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MPEG-4 is one of the latest (audio and video) compression method standardized by MPEG group, designed specially for low-bandwidth (less than 1.5MBit/sec bitrate) video/audio encoding purposes.
Probably the best-known MPEG-4 video encoders are called DivX and XviD, which both are nowadays fully standard-compliant MPEG-4 encoders.
It should be noted that unlike MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, the MPEG-4's predecessors, MPEG-4 itself isn't just one unified encoding mechanism, but rather a group name for several flavors of video and audio encoding methods that share certain same characteristics. These "flavors" are often referred either as "profiles" or "layers" in MPEG-4 compression scheme and each new profile should be backwards compliant to the older, "lower" versions of MPEG-4 in terms of playback capability.
The most common MPEG-4 layers that XviD and DivX both use extensively are called simple profile and advanced simple profile. After those two standardized video encoding layers, MPEG-4 group has standardized several new layers -- most important ones are h263+ (which is used widely in mobile phone's, dubbed as 3GP) and h.264 (often also called as AVC).
Related glossary terms
Related software tools
DivX Create (Shareware)
This is the DivX pack you want if you're planning to encode DivX movies on your own.
DivX Plus (Freeware)
The latest version of the DivX. That is, you need to have this file installed if you want to watch DivX movies. And latest codec gives you the best quality.
FFDSHOW (Open source)
FFDSHOW is a super-fast DirectShow decoding filter for decompressing DivX, XviD, WMV, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 movies and supports subtitles as well. If you ever want to watch movies, get this!
XviD Codec (Open source)
XviD is a MPEG-4 compatible codec, which produces very good video quality -- something that really competes with DivX.