MOV vs. MP4

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MOV and MP4 are both file containers that are mainly used to hold lossy video. Lossy video is video data minus small components that are deemed unnecessary for its function. MOV was developed by Apple for its “Quick Time” movie player as a file format. It uses a proprietary compression algorithm developed by Apple Computer, for use with both Windows and Macintosh platforms. This format had many advantages in everyday use but the subject of ownership became a bit of a nuisance. Later, MP4 was developed and released as an industry standard. This was based on the MOV format so much so that at first there were very few if any differences to distinguish the two. They were almost identical. [1]


MP4 format allows online users to watch streams and movies. It’s also used more commonly to record digital video and audio and to store subtitles and still pictures. Due to MP4’s ability for fast streaming over the internet there are problems with copyright violations.[2] Both MOV and MP4 compress lossy video in the same way, so they are interchangeable in the Quick Time environment.[3] Because of this, you don’t have to re-encode video when converting MOV to MP4 and vice versa. However, you can run into problems with MOV format outside of Quick Time as it was designed specifically for that environment. MP4 can run smoothly on most operating systems as it is designed to industry standard and therefore has more support. So on devices such as the Sony PSP and DVD players, you will usually find an MP4 container instead of MOV.

Should I use MOV or MP4

The main thing to take into consideration when deciding to use MOV or MP4 is what operating system we want to play the video on. For an Apple Mac user, MOV is a perfectly safe choice but if using any other system, like mentioned above, a DVD player, MP4 is your best option as it can operate independently outside of the Quick Time environment.

Mp4 mov compresson.jpg Fig.1. MP4 still video image (top) vs. MOV still video image (bottom). [4]

In Fig. 1, we have two still video images, one in MOV format, and the other in MP4 format. Both are given the same compression settings etc. But as you can see in Fig.1 there are some but not many differences in the image quality between MOV and MP4 formats. In the darker scenes of the MP4 image there are some compression abnormalities causing some distortion whereas the MOV image is very clear. From this, some would argue that the MOV format is the better of the two formats. However another factor needs to be taken into account which is the size. The size of the MOV video file is 259.2 MB which in comparison to the MP4 video file which is only 49.6 MB means it is five times bigger.[5] This can be viewed negatively as the size of the file affects how long it takes to upload, download and also affects the time it takes the video to buffer, meaning the MP4 video file is the better choice when it comes to speed. So it depends on what your own preference; if you’re after a high quality video and don’t mind the wait, MOV is your best option, otherwise use MP4.


Both MOV and MP4 formats have their advantages and disadvantages. With MOV providing better quality files, but not being of use outside the Quick Time environment and MP4 being supported by most operating systems, and providing better compression sizes with a slight loss in file quality. Therefore it’s hard to say which is better as people are going to prefer either format based on their own specific needs.


• Joan, B. (2011). Difference between MOV and MP4. Available: Last accessed 1st Nov 2012.

• Digiarty Software. (2010). What is MOV format?. Available: Last accessed 3rd Nov 2012.

• Reganam Interactive. (2011). MP4 Video Format. Available: Last accessed 3rd Nov 2012.

• DeFrees, B. (2011). .MOV VS .MP4 – IMAGE QUALITY VS. FILE SIZE. Available: Last accessed 2nd Nov 2012.

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