When it comes to streaming, the hot debate is always about MKV vs MP4. So, are you having trouble deciding between MP4 or MKV format for your next content?

Well, the fact is digital video technology continues to evolve, and there are many video formats to choose from. This makes it challenging to pick the right one for your needs. So, don’t be surprised if you’ll bump into a certain question like, “Which is better, MKV or MP4?” 

You’re not alone, though. As it’s crucial to pick the best for your needs, we’ll walk you through the key differences between the two formats. That way, you can ensure a smooth video streaming experience and great picture quality to make your viewers happy.

Let’s uncover their pros and cons before deciding who’s the winner.

MKV vs MP4: What Are They and How Do They Work?

MKV and MP4 are media containers. They hold various files like video, audio, subtitles, and other information. Both store all the data in one place, so it’s ready to play back.

Basically, inside an MKV or MP4, the video and audio data are compressed to save space. The encoding process is responsible for this, and it involves the use of codecs. When you play a video, the container decompresses or decodes the data.

With that in mind, when your media player doesn’t support particular codecs, it won’t be able to play the video. And in terms of streaming, if the codecs aren’t supported, your audience won’t be able to see your live streams. 

That’s how they work. Now, let’s dive into more details.

What is MKV?

MKV is short for Matroska Video. It is a video format that is excellent for streaming and hosting video content because it offers high-quality outputs and supports a wide range of codecs.

Read : What is Video Content Creator

The MKV format was created on 6 December 2002 by Lasse Kärkkäinen and Steve Lhomme. They thought it would be awesome to have a new multimedia format that could hold different media types, like videos, audio, and even subtitles, all in a single file.

On top of that, they wanted it to be open-source. Yes, this license type is one of the most distinctive aspects when talking about MKV vs MP4. (We’ll discuss this in more detail later on.)

With that in mind, not only can anyone use MKV, but they can also contribute to its development and make it even better. The goal is for the MKV format to become a new standard in the future, just like MP4 in the world of streaming as of now.

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Talking about streaming, MKV is gaining popularity because it supports high-quality video, allowing for the streaming of content in 1080p and even 4K resolution. This ensures a visually appealing and immersive viewing experience for the audience.

This is one of the factors that bring about the discussion of MKV vs MP4 quality becoming a hot topic. 

In addition, MKV is also an excellent choice for those seeking a versatile video format. It works well with many media players if you plan to create on-demand video content. 

Also, MKV’s capability to store multiple subtitle tracks within the same file makes it a preferred option for any video content targeting diverse audiences across different countries.

What is MP4?

MP4 is well-known as a digital video format that is widely used for almost anything, from streaming to storing video content. 

The MP4 file format was introduced in 2001 and is derived from the QuickTime format. The video format, created by Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), has gained popularity fast due to its efficiency, especially compared to .mov files.

MP4 is widely supported by various software and hardware devices, making it a popular choice for most video content. 

MP4 files are typically encoded using the H.264 video and AAC audio codec. This standard combination of codecs ensures a good balance between video quality and file size. This way, MP4 is ideal for streaming over the internet.

But, don’t get it wrong, MKV can be encoded using H.264 and AAC, too. It can even use other codecs like HEVC and VP9 for video as well as AC3 and FLAC for audio. 

Keep in mind, although it is considered to be royalty-free to use, MP4 is not an open-source format. You can always check MPEG’s official website for that license information.

In addition, MP4 is supported by various streaming protocols, from HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), and Smooth Streaming protocol. With that said, MP4 becomes a favorable choice for most streamers, regardless of their niche.

Read More: Best Live Streaming Encoders

MP4 or MKV: 9 Key Differences

Now, let’s talk about MKV vs MP4 in terms of their key differences as a video format: 

1. File Format

MKV and MP4 are both digital container formats, meaning they can be used for storing and playing video content. The main difference is their file extensions: MKV files have a .mkv extension, and MP4 files use a .mp4 extension.

