What are MP4 Files - and What Do They Do?

David Bain
 


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MP4 is short for ‘MPEG-4’. The official file extension for MPEG-4 is . mp4 – hence the shortened name MP4.

MPEG-4 technology has been developed to provide DVD quality audio and pictures in an extremely small file size – ideal for playing on portable MP4 players such as the iPod Video.

MP4 is here to stay. The Apple Corporation themselves describes MP4 as “the global multimedia standard, delivering professional-quality audio and video streams over a wide range of bandwidths, from cell phone to broadband and beyond". Thy go on to say that “hundreds of researchers around the world contributed to MPEG-4, which was finalized in 1998 and became an international standard in 2000".

The BBC confirms that MPEG-4 is used to compress video and is the successor to MPEG-2. They also explain that the version that can turn massive movie files into a handier size has escaped on to the Internet thanks to Microsoft. Microsoft developed the software to compress and decompress video, which is called a called a codec. (A codec is a device or program capable of performing encoding and decoding on a digital data stream or signal. The word codec means Compression/Decompression algorithm)

The codec helps the Windows Media Player program handle moving pictures sent over the web. Other web based media players such as the Real Player will also play the MP4 file format as long as you have the latest version downloaded. You have to download the latest MP4 Codec to your own digital media player to ensure MP4 file playback compatibility.

However, an MP4 file doesn’t only refer to video content – an MP4 file can also be an audio file. Many people think that the MP4 format will be both the visual and audio standard file format of the future.

The iPod Video is by far the most popular MP4 Player on the market. But iPod don’t want us to call it an MP4 Player even though it plays MP4 file. Why? It might be because you might then choose another MP4 Player instead!

Another high-profile recent MP4 Player launch is the Zune Player by Microsoft. Surprisingly though, ZDnet.com discovered that at the time of the launch, Zune devices only play protected files from the Zune marketplace.

This is where Microsoft and Apple are both arguably guilty. Both companies are dubiously controlling certain markets. However, this can give the advantage to the MP4 Player consumer. If you take the time to convert your video files to MP4 (for which there is free software available) then you can play them on your cheaper MP4 Player, which probably has more functions than the Video iPod. Even if you choose to move to the Video iPod in the future, you can still transfer your old MP4 files.

The MP4 file format will be integral to the future of web based videos and portable media player videos. It is a global multimedia standard, every increasing in popularity. It is the file format that best insures the mass acceptance of your own media files on various types of media players.

David Bain is founder of the MP4 Player resource, http://www.MP4PlayerGuide.com . The MP4 Player Guide provides information on MP4 players, MP4 player accessories and MP4 technology.

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