M4V vs. MP4: What Is the Difference between M4V and MP4

Edited by Nataly Bogorad

March 18, 2021

Video file formats can get incredibly confusing if you don’t have a history in the industry. Two of the most common file types are M4V and MP4, but what is the difference between M4V and MP4? Which should you be using for your project? Is one better than the other? We answer all of your questions about these two file types and explain the difference between an MP4 file and an M4V file in this guide. The two files have a lot in common, and they are both suitable for editing and playing on a variety of devices. However, you might need a converter if you don’t have a device that can read M4V or you are using software that isn’t compatible. The subtle differences between the two types of software mean that it is important to fully understand the differences.

MP4 vs. M4V: The Thorough Comparison

We delve into some of the specific aspects as well as answering “what is an MP4 file?” and “what is an M4V file?” for you below.

What Is an M4V File?

M4V is what is called a container format. It was developed by Apple to try and create a folder that can’t easily be shared and illegally distributed. They are protected by a FairPlay DRM (Digital Rights Management). Because the file type was made for selling digital media, there are many features that are user-friendly, such as the support of chapters within the file to allow skipping. The .m4v file is most commonly found in Apple devices and programs. If you have purchased a movie on iTunes, for example, it will be an M4V file. M4V files aren’t necessarily protected by Digital Rights Management, it is an optional function for the manufacturers to use to prevent privacy.

What Is an MP4 File?

An MP4 is another container format. It can support the audio and visual content that needs to be stored, but it is also for other data such as subtitles. MP4 files don’t have DRM protection, which makes it a suitable file for widely-shared media that doesn’t need to lock anyone out. The .mp4 extension works on a wide variety of media players and devices and is easy to stream online. This makes it a popular file for many different video functions. The MP4 format is short for “MPEG-4 Part 14”.

Encoding Method

Another key difference in choosing between M4V or MP4 is the codec. MP4 files are capable of containing MPEG-4, HEVC, or H.264 files. On the other hand, an .M4V file is encoded using H.264 codec. There are no alternatives for creating this type of file. Any difference in the actual video quality is negligible. However, H.264 encoding uses more data and can result in some big files. This can make a difference depending on where you are storing or writing the files.

Compatibility

When considering the difference between MP4 or M4V file formats, the compatibility might be the top criteria for the consumer. In a straight comparison looking at the number of devices and programs that can read the files, the .mp4 file extension is far more widespread. Both Windows and Mac can recognize these files. M4V files are a little more specialist. They may be known as the iTunes M4V because they were originally created to be used with Apple’s software. However, QuickTime player supports the file format as well. Windows devices and Android devices might need specialist software installed to view M4V video, or a conversion. Android devices often find that they are “locked out” of easily viewing or using M4V files.

Popularity

Both file formats are very popular, especially when you consider the huge reach that Apple has. However, if you are comparing MP4 vs. M4V directly, there is no denying the fact that the MP4 format is more widespread. The fact it doesn’t have DRM protection makes it easy to upload and download, or share on a server or even via email. Plenty of software will allow you to view M4V, but MP4 is almost universal. It is not too much of a consideration for most users, because even if you buy something that is not in the form you wish, such as if you don’t have an M4V player, you can convert the file. More on this later.

Developers

To understand the difference between MP4 and M4V it is a good idea to consider the development and what the files were created for. The M4V format was designed by Apple with the priority of stopping piracy, which is why it includes the DRM. The MP4 file extension has a more open past. It was created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It is a development on the QuickTime file format. It can handle more MPEG data as well as Initial Object Descriptors.

M4V or MP4: The Comparison Table

The table below will help you to understand the features of the two file formats at a glance.

Comparison Parameters

M4V

MP4

DeveloperAppleInternational Organization for Standardization
File extension.m4v.mp4
Video codecH.264H.264
Audio codecMP3, AAC, AC-3MP3, AAC, AC-3
Added data featuresChapters and soft subs for text and timing data
Copyright/piracy restrictionsFairPlay DRM protection makes it hard to share M4V filesNo inbuilt restrictions
CompatibilityEasiest to play on Apple devices, though some Windows Media Players can support the fileCan play on the vast majority of media players and devices
ProsHelps media creators to prevent piracy of their videosEasily shareable, great for downloading and editing
ConsLimited compatibility, and difficulty transferring from one device to anotherHarder to protect from piracy

MP4 or M4V: How to Choose Between the Formats

When comparing M4V vs. MP4, the differences are pretty negligible for a lot of users. If you have no need to protect the media or to write subtitles within, then it doesn’t make a huge difference which you go for.

