MP4 players open the door to a more contemporary and expansive world of video and audio capabilities for computers, the Internet, and mobile devices. With its roots based on one of the several parts of the overall MPEG-4 standard and direct links to Apple’s QuickTime technology, MP4 is ideal for streaming video on the Internet and other distribution platforms and all you need to do it is a MP4 player. The good news is that there are a large number of free MP4 players for Windows, Mac, and mobile devices available to play content from within a MP4 wrapper.
When you first start talking about MP4 players you should realize that you’re not referring to a piece of hardware. With the term “MP3 player” typically meaning a handheld device to play music, it’s a natural leap to assume that’s what we’re also discussing. That’s not the case here. Although for marketing purposes, many hardware devices are indeed called MP4 players. We’re talking about the decoding and processing software often found in free MP4 player downloads that makes the hardware capable of playing back the video and audio. Though it is true that the majority of mobile devices capable of playing video already have their preferred formats built-in, installing special CODEC packages can modify some of them.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN FREE MP4 PLAYERS
With MP4 becoming one of the new stars of delivering MPEG-4 (H.264) content and the ability to be a wrapper for other formats, it’s no wonder there are a growing number of free MP4 player downloads available online. Add to those, converters, rippers, burners, and CODEC packs to change various input formats to MP4 and the selection process can be overwhelming.
Play MP4 Videos Anywhere
A few samples of free MP4 players include QuickTime and iTunes (yes, iTunes is a type of player, using both the .m4a file format for music and .mp4 for movies) by Apple, GOM Player, VLC, Windows Media Player, Media Go by Sony and of course RealPlayer. Some MP4 players will just play video in the .mp4 format, while others can do more. Of course, you can also upload MP4 videos up to the RealPlayer Cloud and then you can play them on just about any device you want.
MP4 PLAYER CHECK LIST
Selecting a MP4 player that’s right for you really depends on your computer and what you want it to do. If you want a MP4 player that simply plays MP4 videos most of them will be just fine. There are players that do more such as support subtitles and even convert existing video files into the mp4 format. Here’s a short list of what you should look for in a MP4 player:
- User interface functions
- Support for subtitles and metadata
- Look and feel
- Library and playlist media management
- Burning DVDs (Note: If you already have DVD burning software this is not an important requirement)
- Lightweight – putting less stress put on your CPU and RAM
- Graphics processor acceleration
- Convert other video files to MP4/H.264
- Plug-ins for expandability
- Video and audio enhancements through preferences
- Lack of conflicts or playback problems with your system
MP4 PLAYERS WITH ENCODERS AND CONVERTERS
Perhaps more than MP4 players, encoders encompass more of a “black art” in order to create high-quality images and sound. There are numerous parameters that must be taken into account, such as the aspect ratio, key frame distance, resolution, frame rate and the bit rate (variable or fixed) at which the original material will be encoded are some of the primary settings to look for. What determines the need for which settings is the type of end delivery system the video will be played back and displayed on.
The better MP4 players will also have a converter feature, allowing you to change from one file format to .mp4. Keep in mind that even though the H.264 end product plays back efficiently, encoding can be a CPU-intensive process so you’ll want to make sure the computer you use can support the MP4 player you select. High-end, professional encoders costing thousands of dollars not only use the best software, they throw-in significant dedicated hardware at the problem. That said, there are some quality software solutions for well under $1,000. There are also free MP4 players, such as RealPlayer that can be used to convert video in one file format to .mp4.
MP4 & FREE MP4 PLAYERS – PART OF A NEW ERA
As we move into MPEG-based player formats, it’s worth a brief review of the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) standards designated for a variety of digital video formats, which have progressed in complexity and quality over the years. Each MPEG standard encompasses several “parts.” These represent evolutionary changes and improvements designed for particular applications.
Older MPEG standards, such as MPEG-1, a very low bit-rate format, were designed for content distribution on CDs. It can also be encoded onto DVDs for low-quality or high-capacity playback. MPEG-2 was the next step and is the standard for DVD-Video. It was also originally used for some over-the-air and satellite services. It can also be used for high-definition (HD), but lacks the efficiency and higher bit rates that MPEG-4 encoding handles. These “parts” within the respective MPEG specifications are important since different parts translate to different capabilities.
For example, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (Advanced Video Coding) is known as part 10. AVC/H.264 is designed for high bit-rate Blu-ray content, but because of its range of bit rates and efficient encoding, it can also be essentially downsized and incorporated into Internet video distribution services. MP4 is in part 14 of MPEG-4. To be clear MP4, with its file extension of .mp4, is not an actual encoding format as is the case with H.264. MP4 is a “container” which can carry H.264 encoded material, along with other formats. Since the two are so closely related in MPEG-4 terminology, they are often incorrectly used interchangeably. H.264 also has an important tie-in to HTML5 with H.264 video and audio being directly embedded into a web page.
FREE MP4 PLAYERS ARE HERE TO STAY
MP4 is destined to be with us for a long time and so are MP4 players. The MPEG-4 standard is still growing and improving, and with that, MP4 players will see continued expansion of their ability to deliver higher quality at less cost to more and more types of devices. If HTML5 and H.264 do become the predominant combination of web distribution for video and audio, we’ll see new products and services that will only continue to create a more media-rich interconnected world. In the meantime, MP4 players can be used to watch plenty of the video currently available online.
As always, if you have any questions about MP4 players just leave me a comment below.