Move over JPEG, Here Comes HEIF!
One year ago, I posted here about a new image compression format called BPG, based on the HEVC video compression format. In that post, I told you why it will eventually replace JPEG as the most common image compression format for photos. Well, despite it’s comprehensive media coverage, and the fact that it was developed as open-source software by “super-programmer” Fabrice Bellard, the BPG format has not gained much ground in the last year. So today, I want to revise my prediction: I still think, as I wrote in the previous post, that JPEG is old, that a replacement should be based on the new HEVC video codec, and that it should not be backed by a single company (for example, JPEG-XR was backed mainly by Microsoft, and WebP was developed by Google).
In the past few months a new contender has emerged, which in my opinion has very good chances to take the image compression crown from JPEG after 25 years: It’s called HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format), and it is being developed by MPEG, the same standards body that was involved in the development of HEVC (High Efficiency Video Codec), and all of the standard video compression technologies we are using today (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and H.264/AVC).
Flexible File Format
HEIF is based on the ISO Base Media Format, which we all know as MP4, the most common file format for video today. In principal, HEIF can store various types of images, but the main application of HEIF is to store images that have been compressed using the image tools of the HEVC video compression standard. By itself HEIF has some interesting features: It can store both single images and image sequences (photo bursts or video), it can store images and video that were captured simultaneously, and it can also store audio and text which are synchronized with the image sequences.
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Of particular interest to photographers is the ability of HEIF to support both lossy and lossless compression, so you can rest assured that the full quality of your captured photos will be preserved. But the most interesting feature for photographers, and one of the main advantages of HEIF over BPG, is the ability to store image editing operations. These operations, such as rotations, cropping, title and overlays result in “derived” images that are created from a base image. The base image and editing operations are stored separately in the file, and the derived image is created when the file is rendered for display. This gives photographers unprecedented freedom in applying non-destructive editing operations that can be stored in the image file and applied or removed at will.
Better than BPG?
Other advantages of HEIF over BPG are support for additional media types such as audio and text, support for “timed” image collections, and support for MPEG-7 metadata. So it’s quite clear that HEIF has the edge here. But does this mean HEIF will win over BPG (and JPEG)? Well, this is also a battle between two schools of thought: An open-source implementation that can be modified and extended at will, and develops rapidly (but can also be “forked” to create incompatible versions), vs. a format developed by a standards committee, where interoperability is guaranteed, but requires a strict and lengthy evaluation, approval and ratification process.
But Will It Mini?
You bet! The same technology behind the JPEGmini image optimization software also powers our Beamr video optimization software, which supports both H.264 and HEVC. Beamr Video can reduce HEVC videos by 40%, so you can expect similar savings for the HEVC images inside HEIF files. But don’t fear, JPEG will stay with us for many years in the future, and you’ll always be able to reduce your JPEGs by up to 80% with JPEGmini, and never compromise quality.
Until it has support for every browser and social media platform, it probably won’t amount to much. The whole chicken-before-the-egg paradox.
Apple has enough of a user base to force adoption. I’m not a fanboy but I’m glad we can use a modern image format now. Apple innovated by getting rid of optical drives on computers. Now, they can lead in the image format wars. I was really hoping someone would embrace HEVC!
Yes, although I wrote this comment well over a year ago when no one had yet adopted it. 😉 Happy to see Apple embracing it!
This will be interesting. It would seem that is doing this mostly for it’s own user base using iOS11+ only. Meaning that non iOS11 clients will not be able to author OR read HEIF files. This is the reason the shared file will be transcoded to a jpg by proxy unless it’s a supported client (See below). As such, the JPG will not be vanishing anytime soon for many reason, one of which is also the taxing codec. Added, at current, the browser support roadmap for the format is bleak – so is on their own there: https://caniuse.com/#search=HEIF. Is this is good move? Interesting one, and possible gamble as well. They may possibly have the same hiccups that WebP experienced in it’s early days, w/o the support of other clients. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ae2c0a81357f42e1710673c376d0f39db6e82a2b71179c6412cd20392e459044.png
It already has support for every browser.
If by “every browser” you mean “only Safari”, then yes, you are correct.
If by ”only Safari” you mean ”every browser” then yes, you are correct.
Look it up.
Came here from researching HEIF; now that Apple has adopted it wholesale, it’s future and adoption in the mainstream is assured, cross-platform. It makes perfect sense for Apple, with their Photos app using lossless edits synced across devices, and their use of burst photos and live-photos, all perfect for HEIF in a storage-constrained environment, both in their devices like the iPhone and iPad, and iCloud storage.
Can I just rename an MP4 with HEVC to *.heif? Are there any other differences besides how the opening-app will treat the imagery?
Even if Apple adopts it, for it to appear on Windows there either needs to be native support or browser support. Otherwise it’ll remain the domain of pro or Apple users only.
I get the impression ffmpeg will support HEIF in the future. I might creating a new output file rather than renaming. I’d probably try ffmpeg -i my.mp4 -codec copy my.heif and see how that goes. https://trac.ffmpeg.org/ticket/6521
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