Consider the fact that if you are going to create an M4V file then someone will need a specific, suitable M4V player. This is not a difficult thing to source, but MP4 is still more of a widespread file.

If you need to include soft subs and timing data then you might want to go for the M4V file type. This allows you to include subtitle data which is stored with the raw video file in a folder. In a video player such as iTunes, this data is then used to show subtitles on screen at the appropriate time.

If you are uploading a video that you want to be downloaded, shared, and even edited far and wide then it might be a good idea to make it available as an MP4 file. More people can access this without having to convert or download specific software.

Though you should always consider who is going to be consuming the media you create, the difference in terms of quality and size is so small that there is no real need to prioritize one format due to its higher resolution, for instance. If you have a preference between the two file types it is probably because of your device or software, which makes it easier to use one over the other.

How to Convert M4V to MP4 or MP4 to M4V

These file formats have a lot in common and can carry video files of similar quality. For this reason, it’s pretty simple to convert one to the other. This is incredibly useful when it comes to making a file type that is suitable for playing on your device. If you have an M4V file and you want to turn it into an MP4 ready for use on an Android phone, or to edit as you please, this is easily done using simple software.

Movavi Video Converter makes it simple to convert MP4 to M4V and vice versa and supports over 180 different file formats. As well as conversion, you can also use the software to make any edits to the video that you need to.

This is a common alternative to some popular freeware, VLC media player, which is also able to convert the file format, on top of playing a variety of other media types and video file formats.

The steps are simple:

  1. Install Movavi Video Converter: launch the installation file and follow the instructions on the screen. There is a Mac and a Windows version, ensure you have the correct installer.

    Download Movavi Video Converter for Windows

    Download Movavi Video Converter for Mac

  2. Import your files to the program: click Add Media, then Add Video, and select the M4V file you want to convert to MP4 or the MP4 you want to convert to M4V.
  3. Select target format: open the Video tab, select MP4 or M4V depending on which you need as the output file, and choose a preset.
  4. Save the result: click Save to in the bottom of the program window and specify the output folder. Finally, hit the Convert button to convert M4V to MP4 (or the other way around). After this, your new file will have been created and you can import it to the software you want to use to either play or edit it. Alternatively, you can edit within Movavi Video Converter.

Nataly Bogorad

Nataly Bogorad is a seasoned content creator and web text editor with 7 years of experience in commercial writing and website UX. In 2012, she graduated from Universität Kassel with a bachelor of arts degree in English and American studies and art criticism. At the same time, Nataly had worked as a project assistant for Regionalmanagement Nordhessen GmbH where she wrote and managed the content of the company website. An advanced speaker of English and German, she specializes in writing SEO-optimized and user-friendly content.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better: M4V or MP4?

Strictly talking about file quality, there is very little difference between MP4 and M4V. When you compare M4V vs. MP4 in detail, you’ll find that the M4V format often has more data stored for subtitles, and features DRM protection to prevent privacy. MP4 is more widely accessible for all devices including Android.

Are MP4 and M4V the same?

An MP4 file and M4V file are not exactly the same. M4Vs can include soft subs, and they also include DRM protection to prevent piracy and make it harder to share the files between users and devices.

How to play M4V files?

There are limits to the software and devices that can play these files. A specific M4V player might be required. Software that lets you view M4V files includes Movavi, Media Player Classic, K-Multimedia Player, RealPlayer, Zoom Player, VLC media player, plus Nero Showtime. The files can usually be natively played on Windows software, but not on Android devices. This is why so many people need to convert the files.

I can't import an M4V video file into iTunes. What should I do?

If your file isn’t loading in iTunes, check to see if an error message prompts you to do anything like update your software. If not, you might need to change the iTunes M4V into another compatible file, which can be done by conversion. All you need to do is turn the file into a different file type that is supported on iTunes. Luckily, the MP4 file extension is easy to load within iTunes and other Apple software.

Can the VLC Media Player convert M4V to MP4?

Yes, it can. To convert M4V to MP4 using VLC Media Player, open the software and go to the Media menu. You will find a Convert/Save option. You can then choose the file you want to convert, and the destination folder. Next, choose whether to add subtitle files and click on Convert/Save. This will then start the process of turning the media into an MP4 file for editing or loading your video files elsewhere.