Wondering whether to export your video files in MKV or MP4? You’re not alone.

In this breakdown, we'll be unraveling the mysteries behind MKV and MP4, helping you figure out which one takes the crown.

The short answer is that MP4 is the right choice for most use cases — and is far more common. It’s also the preferred video format for YouTube as it is the most compatible format.

Because of that, we prefer MP4 at StreamYard — any videos you record through the platform will be exportable in MP4 format.

But if you want to dig into the nuances, keep reading.

So, What Is a Video Format?

The video format is all about the specific way in which digital video files are encoded and compressed. In other words, how will the file store and transmit visual and audio data? Different video formats use different compression algorithms. The result is some variation in file sizes, quality, and compatibility.

Some of the most popular video formats include MP4, MKV, AVI, and MOV, although there are many others. Each of them has its own set of advantages and limitations. So, understanding how they work is essential to improve the overall viewing experience.

What is the MKV Format?

MKV stands for Matroska Multimedia Container. MKV is an open standard video file format, and it is not a video or audio compression format itself - but rather a container (Apple’s HLS, for example, is a streaming protocol. MKV, though, is a container format that can include different types of content).

Many people swear by MKV for videos and video podcasts. The reason? The format is known for its flexibility and this ability to encapsulate diverse types of multimedia content within a single file. For example, an MKV can hold an unlimited number of video, audio, subtitle tracks, and metadata.

If we had to sum up the advantages of MKVs in general, these would probably be:

  • Support for various codecs: MKV can contain video and audio content encoded with a wide range of codecs. This means high-quality content with efficient compression.
  • Multiple audio and subtitle tracks: MKV supports more than one track within a single file. So, it's perfect for movies and videos with different language options or alternate audio tracks.
  • Chapter and menu support: You can add chapter markers to your MKV files, similar to DVD or Blu-ray chapters. Menus are also available.
  • Error recovery: MKV has the ability to recover from errors in the file. This is great when you need to stream or play files that may have been partially corrupted.

What is the MP4 Format?

The MP4 format, which is short for MPEG-4 Part 14, is a widely used digital multimedia container format. Like MKV, MP4 is not a video or audio compression format itself; instead, it can hold various types of multimedia content, including video, audio, subtitles, and metadata. MP4 has become one of the most popular and widely supported video formats because it provides a good balance between good compression, high quality, and compatibility

Here are some key features of the MP4 format:

  • H.264 video compression: MP4 often uses the H.264 video compression standard, a widely adopted and efficient method for compressing video data while maintaining high quality.
  • AAC audio compression: MP4s also typically use Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), known for its good audio quality.
  • Broad compatibility: MP4 is widely supported across a range of devices, platforms, and software applications.
  • Streaming support: MP4 is well-suited for streaming due to its efficient compression and compatibility with adaptive streaming technologies.
  • Metadata and subtitles: MP4 supports metadata such as title, author, and copyright information. It can also include subtitles.

Comparing MKV to MP4

Both MKV and MP4 are widely popular video formats. But which one should you choose? MKV files or MP4 files? Let’s compare in terms of quality, size, compatibility, versatility, and ease of use.

Comparing Quality

MKV: MKV is actually known for its ability to preserve high-quality video and audio content. The format supports a wide range of video and audio codecs, too, so you can choose what to prioritize as a content creator.

MP4: MP4, especially when using the H.264 video codec, is also recognized for delivering excellent video quality with efficient compression. In other words, it strikes a great balance between quality and file size.

Keep in mind that bitrate plays a crucial role in determining the quality and file size of your video files - both in MKV and MP4 formats! Higher bitrate generally leads to higher video and audio quality. What's relevant for our guide the bitrate affects how smoothly a video can be streamed or played back. So, when working with MKV or MP4 files, you should consider bitrate as an important parameter.

Comparing Size

MKV: The file size of MKV files can vary based on the codecs and settings you use. Generally, MKV files are a little larger than their equivalent MP4 files, especially if you choose high-quality codecs.

MP4: MP4 files tend to have a good balance between quality and file size. The H.264 video codec, in particular, offers efficient compression for a relatively smaller file size.

If you want the specific size details, this is important to keep in mind. If you are comparing two files of the same video content, resolution, and codec settings, the file sizes of MKV and MP4 are probably going to be very close. However, there will be some differences due to the specific compression parameters you can choose during the encoding process.

Comparing Compatibility

MKV: While MKV is widely supported across many platforms and media players, it may not be as universally compatible as MP4. For example, some older devices and software do not natively support MKV playback.

MP4: MP4 definitely enjoys broad compatibility across a wide range of devices, operating systems, and media players. It has, in fact, become a standard format for online streaming platforms -- and is widely accepted in the industry.

Comparing Versatility

MKV: MKV is a really flexible format because it has a unique ability to encapsulate multiple audio and subtitle tracks. So, it's perfect for many multimedia content (plus, it supports chapters and menus, too).

MP4: MP4 is the all-rounder in the video world. It's great for basic functions like watching videos and sharing native videos on social media or in messaging apps. It does not have multiple tracks and chapters, but it is still widely adaptable.