When preparing content for all devices, it’s crucial to keep in mind that some users may struggle to watch certain videos on specific platforms. For instance, Windows Media Player doesn’t support .mkv files.

While it is not as popular as MP4 yet, converting MKV to MP4 is a breeze. HandBrake, VLC Media Player, and Freemake Video Converter are great free software to help you with that. 

2. License

Licensing is a key thing to consider in this competition. The license of the video format can impact the cost and flexibility of your streams. This is true for both MKV and MP4, as they have different licenses.

MP4 is covered by patents. The licensing for these patents is managed by MPEG LA. Basically, this means that if you want to use the MP4 format, you may need to pay for a license.

You read that right. This especially applies if you fall into certain categories mentioned in their official release. What’s more, even if you don’t pay for the license, you still need to sign a license agreement.

Adding to that, the MKV vs MP4 contest is getting more interesting as MKV is licensed under the LGPL (Lesser General Public License). With no restrictions to use either for personal or commercial purposes, MKV has become a popular choice for developers of software and services. 

This will also give you more peace of mind when streaming in MKV as a streamer.

3. Quality

Actually, it’s a bit misleading to talk about MKV vs MP4 quality because the overall video quality depends heavily on factors like video resolution, codecs, and compression settings.

However, MKV supports more codecs than MP4. This means it can handle a broader range of video quality levels. Also, it can store multiple audio tracks and subtitles within a file. With that being said, we can simply consider that MKV has an edge if we talk about the overall quality. But, it’s important to note that this might result in larger file sizes.

On the other hand, most users still think that MP4 is an excellent choice, especially for streaming, because it is great at providing high-quality video at relatively low bit rates. This is super important for the sake of the streaming experience for most viewers.

4. Size

When comparing MKV vs MP4 file size, MP4 has a slight advantage over MKV. MKV files are usually larger because they can store multiple audio tracks, subtitles, and chapter information. In contrast, MP4 files can only have one audio and video track.

If file size is a big concern for you, the key is to focus on the video and audio codec used to encode the streams. For smaller file sizes that are suitable for streaming, the H.264 codec is recommended, regardless of the video format you choose.

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5. Compatibility

In the battle of MP4 vs MKV compatibility, MP4 is the clear winner because this format has more widespread adoption. It is also supported by most software and hardware manufacturers making it compatible across a variety of devices and platforms. 

Despite being free to use, MKV still has issues in terms of compatibility. Being a newer format, MKV is not as widely accepted as MP4, which has become the standard on many platforms.

Generally, it is supported by many desktop video players. But, you may find trouble playing MKV files here and there without additional plugins or software.

6. Supported Codecs

Earlier, we talked about one of the advantages of MKV being its support for different codecs. The MKV format can handle the popular H.264 and H.265 codecs, which can handle resolutions up to 8K. It also supports audio codecs like AAC, DTS, and FLAC.

On the other hand, MP4 primarily uses the H.264 video codec for streaming, but it doesn’t support DTS and FLAC for audio. MP4 is limited to AAC, MP3, and ALAC. 

Here’s a table showing the supported codecs for both formats:

Video CodecMKVMP4
MPEG-1YesYes
MPEG-2YesYes
MPEG-4YesYes
H.264/AVCYesYes
H.265/HEVCYesYes
VP8YesYes
VP9YesYes
AV1YesNo
Audio CodecsMKVMP4
AACYesYes
MP3YesYes
AC-3YesYes
DTSYesNo
FLACYesNo
VorbisYesNo
OpusYesNo
ALACNoYes
A table of MKV vs MP4 when it comes to supported codecs

7. Supported Subtitle

You may ask: “What about MKV vs MP4 regarding subtitle support?” Well, in this aspect, MKV stands out because it supports a wider range of subtitle formats. 

Subtitle formats supported by MKV are:

  • SRT —a common format for most media players
  • ASS — supports text formatting and positioning
  • SSA 
  • VobSub — standard format used on DVDs

The best part is that MKV can handle multiple subtitle tracks in different formats in one file. This is perfect for videos with different languages, reaching audiences worldwide.

