H264 vs MPEG-2 Quality

I recently produced a webinar for Broadcast Engineering Magazine where I compared the quality of the same test footage encoded using the H.264 and MPEG-2 codecs. Since most production encoding in the broadcast space is live, I used encoding using constant bit rate encoding and limited both codecs to the Main profile, since not all playback devices support the high profile. I encoded all test files using Sorenson Squeeze 7.

Here are the frames that I showed in the presentation. Click each figure to view the full resolution frame.

MPEG-2 at 10 Mbps, H.264 @ 5 Mbps

Low motion – very little difference in quality.

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High motion – MPEG-2 gets very blocky, even at twice the data rate of H.264.


MPEG-2 at 10 Mbps, H.264 @ 4 Mbps

MPEG-2 has better detail retention (see the man’s face), but is much blockier. Most viewers would still likely prefer H.264 though. Don’t mind the captions, these files were encoded using the main profile and CBR also.


MPEG-2 at 10 Mbps, H.264 @ 2 Mbps

At 20% the bitrate of MPEG-2, we’ve probably crossed the Rubicon, and MPEG-2 is superior. Don’t mind the captions, these files were encoded using the main profile and CBR also.


About Jan Ozer

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I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks and evaluate new encoders and codecs. I am a contributing editor to Streaming Media Magazine, writing about codecs and encoding tools. I have written multiple authoritative books on video encoding, including Video Encoding by the Numbers: Eliminate the Guesswork from your Streaming Video (https://amzn.to/3kV6R1j) and Learn to Produce Video with FFmpeg: In Thirty Minutes or Less (https://amzn.to/3ZJih7e). I have multiple courses relating to streaming media production, all available at https://bit.ly/slc_courses. I currently work as www.netint.com as a Senior Director in Marketing.

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