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Posted by Kistent Waung - Contact Author

MKV vs MP4: 7 Key Differences Between MKV and MP4 Formats

MKV and MP4 are commonly used video container formats. But there are still times that users convert MKV to MP4 or MP4 to MKV. Some users feel confused when it comes to deciding which format to choose. For example, "I have a few disc and I want to use WinX DVD Ripper Platium to copy these DVDs for backup and easier viewing, which output format should I choose? MKV or MP4? Which format has better quality?" Here we compare MKV and MP4 in terms of quality, file size, supported video audio codec formats, and more to make these two formats clearer.

MKV vs MP4

Convert (4K UHD ) MKV from/to MP4 without Re-encoding

If you need to convert between MKV and MP4 format, try WinX HD Video Converter Deluxe. Its "Auto Copy" mode enables users to convert MKV to MP4 without re-encoding, which means blazing fast speed and no quality loss! Hardware Acceleration and High Quality Engine also ensures fast speed and high quality. With support for a wide range of video and audio codec format, users can use the program to convert MKV HEVC/VP9 to MP4 H.264, MP4 to MKV, WMV to M4V, MOV to MP4, and many more.

Part 1. MKV vs MP4: Detailed Comparison

Both MKV and MP4 are popular video container formats to store multimedia data including videos, audios, still images and subtitles. They are also used to stream content over the internet as well. But, they are quite different and have pros/cons in terms of individual needs.

#1. License

MKV is supported by a non-profit organization called association loi 1901 and the specifications are open to everyone. MKV is a royalty-free open standard under GNU L-GPL license for personal use and also has free parsing and playback libraries under BSD license available for commercial companies. MP4 (ISO/IEC 14496-14 standard) is patent protected format making use of DRM to restrict copying.

#2. Supported Audio/Video Codec Formats

MKV can store unlimited multimedia content, including video, audio, images, and subtitle tracks. MKV format is commonly used for movies and TV shows. It supports virutally all video/audio coding formats. MKV may allow for codecs that mp4 does not.

MP4 has specific formats supported, including audios of MPEG-2/4 (HE)-AAC, MPEG-1/2 Layers I, II, III (MP3), AC-3, Apple Lossless, ALS, SLS, Vorbis and videos of MPEG-2 Part 2, MPEG-4 ASP, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, H.263, VC-1, Dirac. MP4 format also support some less used compression, such as Apple Lossless, Free Lossless Audio Codec (added in late 2018), and Opus (added in late 2018).

Both MKV and MP4 can be encoded with HEVC/H.265 video codec formats supporting UHD resolutions, 4K 2160p and 8K 4320p.

One difference between MKV and MP4 in audio support is that MKV supports FLAC while MP4 doesn't. FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. It is an audio coding format for lossless compression of digital audio and better than any other audio formats. Although MP4 can also support lossless audio ALAC but this format is significantly less efficient than FLAC.

#3. Subtitle Support

MKV has better support for subtitles. MKV supports SSA/ASS subtitles while MP4 does not.

#4. Quality

MKV vs MP4, which provides better quality? MKV is better quality? No. MP4 is better quality? No. Actually, the quality of a file is defined by the codecs used in the container and not the container itself. Both MKV and MP4 are containers and not encoding formats. When MKV and MP4 encapsulate the same same audio and video codecs such as H.264+AAC and use the same settings, they will be equal in quality.

#5. Size

Are MKV files bigger than MP4? Actually not. MKV and MP4 are just container formats. What determines the file size is the codec and the bitrate of the video. When the video encoded with the same codec and same bitrate, it is the same size.

MKV usually has a larger file size than MP4 videos due to the support for the extra features, multiple audio tracks, and subtitle tracks.

If you find MKV videos have smaller size but higher resolution than MP4, this is probably because the MKV files use a more advanced codec with a higher compression ratio.

#6. Usage and Compatibility

Supported multiple video/audio language tracks and subtitles, MKV is an ideal format for HD movies/videos (for example ripped from Blu-ray discs) and foreign language videos like anime and TV series. MKV format is supported by mainstream media player and video editing software, like VLC Media Player, 5KPlayer, KMPlayer, Adobe Premiere Pro, VideoProc, iMovie.

Compared with MKV format, MP4 format comes with much wider compatibility with nearly any operation system, media players, and portable devices, like iPhone, iPad, Android/Windows mobile device, Samsung, Huawei, Xbox, PS4/PS5, Apple TV etc. In terms of compatibility, MP4 format wins over MKV format.

#7. File Extensions

.mp4 filename extension is commonly used for MP4 video files. Many other filename extensions are also used to indicate intended content.

  • .m4a - Audio-only MPEG-4 unprotected files.
  • .m4p - MPEG-4 files with audio streams encrypted by FairPlay Digital Rights Management commonly used by iTunes and Apple Music.
  • .m4b - audio book and podcast file coming with chapter markers, images, and hyperlinks, etc.
  • .m4v - Raw MPEG-4 Visual bitstreams. Handbrake outputting video files (encoded with H.264 MP4) often has .m4v filename extension.
  • .3gp and .3g2 - MPEG-4 Part 12, 3GP used by mobile phones in the past.