On the flip side, MP4 only supports certain types of subtitles, like MPEG-4 Timed Text. Similar to ASS, it supports text formatting and positioning. However, one drawback is that it might not be as widely supported by media players compared to formats like SRT.

8. Supported Platforms

You might have guessed that most online streaming platforms, including YouTube, prefer the MP4 format. It’s all because of its compatibility and smaller file size.

On the flip side, MKV is unfortunately not supported by these platforms yet. This especially applies to live streaming. One of the reasons can be due to the potential higher file size, which is less suitable for streaming. However, some video-sharing platforms still allow MKV uploads, though.

So, If you want to go live on Facebook or Twitch, you must go with the MP4 option. 

9. DRM Supports

If protecting content with Digital Rights Management (DRM) is your concern, then you should go with MP4. DRM allows content creators to control how their work is used and distributed. 

MP4 supports DRM, meaning you can prevent users from sharing your copyrighted content illegally. MKV, on the other hand, doesn’t support DRM natively. This is also one of the reasons why MKV is less popular among major streaming platforms.

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The Strengths of MP4 and MKV Format

Before coming to a decision on which is the winner: MKV vs MP4, let’s first look at the strengths of each format:

The Strengths of MP4

MP4 is an excellent format with these advantages:

1. It’s Highly Compatible

MP4 is widely recognized as one of the most popular video formats. It has a strong track record of being well-supported by video players, streaming platforms, and digital devices.

So, whether your audience is on a computer, smartphone, game console, or smart TV, they can easily watch your content without any worries. And, the best part is you don’t need to worry about converting or using extra software to share your incredible videos!

2. It Has a Great Compression

MP4 is great for delivering top-notch video and audio without taking up too much space. It’s all about finding that sweet spot between quality and size, making it perfect for live streaming. Plus, it’s more friendly to your bandwidth.

On top of that, if you want to save your files as MP4, they’ll take up less storage compared to other formats. 

3. It’s Great for Streaming

It can’t be denied that MP4 seems to have been created with streaming in mind. It plays smoothly, lets you fast-forward, and it’s perfect for online content. Plus, MP4 adds extra spice with interactive features like menus, user interactivity, and subtitles, making the viewing experience even better.

But when it’s time to go live, MP4 takes the crown with its manageable file size. It even supports adaptive bitrate streaming, which is crucial for reaching audiences with not-so-great internet speeds. 

4. It Has Widespread Support

Most popular streaming platforms, like YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook Live, support MP4. This compatibility extends to both the live streaming of content and the subsequent on-demand playback, making MP4 a versatile choice for content creators.

MP4 is supported by almost every device and platform, from PCs and smartphones to smart TVs. This means that a live stream in MP4 format can reach a broad audience, regardless of the devices they’re using.

Suppose you’re a fan of MP4 already. In that case, you must know that the most popular streaming platforms, such as YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook Live, fully support MP4. This means you can stream live content, and viewers can watch it on demand later.

On top of that, MP4 works smoothly on almost every device and platform out there, from PCs and smartphones to smart TVs. So, when you stream in MP4, your content can reach a wider audience, no matter what devices they’re using. 

The Strengths of MKV

Here are the advantages of MKV as a format:

1. It’s Open Source

If your primary concern is using a free and widely distributed format, then MKV is the way to go! Whether you’re streaming online or sharing on-demand videos, MKV is the perfect option.

What’s great about it is you can use, modify, and distribute MKV for free, and your audience can enjoy the content without any worries. That’s one of the reasons why more platforms are embracing MKV.

What’s more, being an open source means it will keep evolving with new and exciting features in the future, utilizing the latest technological advancements.

2. It Has a Great Quality

MP4 uses lossy compression, while MKV goes for lossless compression. What does that mean? With lossless compression, you can perfectly reconstruct the original data from the compressed version. Simply put, you can ensure the highest quality for your video because no data is removed during the process.

