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Fleishman On HEIF, HEVC Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

30 June 2017

In an article published on TidBITS today, Glenn Fleishman explores Apple's move in High Sierra from JPEG to High Efficiency Image File format, as well as High Efficiency Video Coding for movies. HEVC and HEIF Will Make Video and Photos More Efficient is nearly 3,000 words but it answers a lot of questions.

Yet Another Image Format. We're brewing more formats so we need new a new container.

One is how to pronounce HEIF. Like "beef." That's how Apple pronounces it, he points out.

Another is that HEFI is a container using new compression techniques, which can be handled by newer hardware or, in the case of older devices, in software.


Why a container? Because we do so many more things with imaging today. The old dichotomy of stills vs. video has been blurred by things like Live Photos.

"An HEIF file will be able to hold text, audio, video, still images, and sequences of frames for bursts and animations, and software will be able to extract and present to use the relevant information depending on what we’re trying to do," he explains.

It will also be able to hold alpha channel information and editing data, much like a DNG file stores in its header.


So the big question is when will my software understand the new format? Fleishman explains that it may not have to:

Moving outside Apple's ecosystem will typically -- at least initially -- require transcoding and export and those conversions will almost certainly happen without you even realizing. Apple is encouraging developers to keep this approach in mind, too.

Apple's developer tools, he points out, assess what format is required to share or display the image. Apple apps and operating systems as well as independent apps will do the conversions or offer export options, while using HEIF for internal use.


Seamless, though, the introduction of the new format is not.

If you don't update your devices to iOS 11 and High Sierra at the same time, he warns, some devices will be able to read the new format and others won't.

Even more worrisome, since Apple hasn't addressed the issue yet, is what happens to your existing images. Will JPEGs still be JPEGs or will Photos spend a few nights converting them to HEIFs?


Our captures have certainly evolved to include more than stills and movies. A new format that knows what to do with all of them is inevitable. And HEIF, at least, is built on an ISO standard.

So Fleishman takes an optimistic view of the coming transition.

"Nevertheless, the advantages for HEVC and HEIF are clear," he concludes, "and the transition shouldn't be rocky if you move forward all at once. But hey, keep good backups, just in case."

Which is always good advice.

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