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

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

Technology is constantly evolving, and the quality of technology you possess can make or break your content’s success. When it comes to video streaming formats, you have two major choices today: MKV or MP4. But which one to choose?

Streamers, broadcasters and professionals often have a hard time choosing which format works best for them. Each has its pros and cons. Video quality, compatibility and other major factors are must-know factors before deciding which one to choose. Fortunately, armed with accurate, up-to-date knowledge, choosing between these two most common file formats doesn’t have to be difficult.

In this article, we’re going to delve deep into MKV vs. MP4. We’ll provide an analysis to help you decide which one is best for you. You’ll know the distinct differences, including where each one shines and falls. By the end, you’ll know which one is the best for your video stream needs.

Table of Contents

  • MKV Video Format: 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?
  • In Conclusion

MKV Video Format: 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.

Matroska video files are excellent for watching videos. If your video format is MKV, you can watch videos in a media player that features audio in multiple languages with their respective subtitles. This helpful feature allows for smoother sharing and distribution of such files.

What makes MKV videos very useful is the fact that they are in a lossless format, meaning your audio and video quality will be top-notch. This, of course, has a downside, as the file sizes can be on the higher side. You could expect them to go into a few GBs for a movie. Additionally, not every platform supports MKV playback, which can restrict its reach.

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 and is based on the QuickTime file format. It can be used with most devices, such as phones, laptops, computers, and tablets, without any buffering or lagging issues.

While MP4 is a flexible and extensible 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 1080p H.265 10 bit, and AAC. MP4 is also compatible with the two powerful streaming protocols, Apple’s HLS and MPEG-DASH. This makes it a good option for streaming and downloading high quality videos.

MMP4 is a widely popular video format and is known for its superior compression, which leads to smaller file sizes, making it easier to share with others. However, this also leads to a loss in video quality, which can be a potential drawback of MP4 video format.

MKV vs. MP4

Now that you know the basics of MKV vs. 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

When comparing MP4 vs. MKV quality, you must consider 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, which can mean jumping extra hurdles for private and commercial use.

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 both the MKV and MP4 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

The next feature to compare in MKV vs. MP4 is 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.

The MKV files are typically larger when compared to 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. The incorporation of multiple audio tracks and subtitles in MKV files is definitely an advantage, especially when it’s a movie or TV show. That’s because it could be dubbed into multiple languages and the viewers can choose their languages.

4. Supported Platforms

You also have to consider supported platforms in the MKV vs. MP4 debate. 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 format, 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

When comparing MKV vs. MP4 quality, you must look at the audio and video codec compatibility. MKV format 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 other hand, an MP4 format video has a comparatively narrow range of supported audio and video codecs. Another area where MP4 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 the MP4 format 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 resolutions like h.264 1080p and 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 format 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.
  • Embedded Files: With an MKV file, you can include multiple audio tracks and subtitles, which makes it a great option for streaming movies and TV shows. You only need a single video file for all the languages you have.

Cons of MKV

  • Audio Quality: MKV format offers high-resolution video. However, when it comes to audio, MKV 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 format does not offer compatibility for all devices, it may require frequent updates if it fails on any device. So, you may need to use additional software in order to extend its compatibility.
  • Structure: At times, you may need to acquire specific components for playing MKV files, as their structure is independent of most platforms.
  • File Size: If you produce a high quality video in MKV format, you may end up having a large file size compared to an MP4 format.

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. Loads of online and offline players support MP4 files as compared to MKV files, which is a major advantage for this file format.
  • 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. So, you can use it to store large video files and also for video streaming. 
  • Streaming: One of the main advantages is streaming video to MP4 format, 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 streams as 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. This could potentially affect the quality of the video. This makes it lossy and not the best choice for extremely high definition videos.
  • 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. This compatibility problem can sometimes make your video out of sync with your audio.
  • Processing power: An MP4 file can contain different types of media content. This can make playback and editing a burdensome task because it requires a high amount of processing power.

