They really are the Moving Picture Experts (Group)

If you've read our section on audio formats, then MPEG will sound oddly familiar. Actually, if you've ever played a music or video file through your computer, then you've probably heard of MPEG. They're the Moving Picture Experts Group, after all.

Advertiser Links for MPEG

Although the spectrum of MPEGs actually spans from MPEG-1 to MPEG-21, there are some major holes in that line. For the most part, A/V freaks will only recognize MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-3, and MPEG-4, which are all staples in the audio and video format realm. For the record, the only other two MPEGs in existence are MPEG-7 and MPEG-21, which can be, (very) basically, described as "multimedia frameworks". Today, they're not important.

MPEG: Everywhere you need it


MPEG-1, the very first in the line of excellent formats brought to use by the Moving Picture Experts Group, is worth exploring. MPEG-1 video is comparable to your average VHS tape, and that ain't very good. MPEG-1 audio layer 3 might sound familiar, and it should. MP3s make the world go 'round these days, and are at the heart of the booming digital-audio wave that has made the Apple iPod as important as a balanced breakfast.

Still, like AVI, age has treated MPEG-1 video well. It remains the most popular format for most computers and even VCD/DVD players.

So, why ever move beyond MPEG-1? Well, MPEG-1 only supports progressive images, and this reason is at the heart of the slow shift to MPEG-2.


Although some folks in the tech world still appear to have feelings for MPEG-1, most techies have moved on to the more recently developed MPEG-2. It's at the heart of the best DVD players, and is now the "go-to" format for most audio and video broadcast signals. This means that when you tune into cable or satellite, you're more than likely viewing MPEG-2 images.

Unlike MPEG-1, MPEG-2 supports both interlaced and progressive scan video streams. What this means is that MPEG-2 is not limited to reading images as frames, but may instead be presented as a field. Simply, MPEG-2 offers better picture quality. If you remember anything, remember that.

Because of the technological advancements of MPEG-2, it has gathered some significant attention from big-name tech companies. Owners of the patent for the technology include: Canon, Fujitsu, and Sony.

Like some other big names,
Sony owns a patent for MPEG-2


When talking about video, MPEG-3 truly is a continuance of the ongoing progression of image quality. Image quality began with MPEG-1 in the VHS class, moved to MPEG-2 and DVDs, and progressed into the MPEG-3 period of development. MPEG-3 was responsible for ushering in the exciting world of High Definition Television (HDTV).

But, stop the presses!

Although it offered a radical new way of viewing video, MPEG-3 has required a massive overhaul of a number of systems to show the upgraded visuals. Instead, technologists discovered that MPEG-2 could be manipulated to show HDTV, which essentially ended the immediate need for MPEG-3. How about that?

Note : Don't confuse MPEG-3 with MPEG-1 audio layer 3, otherwise known as MP3. One's a little used video format, and the other is an immensely popular audio format, used around the world by music pirates and iTunes aficionados.


MPEG-4 is the latest standard introduced in compressing and decompressing audio and video data. It was created in 1998, making it the youngest addition to the MPEG audio/visual family. The uses for MPEG-4 are immense, including, but not limited to, compact disc distribution, streaming media, and broadcast television. All of these applications profit from compressing the audio/visual stream.

Perhaps the best part of MPEG-4 is that many of the more intricate features are left up to the individual developer to create. In this period of technology's advancement, it seems particularly important that MPEG-4 has been made open source, for it is the reason for many other applications' growing success, i.e. Bit Torrent.

Explanations of a few audio codecs that employ MPEG-4 technology can be found in the sound section of this digital guide. These include OGG Vorbis, and FLAC, both lesser known but high-quality compression types. When speaking of video compression, some of the more notable codecs include XviD and Huffyuv.