What's the difference between the various video formats?
June 27, 2004 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Video formats confuse me. MPEG-1 to 4, DivX, XviD, DVD-Video, VCD, SVCD, .. help. What do they all mean?

I know there are more than this, and that some of these mean the same thing. What are the various format resolutions, what names mean the same thing, what other formats are out there.
posted by stbalbach to Technology (8 answers total)
mpeg 1 and 2 were the first two video compression methods that made DVD's possible. Mpeg 3 is for audio. Mpeg 4 is a more advanced and processor intensive method. Divx and Xvid are both implimentations of mpeg 4. Xvid is open source, Divx used to be. That's all I know.
posted by Grod at 11:17 AM on June 27, 2004

Try Here
posted by Otis at 11:39 AM on June 27, 2004

Mpeg 3 is for audio.

Actually, MPEG-3 never existed, as MPEG-2 was found to be adequate for the application for MPEG-3 was intended. MP3 is MPEG-2 Audio Layer 3.
posted by kindall at 11:41 AM on June 27, 2004

Download VLC and stop worrying about the formats.
posted by costas at 11:48 AM on June 27, 2004

MPEG-1 (motion picture experts group) was the first "standard" from the MPEG Group for playing video on a computer. The standard size is approx. 320x240.

VCDs are a special type of MPEG-1 meant to be used on CD type players (as well as computers), and are big in Asia.

MPEG 1 Layer 3, are commonly know as MP3s, and is a compression format that is used (mostly) to trade music.

MPEG 2 came about because the data rate/size of MPEG-1 wasn't enough. 720x480 and pushing data through a bigger pipe (like the difference between modem and Cable modem.)

SVCD utilizes the MPEG-2 format in at the size of 400x300, again meant for CDs...that have dedicated players (like VCD)

DVD-Video is an MPEG-2 stream that has been "authored" through software to work on DVD players.

DivX (and Xvid) are based around MPEG-4 before there was a true MPEG4 standard. They're used to, predominately, transfer porn, movies and television shows over the internet.

MPEG 4 was originally meant for low data rates (like a cellphone), but it scales well, and is expandable as a format.

MPEG-3 was originally proposed for HDTV, but was merged into MPEG-2

And yes, VLC handles all of them.
posted by filmgeek at 2:07 PM on June 27, 2004

VCD/SVCD are usually played on DVD players too, you dont need a special player. Most DVD players can handle them, some don't. So if you download a big SVCD file and it looks distorted on your computer screen its because its meant to be turned into a disc and played on your TV.
posted by skallas at 4:25 PM on June 27, 2004

I've been using "Media Player Classic" which handles stuff well but VLC looks better so I am downloading that now. I also plan to convert VHS to DVD so need to know what all the diffrent formats really mean and Otis's link is a good description. filmgeek that helps also. Thanks everyone.
posted by stbalbach at 5:22 PM on June 27, 2004

filmgeek is correct... i wanted to go into a little more detail in case you were interested.

MPEG is a group under the ISO/IEC designated to develop standards for audio and video compression. They have drafted many standards over the years and they are responsible quite a bit. Typically files containing MPEG-1, 2, and 4 compressed data have both the audio and video data streams interleaved together, although sometimes you find video or audio (think mp3) only files.

MPEG-1 is a standard for encoding audio and/or video at most rates up to about 1.5 Megabits per second. Pretty good quality and great space savings. Not sufficient when quality matters. VCDs use this. VCDs (precursor to DVD) are regular data cds with a pre-defined folder structure and some MPEG-1 video files in them. There exist many VCD players and most DVD players can play them.

MPEG-2 is a newer standard that is like MPEG-1, in fact a lot of it is backwards-compatible. It supports things like high-bandwidth video (way more than 1.5M/s, not sure how much, but certainly over 4M/s.) It also defines AAC (audio compression format that supports multiple channels (5.1 surround, multi-language) and high quality.) SuperVCDs (SVCDs) are just like VCDs except they use MPEG-2 files and have a few other features (graphical overlays for subtitles, etc.) DVDs use MPEG-2 video the same way VCDs use MPEG-1 and SVCDs use MPEG-2, but instead of being on CDs, DVDs use a different fabrication and have much higher capacity. Most digital TV systems (digital cable, satellite) send MPEG-2 streams down the wire to your set to box which decodes them for you.

MPEG-4 is a high-compression format which has many other features built in. DivX, XviD are, as said before, implementations of MPEG-4. That said, they are limited implementations of the MPEG-4 standard to work best with highly compressed video.
posted by cmicali at 2:47 PM on June 28, 2004

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