MPEG-4 is a method of defining compression of audio and visual (AV) digital data. It was introduced in late 1998 and designated a standard for a group of audio and video coding formats and related technology agreed upon by the ISO/IEC Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC29/WG11) under the formal standard ISO/IEC 14496 – Coding of audio-visual objects. Uses of MPEG-4 include compression of AV data for web (streaming media) and CD distribution, voice (telephone, videophone) and broadcast television applications. The MPEG-4 standard was developed by a group led by Touradj Ebrahimi (later the JPEG president) and Fernando Pereira.
MPEG-4 absorbs many of the features of MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 and other related standards, adding new features such as (extended) VRML support for 3D rendering, object-oriented composite files (including audio, video and VRML objects), support for externally specified Digital Rights Management and various types of interactivity. AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) was standardized as an adjunct to MPEG-2 (as Part 7) before MPEG-4 was issued.
MPEG-4 is still an evolving standard and is divided into a number of parts. Companies promoting MPEG-4 compatibility do not always clearly state which "part" level compatibility they are referring to. The key parts to be aware of are MPEG-4 Part 2 (including Advanced Simple Profile, used by codecs such as DivX, Xvid, Nero Digital and 3ivx and by QuickTime 6) and MPEG-4 part 10 (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 or Advanced Video Coding, used by the x264 encoder, Nero Digital AVC, QuickTime 7, and high-definition video media like Blu-ray Disc).
Most of the features included in MPEG-4 are left to individual developers to decide whether or not to implement. This means that there are probably no complete implementations of the entire MPEG-4 set of standards. To deal with this, the standard includes the concept of "profiles" and "levels", allowing a specific set of capabilities to be defined in a manner appropriate for a subset of applications.
Initially, MPEG-4 was aimed primarily at low bit-rate video communications; however, its scope as a multimedia coding standard was later expanded. MPEG-4 is efficient across a variety of bit-rates ranging from a few kilobits per second to tens of megabits per second. MPEG-4 provides the following functions:
Standardized Digital Rights Management signaling, otherwise known in the MPEG community as Intellectual Property Management and Protection (IPMP).
The MPEG-4 format can perform various functions, among which might be the following:
MPEG-4 provides a large and rich set of tools for encoding. Subsets of the MPEG-4 tool sets have been provided for use in specific applications. These subsets, called 'Profiles', limit the size of the tool set a decoder is required to implement. In order to restrict computational complexity, one or more 'Levels' are set for each Profile. A Profile and Level combination allows: