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Don't Be Fooled: MPEG-4 isn't DivX, and DivX isn't MPEG-4

Jeff Sauer

January 5, 2021 | A public service announcement from the good folks at EMedia Magazine:

If you do a Web search for MPEG-4, you're likely to come up with several results for something known as "DivX" (a moniker once also used for the ill-fated, limited-play DVD movie discs promoted by Circuit City). Freeware and shareware versions of DivX encoders--like VirtualDub and FlaskMPEG--claim the ability to put DVD-quality movies onto much smaller CD-ROM discs through efficient "MPEG-4" compression, essentially positioning DivX as the MP3 of DVD video.

However, DivX is not a compliant version of the MPEG-4 standard. It is essentially a reverse-engineered version of Microsoft's Window's Media codec, which was based on an early proposal of MPEG-4, but not the final version. In fact, Microsoft originally called the codec "MPEG-4," but has since done the right thing by moving away from that designation.

Today, Microsoft, like RealNetworks with RealVideo 8, claims that its codec actually achieves better quality for straight video and audio compression than MPEG-4 and some MPEG-4 proponents agree. However, neither it nor the DivX version are open standards and neither is likely to work with a standard MPEG-4 or with MPEG-4-enabled devices of the future such as cellular phones, PDAs, or set-top boxes.

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