What Is an MPEG File?

Several media players can open MPEG videos, but you can also convert one to a different format

What to Know

  • MPEG files are Moving Picture Experts Group videos.
  • Microsoft Movies & TV, VLC, and iTunes can open MPEG videos.
  • Use Zamzar to convert to formats like MP4, MP3, WAV, etc.

This article explains what an MPEG file is and how to play one or convert one to a different format.

What Is an MPEG File?

A file with the MPEG file extension (pronounced as "em-peg") is a Moving Picture Experts Group video file.

Videos in this format are compressed using either MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 compression. This makes MPEG files popular for online distribution—they can be streamed and downloaded quicker than some other video formats.

The MPEG format can hold data compressed at such a high rate because instead of keeping every frame of the video, it stores only changes that occur between each frame.

MPEG Files
MPEG Files.

Important Information on MPEG

"MPEG" doesn't just speak of a file extension (like .MPEG) but also a kind of compression.

A particular file can be an MPEG file, but not actually use the MPEG file extension. An MPEG video or audio file doesn't necessarily need to use the MPEG, MPG, or MPE file extension for it to be considered MPEG.

For example, an MPEG2 video file might use the MPG2 file extension, while audio files compressed with the MPEG-2 codec usually use MP2. An MPEG-4 video file is commonly seen ending with the MP4 file extension. Both file extensions indicate an MPEG file, but neither actually use the .MPEG file extension.

Some other MPEG standards include MPEG-7 (Multimedia Content Description Interface), MPEG-MAR (Mixed and Augmented Reality Reference Model), and MPEG-DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP).

How to Open an MPEG File

Screenshot of an MPG file open in VLC in Windows 8
VLC Playing an MPG File.

Files that actually have the .MPEG file extension can be opened with many different multi-format media players, like Microsoft's Movies & TV and Windows Media Player. However, if you're not using Windows or those aren't opening your file correctly, try VLC, QuickTime, or iTunes.

Some commercial software that supports playing .MPEG files include Roxio Creator NXT Pro, CyberLink PowerDirector, and CyberLink PowerDVD.

A few of these programs can open MPEG1, MPEG2, and MPEG4 files, too. VLC is known for its support for a huge range of audio and video file formats.

If the program you want to open the MPEG file doesn't launch when you double-click the file, try opening the program first and using its File > Open menu (or something similar) to browse for the MPEG file. You can also change the default program that Windows uses to open the file.

How to Convert an MPEG File

Screenshot of the FileZigZag online MPG converter
MPG to MP3 Conversion With FileZigZag.

Your best bet for converting an MPEG file is to look through this list of Free Video Converter Programs and Online Services to find one that supports MPEG files. Any Video Converter is one example.

Zamzar is one free online MPEG converter that runs in a web browser to convert MPEG to MP4, MOV, AVI, FLV, WMV, and other video formats, including audio formats like MP3, FLAC, WAV, and AAC.

FileZigZag is another example of an online and free file converter that supports the MPEG format.

If you have a large MPEG video to convert, it's better to use an installable converter. Otherwise, it might take quite a while to upload the video to a site like Zamzar or FileZigZag—and then you have to download the converted file back to your computer, which could also take a while.

More Information on MPEG

Picture of the MPEG logo

There are many different file formats that might use MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-3, or MPEG-4 compression to store audio and/or video. You can read more about these specific standards on the MPEG Wikipedia page.

As such, these MPEG compressed files don't use the MPEG, MPG, or MPE file extension, but instead one that you're probably more familiar with. Some MPEG audio and video file types include MP4V, MP4, XVID, M4V, F4V, AAC, MP1, MP2, MP3, MPG2, M1V, M1A, M2A, MPA, MPV, M4A, and M4B.

If you follow those links, you can see that M4V files, for example, are MPEG-4 Video files, meaning they belong to the MPEG-4 compression standard. They don't use the MPEG file extension because they have a specific use with Apple products and are therefore more easily identified with the M4V file extension and can open with programs that are assigned to use that specific suffix. They are, however, still MPEG files.

Still Can't Open the File?

It can get pretty confusing when you're dealing with audio and video file codecs and their corresponding file extensions. If your file doesn't open with the suggestions from above, it's possible that you're misreading the file extension or not fully understanding what kind of MPEG file you're dealing with.

Let's use the M4V example again. If you're trying to convert or open an MPEG video file that you've downloaded through the iTunes Store, it probably uses the M4V file extension. At first look, you could say that you're trying to open an MPEG video file because that's true, but it's also true that the particular MPEG video file you have is a protected video that can only be opened if your computer is authorized to play the file.

However, to say that you have just a generic MPEG video file that you need to open doesn't necessarily mean much. It could be M4V, as we've seen, or it could be something entirely different, like an MP4, which doesn't have the same playback protection as M4V files.

The point here is to pay close attention to what the file extension says. If it's an MP4, then treat it as such and use an MP4 player, but just make sure you do the same for anything else you may have, whether it's an MPEG audio or video file.

Some files are completely unrelated, despite a similar looking file extension. PMG, for example, could be a graphic made with PageMaker or Adobe Photoshop.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you compress an MPEG file? You can shrink an MPEG file using one of the free video editing software programs. Although the steps vary by program, you'll typically go to File > Import, select the MPEG file, and drag the file to the editor's timeline. Select File > Export > MPEG > Advanced Options and choose a smaller resolution before exporting the file. 
  • How do I unprotect an MPEG-4 audio file? Download a DRM removal tool, such as DRmare Audio Converter to unprotect MPEG files for legitimate legal purposes (e.g., backing them up), provided it does not violate the terms of service you agreed to when purchasing the file. Add the audio file to the tool, choose the output folder and format, and then convert the file.
  • How do I post an MPEG file on Facebook? MPEG files are one of the many video file formats that Facebook supports. When creating a post, select Photo/Video and navigate to the MPEG file you want to post. Select Open and add a comment or other information if desired > Post.
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