Now think about this, when technology advances and bandwidth becomes less of a concern, we might see live streaming with lossless audio and video becoming a reality and even a trend. MKV will stand out because of this. 

Picture yourself as a musician, streaming in front of your fans for an album release. Of course, you want to deliver an incredible audio experience to your audience, right?

3. It’s Flexible

One of the great things about MKV is its ability to store various types of media in a single file. It also supports a wide range of video and audio formats. This means you can have awesome, high-quality videos with different codecs, whether you’re streaming or just enjoying regular video content. 

4. It Supports Multiple Tracks and Subtitles

One of the key advantages of the MKV that MP4 can’t beat is its ability to store multiple audio, and subtitle tracks within a single file. It’s like having different language options all in one package! 

So, while watching a video, your audience can easily switch between different audio tracks or choose subtitles in their preferred languages. Your audience will surely love it.

While this is not the case for live streaming, it’s great for content creators who want to reach a global audience with multiple language options. Also, with support for subtitle formats like SRT, SSA, and ASS, it’s even easier to attract a wider audience for your content. 

Which is Better: MKV or MP4?

So, when it comes to MKV vs MP4, which one is better? Well, it’s not that easy to give a simple answer. However, we’ve found out that both video formats have their own unique strengths that can enhance your streams.

Without a doubt, MP4 is the go-to format for compatibility with many devices and platforms. On the other hand, MKV stands out for its better video quality and excellent features, like having multiple subtitle tracks.

Now, it’s up to you to decide which format to choose: MP4 or MKV format.

We hope this article has given you helpful insights into the MK4 vs MKV showdown. That way, you can make a smart decision based on what you need. So, go ahead and start your streaming channel!

FAQ about MKV vs MP4

What is MKV?

MKV is short for Matroska Video. It is a video format that supports a variety of video, audio, and subtitle codec. It’s a more recent format compared to MP4, and yet offers adaptability for different streaming needs on many platforms.

What’s unique about MKV is it’s an open-source format, meaning anyone can create or modify the format without having to pay. This video format is typically larger than other formats because it contains more data.

What is an MKV file?

An MKV file is a Matroska video file that uses the extension .mkv. As a multimedia container, an MKV file can hold videos, audio, image data, or subtitle tracks in one file. 

What’s great about this file is you can play around with different file formats in it. Let’s say, you can make the file to use .mp4 as the video output and .mp3 as the audio output.

What is the advantage of MKV?

MKV offers great advantages as an open-source format that continues to be developed. 

On top of that, It stands out with its high quality and ability to hold multiple audio, subtitle tracks, and metadata. With support for a wide range of codecs, MKV is an excellent choice for multi-language films and suitable for streaming scenarios on specific platforms.

What does MP4 stand for?

MP4 stands for MPEG-4 Part 14. While widely known as a video format, MP4 is actually a digital container format. It can store video, audio, and other data like images and subtitles. 

MP4 is one of the most popular for streaming over the Internet due to its relatively small size. You can store an MP4 file with the extension of .mp4.

Is MP4 a good choice for video streaming?

Yes, MP4 is a great option for video streaming. If you want your videos compatible with various devices and platforms, MP4 is the way to go. What’s more, it offers an outstanding balance between high-quality video and smaller file size, which is ideal for real-time streaming. This way, it will ensure a smooth streaming experience without annoying lags or buffering.

Is MKV better quality than MP4 on OBS?

That’s not always the case. Bear in mind that when it comes to the quality of a video stream on OBS, it’s more about the video and audio codecs or the compression method. 

As a container format, MKV or MP4 is about storing those video, audio, and metadata files. With that said, as an open-source format, MKV has a slight advantage as it supports a wider variety of codecs.

Does YouTube accept MKV?

The simple answer is no. YouTube doesn’t support MKV for streaming, and you’ll get an error message when trying to do so. The platform only supports formats like MP4. The same thing goes with the uploading. You need to convert it to accepted formats such as MOV, AVI, WMV, FLV, and more before uploading.

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