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AVI vs. MP4: Which Is Better?

AVI and MP4 are among the most popular video formats. We’re used to seeing their file extensions often, but how many of us actually know what sets them apart? And which one is better, MP4 or AVI? It depends. Read below to learn more about the difference between MP4 and AVI, their pros and cons, and what purpose they’re best suited for.

What is AVI?

AVI is a proprietary container format for audio and video. As a container, it can carry video compressed using different codecs. Most of these codecs were supported at the time of its release. Nowadays, the choice has become narrower, due to newer compression technologies with harder requirements (like variable bitrate). AVI doesn’t support attachments, such as images or subtitle tracks.

The metadata (or information in text format pertaining to the video) for AVI comes in the form of RIFF. It’s supposedly expandable, in order to support additional types of metadata. However, this expansion was never standardized. As a result, many features added via RIFF were underused, and some even caused compatibility problems. There is optional support for embedded XMP data (a type of metadata that can be created and edited as an XML document), but not without potential compatibility issues.

AVI was introduced as a Microsoft counterpart to QuickTime. And just like Quicktime, it shipped as a collection of various tools and utilities, known as the "Video for Windows'' package. However, it had a price tag of $200. This, together with some nasty legal issues, meant AVI never quite got out of QuickTime’s shadow.

AVI File Format

icon pros Pros

  • Accessible because it’s compatible with a lot of hardware and software
  • Exceptionally high-quality audio fidelity
  • You can use various codecs to achieve your desired compression ratio
  • Good for promo videos, short movies and ads due to its compression capabilities and people being well familiar with the format
  • Perfect for master files because it will maintain its quality over time

icon cons Cons

  • Uncompressed AVI files are larger than other formats, so you end up sacrificing disk space for quality
  • Excessive compression leads to the loss of video quality
  • User interactivity is not supported
  • Not reliable for softsubs because because AVI cannot combine subtitles with video during playback

What is MP4?

MP4 is a container format, patented and released under a non-free license. It’s part of the MPEG-4 standard (namely, a part called MPEG-4 Part 14). It can contain audio, video and subtitle streams, with some possible additions, such as images. MP4 files only support MPEG encodings, mainly AVC for video and AAC for audio.

Some information about the video can be stored as metadata. It has plentiful implementations and uses, including chapter timestamps and bookmarks. The format also supports XMP metadata (editable as an XML document). While it’s not exactly an open software, editing tools are numerous and easy to find.

The MPEG standard itself was based on a variation of Apple's QuickTime container format. QuickTime was a multimedia framework, which came bundled with macOS. With the addition of some new codecs and features, it took off and gained popularity with vendors and users alike.

MP4 File Format

icon pros Pros

  • Compatible with different platforms, which makes it easier to use
  • Can contain metadata and XMP, as well as subtitles
  • Can contain 3D graphics, menus, and other user navigation options
  • A high degree of compression means smaller file sizes, which can be streamed online
  • Many open-source media players provide full MP4 support

icon cons Cons

  • Due to codec incompatibilities, audio may become out of sync with video
  • With both audio and video contained in a single file, editing requires lots of computing power
  • It’s a lossy format, meaning a higher degree of compression would lead to a decreased audio and video quality of the output
  • Its popularity and portability facilitate the illegal distribution of copyrighted content

How to open AVI or MP4 on Mac?

1. Download Elmedia Player on your Mac and install the app.

Download AVI player for Mac

2. Open the player and add your MP4 or AVI file in one of three ways:

  • Grab the file you want to play and drag it onto the Elmedia Player window or to its dock icon.
  • Right-click on the AVI or MP4 file, choose "Open With…" and pick Elmedia Player from the available programs. Then, click "Open."
  • Click on "File" in Elmedia Player and select "Open". Locate your file in the Finder window.
How to open video files on Mac

3. Relax and enjoy!

How do the formats compare?

So, which is better MP4 or AVI?

It’s much less of a comparison, and more like one side being completely eliminated. Today, AVI is not a very viable option to store and play your media. It’s dated and limited. MP4 vs AVI size wise is more efficient, and its derivative formats (m4a, m4b, etc.) are a much better choice in most situations.

There are some exceptions, if you have to choose exclusively between AVI and MP4 player for Mac. For example, AVI is capable of true streaming, whereas MP4 can only be downloaded in large chunks. Sadly, it doesn’t have many benefits for general everyday use. Another frequent question is which is better, AVI or MKV.

AVI vs MP4: What to choose

Pros and Cons of Both Formats?

Even with the above info, you may be unsure in your choice of AVI format vs MP4. To quicken your decision, here is the gist of this article:

Category AVI MP4
License Proprietary Patent-encumbered
Codecs Most pre-2000 codecs MPEG codecs
Metadata RIFF, optionally XMP; both have issues XMP
Attachments, such as subtitles Not supported Enabled
Platform support Native on Windows Native on most systems and portable devices
Streamable Yes No
Easy to find tools No Yes


It depends. If you want to save space or play it on your phone, that’s a good idea. If you want to perfectly preserve the file, you should act very carefully, because conversion could introduce some permanent changes and defects.

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