Comparing Ease of Use

MKV: Creating MKV files usually requires more configuration and knowledge of specific codecs. This can be a thing to consider if you're seeking an easier or more familiar process.

MP4: MP4 is considered generally easier to use, especially for those who prefer a plug-and-play approach. Many devices and software applications support MP4 natively, so the playback experience is just simpler.

Other Comparisons

Comparing Editing Capabilities

MKV: If you're into messing around with videos, MKV's got your back with its support for various codecs and multiple tracks.

MP4: MP4 is great for editing too, especially with H.264. Most video editing software is happy to work with MP4.

Comparing Popularity and Industry Adoption

MKV: MKV has gained popularity among enthusiasts and those who prioritize advanced features. It's like the indie film of video formats! Loved by enthusiasts but not always the star of mainstream video platforms.

MP4: Following this comparison, MP4 is the Hollywood superstar. It rules the industry with gigs on all the major streaming platforms, both for video and video podcasts.

Comparing Metadata Support

MKV: MKV supports extensive metadata, providing detailed information about the content (the metadata). So, it's great for those who love the details.

MP4: MP4 has the basics covered with metadata but might not go into the same level of detail as MKV.

Comparing Resource Intensity During Playback

MKV: Playing MKV files can be a bit demanding on your device. MKV files can require more processing power, depending on the codecs used.

MP4: MP4 is generally less resource-intensive during playback, making it a smoother experience on a broader range of devices. It's just not too heavy on resources.

A Note on Open Source MKV Video and MP4 Video

The MKV (Matroska Multimedia Container) format is open source. This means it is freely available for anyone to use, modify, and distribute under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL).

The MP4 (MPEG-4 Part 14) format, on the other hand, is not inherently open source. It was developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG). However, the specifications for MP4 are open and widely adopted.

Many of the codecs commonly associated with the MP4 format, such as H.264, may have open-source implementations. However the format itself is not governed by an open-source license, so be aware of this if you need to stay within the CC realm.

The Verdict: MKV vs MP4 - Which Is Best For Streaming?

Well... it depends. I know, not very enlightening. But let’s break it down.

First, let’s see the pros and cons of MKV based on what we covered above:

  • Pros: MKV definitely offers high-quality video and audio, supports various codecs, and is highly versatile with multiple tracks and chapters.
  • Cons: File sizes for MKVs can be larger, and compatibility may not be universal across all devices and platforms.

Now, let’s see MP4:

  • Pros: MP4 is well-suited for diverse applications, including online video streaming and mobile devices. It provides a good balance between quality and file size, and it's widely compatible across a range of devices and platforms.
  • Cons: This format might not offer the same level of versatility as MKV in terms of multiple tracks and chapters.

Now, which one should you choose?

If you prioritize top-notch quality, you need multiple audio and subtitle tracks, or you want advanced features like chapters and menus... then pick MKV.

If you're looking for a widely compatible, versatile format that balances quality and file size (especially for YouTube, social media, and mobile viewing)...then go with MP4.


The choice between MKV and MP4 will depend mostly on your specific preferences and your use case. As we've covered, MKV offers greater versatility and quality but less compatibility, while MP4 provides a good balance between quality, size, and compatibility.

The best way to decide between them is to consider your priorities and the devices/platforms (for example, Windows, Mac, Android phones, iPhones, etc) you or your audience intend to use. Whether you lean towards MKV's flexibility or MP4's broad compatibility, both formats have their strengths in the ever-evolving world of streaming.

Ultimately, the goal of picking the best format is to be able to give your audience good-quality content that doesn’t take forever to render.

At StreamYard, we’re partial to MP4 — any videos you create through the platform will be exportable in MP4 format. And you can upload MP4 (or MOV) files to play during live streams or recording sessions.

What’s StreamYard, you ask?

It’s an all-in-one live streaming and recording solution that simplifies the process of creating and distributing your videos. All from your browser. And you can publish your videos directly to YouTube, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Get StreamYard for free today!


Can You Convert from MKV to MP4 and MP4 to MKV?

Yes, you can convert between MKV and MP4 formats and vice versa. There are actually various video converter software tools and online converters to do this. These converters typically do a decent job of preserving the video and audio quality, assuming the original file was good quality.

Is One Format Better Than The Other For Streaming On Specific Devices?

The choice between MKV and MP4 depends on the devices you're using. While MP4 generally offers better compatibility across a wide range of devices, MKV may require additional support or specific apps on certain platforms. So, do consider your primary streaming devices when making your decision.

Which Format Is More Storage-Friendly for Streaming Purposes?

MP4 is often considered more storage-friendly for streaming. This is because it uses a more efficient compression method, especially when using the H.264 video codec. MKV files, depending on the codecs used, may result in larger file sizes. If storage efficiency is a significant concern, stick to MP4. By the way, if you’re looking for a tool that lets you play video clips while you’re live streaming, you can do that with StreamYard — here are the instructions.

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