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MPEG3 vs. MPEG4: What Is The Difference Between MPEG3 and MPEG4?

written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 5/19/2011

What is the difference between MPEG3 and MPEG4? That is a question posed by people who are not really familiar with different file types. The simple answer is that MP3 is an audio file type while MP4 is a container for both video files and audio files.

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    listening to music For people who are not yet familiar with file types, “What is the difference between MPEG3 and MPEG4?" is a common question since these two file types are very popular especially on the Internet. Common misconception puts MPEG4 as the latest iteration of MP3, which is very far from the truth MP3, or as it is also known, MPEG-1 Layer 3, is a lossy audio file format while MPEG4, or MP4, is a container for both audio files, video files and other types of data. MP4 is mostly associated with digital video files. Their difference lies in what these file types are by definition, specifically, MP3 is an audio file type while MP4 is a video file type that also contains audio.

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    What Exactly is MP3?

    MP3, also known as MPEG-1 Layer 3, is a file type designed to compress audio in such a way that the file size is reduced while retaining the quality of the sound as much as possible. It is usually mistaken as MPEG3, which is a file type that does not exist. Compared to other audio file types with larger file sizes, the sound quality of MP3 is not a big deal. Because of its small file size and relatively good sound quality, the MP3 audio file type has become a very popular file type among music fans, artists and manufacturers of electronic devices. It is arguably the most popular audio file type on the Internet.

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    What Exactly is MP4?

    MP4, or MPEG4, is more of a container than a file type. An MP4 file can contain both audio and video files, making it a popular file type too, especially on the Internet. It may still have a larger file size than the average MP3 file, but since it also contains video, it is still considered a very compact file type. It can even contain streaming video, so it is widely accepted as the best choice for broadcasting videos online. What also helps its popularity online is its low bandwidth requirement, which means it can deliver streaming video and audio fast. The MPEG4 container can also contain other types of data such as still images and even subtitles. Several tracks of audio may also be included in a single MPEG4 file. The file types that can be contained in an MP4 file include MP1, MP2, MP3, AAC, PNG, JPEG and other MP4 files. Being an actual container and not just a simple file type, MP4 can be a very versatile medium for transmitting various kinds of data. It can even adapted to support new technologies. In a way, it is leaps and bounds more sophisticated than the MP3 file type.

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    MP3 was developed by several Philips engineers from Europe and it was released to the public in July of 1994. It was based on the MP2 file type. On the other hand, MP4 was developed as an international standard by the ISO and it was released to the public in 2003. It was based on Apple's Quicktime MOV file type. MP3 was developed to give the public a way to compress audio in such a way that sound quality is not compromised while MP4 was developed with bigger ideas in mind, including video compression, video streaming and support for technologies that have not been developed yet.

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    Devices and Applications

    Since MP3 and MPEG4 are different file types, not all devices can play both file types. There are devices like MP3 players that can only play MP3 files, obviously, but there are certain MP3 players that also support video playback. Devices that can play video may or may not support MPEG4 playback, but if it does, it is most likely that it can also play MP3 files too. Compatibility issues are not just restricted with portable devices. Applications on desktop and laptop computers may also have compatibility issue with either of these file types, so it is recommended that you check the file types supported by software applications and portable devices before you purchase or use them to play an MP3 or MP4 file.

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    Bottom Line

    They may be different file types, but both MP3 and MPEG4 are very popular among the Internet crowd because of their relatively small file size and wide availability. These characteristics make these file types easy to share online, legally or otherwise. The usual file types involved in piracy include MP3 and MP4. MP3 particularly is the most popular file type among illegal peer-to-peer music downloading. “What is the difference between MPEG3 and MPEG4?" For those involved in piracy, very little. They are both easy to come by.

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    Photo Courtesy of / Supplied by Arvind Balaraman -

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