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MKV File Format: File Format Chart

The following table contains technical and descriptive information about the four most common moving image file formats for preservation. Current standards were assessed by examining Library of Congress File Formats and their use; blogs and forums dedicated to explaining file formats from the community; file format documentation; and other University's preservation policies. Please see the Resources page for links to the resources consulted in creating this chart. 

Moving Image Preservation File Formats Comparison

AVI

MPEG-4

MOV

MKV

GENERAL INFO

Name

Audio Video Interleave

MPEG-4 Part 14

QuickTime File Format

Matroska Multimedia Container

File Container

AVI

MPEG-4 Part 12

QuickTime

Matroska

File Extension

.avi

.mp4

.mov, .qt

.mkv

Developer

Microsoft and IBM

Moving Pictures Experts Group

Apple, Inc.

CoreCodec, Inc.

Standards

None

ISO/IEC 14496-2:2004

ISO/IEC 14496-2:2004, as an extension of MPEG-4

None

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SUSTAINABILITY STANDARDS

Disclosure

Proprietary

Non-proprietary

Proprietary

Non-proprietary

Documentation

Fully documented by Microsoft and IBM

Fully Documented

Fully Documented

Fully Documented

Adoption

Widely adopted

Widely adopted

Widely adopted

Modestly adopted

Impact of patents

None known to LoC

Licensed by MPEG LA LLC and Via Licensing Corporation

Licensed by Apple and limited to Apple software and other technology.

Open standards for all. Source code licensed under GNU L-GPL. Free parsing and playback libraries under BSD license for adoption.

Transparency

File wrapper is transparent; encoded video bitstreams "require tools and documentation to decode"

Depends on encoding, but all encoding depend on "algorithms and tools to read and require sophistication to build tools"

"relatively transparent," all codecs have documentation

Depends on encoding, but all encoding depend on "algorithms and tools to read and require sipistication to build tools"

Self-documentation

Technical info provided in header chunks; descriptive in RIFF chunks

Object and scene descriptions required

Technical metadata is in the header for the atoms and in locations in the file

Technical and descriptive metadata in the wrapper

External Dependencies

None

Surround sound requires multiple loudspeakers

None

Need a DirectShow parser filter for Windows machines. Other non-DirectShow players do not need the parser.

Technical protection mechanisms

None

Standardized Intellectual Propterty Management and Protection (IPMP) interface

May require users to enter a media key; files cannot be played on more that three platforms; limited by Apple software

Encryption is supported

OTHER TECHNICAL INFO

Popular Codec

DiVx/XviD

H.264

Apple ProRes 422 (LT)

FF Video Codec 1

Video coding formats

Almost anything through Video for Windows (VFW)

H.264, MPEG-4 Part 2, MPEG-2, MPEG-1

MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Part 2, H.264, H.263, H.261, Apple ProRes, Apple Pixlet, Cinepak, Component VIdeo, DV, DVC Pro 50, Graphics, Motion JPEG, Photo JPEG, QUickTime Animation, Sorenson VIdeo 2, Sorenson Video 3

Any

Audio coding formats

Almost anything through Audio Compression Manager (ACM); Vorbis is problematic

ACC, MP3

ACC, HE-AAC, Apple Lossless, MP3, AMR, Narrowband, etc.

Any

Audio formats supported

MP3, WMA, AAC, AC-3, DTS, PCM, LPCM

MP3, WMA, Opus, AAC, AC-3, DTS, LPCM, ALAC, DTS-HD

MP3, WMA, Vorbis, AAC, PCM, LPCM, FLAC, ALAC

MP3, WMA, Vorbis, Opus, AAC, AC-3, DTS, PCM, LPCM, FLAC, ALAC, MLP/Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD

Video formats supported

MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (A)SP, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, VC-1/WMV, Real Video, THeora, Microsoft MPEG4 V2, VP8

MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (A)SP, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, H.265/HEVC, VC-1/WMV, Real Video, Theora, Microsoft MPEG4 V2, VP8, VP9, MVC

MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (A)SP, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, H.265/HEVC, VC-1/WMV, Theora

MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (A)SP, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, H.265/HEVC, VC-1/WMV, Real Video, Theora, Microsoft MPEG4 V2, VP8, VP9, MVC

Compression

Lossless

Lossy

Lossy

Both -- Lossless with FFV1 encoding

Timecode

Competing approaches

Depends on the software

Supports multiple timecodes, located in the tmcd atom

Located in the "headers for blocks, blockgroups, and clusters"

3D Objects

Not known

Yes

​Yes

​Yes

Captions/subtitles

Yes, via third party mods

​Yes

​Yes

​Yes

Can contains both audio and video data

​Yes

​Yes

​Yes

​Yes

Capable of running on PC and MAC OS

​Yes

​Yes

​Yes

​Yes

Metadata

Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP)

Various: Object Content Information (OCI), MPEG07 data ( a separate standardized structure for discovery)

Technical metadata is in the header for the atoms and in locations in the file.

Various: Technical and descriptive metadata in the wrapper. Descriptive metadata can be embedded in the tagging section.

Other noted limitations

1. No stardardized way to encode aspect ratio;

2. No standardized was to include a time code;

3. Not intended to "contain video using compression technique that requires access to furutre video frame data -- issues with playback software;

4. Cannot contain some types of variable bitrate such as MP3 below 32kHz;

5. 5MD per hour of video;

6. No metadata for "scan type"

Still evolving

"QuickTime permits users to make as many timecode tracks as they wish, but experts report that this can inhibit interoperability and some tracks may not be properly read. "

1. Still evolving;

2. More complicated than AVI;

3. Reputation tainted by online origin