MKV format uses filename extensions, .mkv, .mk3d, .mka, .mks, .mkv for video (subtitles and audio), .mk3d(stereoscopic video), .mka (audio-only files), and .mks (subtitles only). .mk3d, .mka, and .mks are less used. Common MKV video files come with .mkv extension.

Part 2. MKV vs MP4 - Which Format to Choose

To sum up, MP4 format has better compatibility and is widely supported by mobile devices. MKV is commonly used for high quality videos and comes with larger file size. From the conclusion of MKV vs MP4 comparison, it's hard to tell which format is better. It is incorrect to say MKV file is bigger than MP4 and better quality than MP4. They are just containers and have no effect upon file size and quality. You should compare the encoding format and bitrate in these container formats. Which format to choose, MKV or MP4? You should make your decision depending on your specific needs and preferences.

If you want to rip DVD with excellent quality and selectable tracks and your device supports MKV format, MKV is a good choice. On the other hand, MP4 is much more appropriate for playing videos on your Android devices and game consoles. Certainly, you can opt for converting DVD to MP4 encoded with H.264 codec for playback on nearly any devices with possible highest quality.

MKV vs MP4 comparison table

Part 3. FAQs about MKV and MP4

1. How do I convert MKV to MP4?

It's easy to convert MKV to MP4, especially with the best video converters in 2023 like WinX HD Video Converter Deluxe. After downloading and installing this software on your computer, you can convert video format from MKV to MP4 within 3 simple steps.

  • Step 1. Open WinX Video Converter and click the + Video button to load the MKV files you want to convert to MP4.
  • Step 2. Choose a desired MP4 preset on Output Profile panel. There are MP4 presets for PC, Mac, Apple, Android, TV, YouTube, and more.
  • Step 3. Hit RUN to begin converting MKV to MP4. If you want to convert MKV to MP4 without re-encoding, you should check Auto Copy before hitting the RUN button.

2. For streaming over Plex, which video format is better, MKV or MP4?

MKV is more versatile and can be played on Plex if it is encoded with supported video audio codecs. However, MP4 is easier to direct play in Plex (better stream, less buffering).

3. Assuming file sizes are the same, what format has better quality video, MKV or MP4?

Both MKV and MP4 are container formats and can't determine the quality of a video. It is the encoding of the video inside the container that matters. If a H.265-encoded MKV file is the same size as a H.264-encoded MP4 file, the MKV file should have better quality because the encoding format H.265 is superior to H.264 offering from 25% to 50% better data compression at the same level of video quality.

4. MKV VP9 vs MP4 H.264, which to choose?

In this case, we should compare VP9 and H.264. VP9 is a fairly new video format invented by Google as a royalty-free alternative to the heavy patented HEVC/H.265 format, aiming to reduce the file size of 4K video which would simply require much more server capacity with older video formats like H.264. So when downloading online video you should choose VP9 if you want the highest quality like 1080p or 4K. However, VP9 isn't a good choice for lower resolutions because it takes a lot longer to encode video to VP9 with the same quality as a well-encoded H.264 video.

5. Should I save my movies in MP4 or MKV?

It depends on your purposes. In general, MP4 format is preferred because it is more popular. It is accepted by almost all media players, video editing software, video-sharing sites, and more.

6. Should I convert DVD to MKV or MP4?

It depends on where you want to use the digital copy and which codec you want to choose. If the video and audio codec you want to use can't be wrapped in MP4, then you can use MKV. For example, if we choose MKV container format on HandBrake, the available video codecs include H.264, H.265, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Theora, VP8, and VP9. But if we choose MP4, we can only choose between H.264, H.265, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4.

HandBrake MKV vs MP4 video codec formats

MP4 has broader support than MKV. If the media player you want to play the digital copy on doesn't support MKV, you should choose MP4.

7. To create videos for uploading to YouTube, should I choose MP4 or MKV?

If you want to create video for YouTube, YouTube suggests you use MP4. For more details about recommended upload encoding settings, click here.

But if you record video with OBS, koala - an active member on OBS forum warned that you should never record directly to MP4. It is advisable to always record to *.mkv and let OBS remux to *.mp4 after recording by setting Settings -> Advanced -> Recording -> Automatically remux to mp4. koala said:

Any video recorded directly to mp4 is usable only, if OBS is able to finalize the video. If it isn't able to finalize the video, the video is in its entirety unreadable. OBS isn't able to finalize, if it crashes mid-recording, or if the computer crashes or has a bluescreen, or if OBS hangs, or if the disk becomes full. If all this doesn't apply to your environment, you will have no issues with directly recording to mp4. But if something bad happens, the mp4 will be broken beyond repair, so don't complain if that happens.

We had many heartbroken posts in the forum with something like: "I just did the raid of my life in my game, but the computer crashed afterwards. Now my recording is broken. What can I do?" or even "I just recorded the marriage of my child, but my computer crashed. Now my recording is broken. What can I do?" The only answer to all this is "it's gone", if the recording format turned out as mp4.


author - Kistent Waung

Kistent Waung twitter icon

Graduated from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, she employs herself in IT related content creation (since 2013) and happens to perfectly combine her major (computer & science) and her gusto (writing). She's seasoned at offering video audio conversion workarounds and always passionate about new trends, from hot HEVC, 4K to the new AV1 codec.

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