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.

5-10 david cbr_.jpg

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

5_10_MP_CBR_bike.jpg

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.

4mbps_horse.jpg

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.

2mbps_horse.jpg

About Jan Ozer

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.

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