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?

Between MKV vs. MP4, how do you decide which format is right for you? Each container file has its pros and cons.

For instance, MP4 format 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 format 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.


1. What will play MKV files?

You need players that can open MKV files and play them. These include:

  • VLC Media Player
  • MKV Player
  • KMPlayer
  • Mac-go Blu-Ray Player
  • MX Player

2. Is MKV better than MP4?

Yes, it is better to have your video format in MKV as it provides lossless compression, leading to better video quality. However, it also leads to higher file sizes. On the other hand, MP4 video is a better format for delivering videos with smaller file sizes due to compression, but it has lower video quality than MKV.

3. How to turn MKV into MP4?

There are several ways to turn an MKV file into an MP4 format. You can use an online converter or leverage an offline one like:

  • CloudConvert
  • Uniconverter
  • Miro Video Converter
  • Faasoft Video Converter
  • WinX UniConverter Deluxe
  • Mediacoder

4. Why won’t my MKV files play?

There could be several reasons why your MKV files aren’t playing well. These include:

  • Broken MKV file
  • Incompatible player that doesn’t support MKV files
  • Missing codecs
  • Incorrect codec settings
  • Hardware decoding issues
  • Incomplete MKV file

5. What is an MKV video file?

MKV is a Matroska container format that enables you to store video and audio files of large sizes. It’s also possible to store images and subtitle tracks in these files, and it’s typically used to store movies and TV shows, which are long-form videos. It’s a lossless compression format that ensures the best video quality but also leads to larger file sizes.

6. Does MKV or MP4 take more space?

An MKV file format can have multiple audio tracks, while an MP4 can only contain one. So, even though both files use the same codecs, an MKV can be larger and will take up more space if you use it for multiple audio tracks. 

7. Is MP4 good for streaming?

MP4 is one of the best video formats for both desktop and mobile. This is because it can work without any plugins, software, or extensions. It also has great audio compression and is suitable for video streaming because it is highly compatible with adaptive streaming technologies. 

MP4 format of files can also include subtitles and metadata like title, author, etc. Hence, live streaming platforms like YouTube often encourage users to put out content in MP4. 

8. Does converting MKV to MP4 lose quality? 

You can convert MKV files to MP4 format videos using techniques like recoding and remuxing. When recoding an MKV file format to MP4, you may lose quality during the conversion process because it is slow. However, remuxing is a fast process that doesn’t involve unpacking and recoding the encoded data. Therefore, it is the best technique to convert MKV to MP4.

9. What are the disadvantages of MP4?

MP4 is a lossy format, so there may be some quality loss due to the high compression and smaller file sizes involved. 

10. Can MP4 be streamed ?

MP4 is a popular video format for live streaming because of its high compression which often results in smaller file sizes. It is compatible with two major streaming protocols; HLS and MPEG-DASH. 

In Conclusion

Both MKV and MP4 are relatively safe bets and future-proof, depending on your exact needs. Both formats offer distinct features that other video formats don’t. Whichever one you use will boil down to your preferences and needs.

In short, MP4 is more popular for watching online content and MKV is better for converting DVDs and Blu-ray discs into video files. The quality and size of these file formats usually depend on the codecs they use. However, MP4 video format supports more platforms and devices. Moreover, YouTube and other popular social media media player videos convert into MP4 video format. This gives it a distinct usage advantage.

Dacast’s professional platform supports both MP4 and MKV video formats so you don’t have to worry about which one is better. With Dacast, you can stream MP4 content and upload MKV videos seamlessly. Dacast’s  complete video streaming solution allows you to  use both formats, so you can utilize the best of both worlds. Using Dacast, generating embed codes and adding your videos is quick, easy and secure.

Why not give Dacast a try? Sign up and you can try Dacast free for 14 days. No commitment and no credit card required.

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Frederik Nielsen

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