.

    When you use Dacast to host your video content, generating embed codes, and adding your videos to your site will be a breeze.

    Interested in giving Dacast a try? Why not take advantage of our free 14-day trial (no credit card required)?

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    Frederik Nielsen

    Frederik is a writer, marketer, podcaster, musician, tech enthusiast, and overall curious person.

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