High Efficiency Image File Format
|Internet media type|
|Uniform Type Identifier (UTI)||public.heif, public.heic|
|Developed by||Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG)|
|Type of format||Image Container Format|
High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) is a file format for individual images and image sequences. It was developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and is defined by MPEG-H Part 12 (ISO/IEC 23008-12). The MPEG group claims that twice as much information can be stored in a HEIF image as in a JPEG image of the same size, resulting in a better quality image.
The HEIF specification also defines the means of storing High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC)-encoded intra images and HEVC-encoded image sequences in which inter prediction is applied in a constrained manner.
HEIF image files are stored with filename extensions .heif or .heic.
HEIF files can store the following types of data:
- Image Items: Storage of individual images, image properties and thumbnail(s).
- Image Derivations: Derived images enable non-destructive image editing, and are created on the fly by the rendering software using editing instructions stored separately in the HEIF file. These instructions (rectangular cropping, rotation by 90, 180, or 270 degrees, timed graphic overlays, etc.) and images are stored separately in the HEIF file, and describe specific transformations to be applied to the input images. The storage overhead of derived images is small.
- Image Sequences: Storage of multiple time-related and/or temporally predicted images (like a burst-photo shot or cinemagraph animation), their properties and thumbnails. Different prediction options can be used in order to exploit the temporal and spatial similarities between the images. Hence, file sizes can be drastically reduced even when tens of images are stored in the same HEIF file.
- Auxiliary Image Items: Storage of image data which complements another image item. An alpha plane or a depth map are examples for such images. These data are not displayed as such, but used in various forms to complement another image item.
- Image Metadata: Storage of EXIF, XMP and similar metadata which accompany the images stored in the HEIF file.
HEVC Image File Format
- HEVC image players are required to support rectangular cropping and rotation by 90, 180, and 270 degrees. The primary use case for the mandatory support for rotation by 90 degrees is for images where the camera orientation is incorrectly detected or inferred. The rotation requirement makes it possible to manually adjust the orientation of an image or image sequence without the needing to re-encode it. Cropping enables the image to be re-framed without re-encoding. (The HEVC file format, however, does include the option to store pre-derived images.)
- Samples in image sequence tracks must be either intra-coded images or inter-picture predicted images with reference to only intra-coded images. These constraints of inter-picture prediction reduce the decoding latency for accessing any particular image within an HEVC image sequence track.
As HEIF is a container format, it can contain still images and image sequences (where a file contains more than one single image) that are coded in different formats. Currently, these include HEVC and H.264/MPEG-4 AVC (and JPEG for thumbnail/secondary images), though other coding formats may be added in the future. The two main filename extensions are .heif (for any codec) or .heic (for HEVC codec), along with a less common .avci that is typically used for H.264/AVC encoded files.
In Apple's implementation, for single images they have chosen the latter .heic filename extension (.heics for image sequence files) as the only one they will produce for photos, which indicates clearly that it went through HEVC encoding. However, they will support playback of both H.264/AVC encoded .avci files (.avcs for image sequence files), and also .heif files (.heifs for image sequence files) created on other devices that are encoded using any codec, provided that codec is supported by them.
HEIF is supported by the following among others:
- Operating systems
- Microsoft Windows 10 (version 1803, build 17123)
- macOS High Sierra
- iOS 11
- Android Pie
- Image editing software
- Adobe Lightroom (macOS High Sierra, iOS 11+, and Android 9+ only)
- Adobe Photoshop CC (since October 2017 release)
- Zoner Photo Studio X
- Pixelmator (version 3.7 and above)
- The open source library "libheif" supports reading and writing HEIF files
- A free image codec called CopyTrans HEIC, available for Windows 7/8.1 supports opening HEIF files in Windows Photo Viewer 
- Read HEIF image metadata with the free software PIE Picture Information Extractor 
- iMazing HEIC Converter is a free application to convert HEIC files to JPEG on Windows and macOS 
- Messages - the Android SMS/RCS app 
HEIF itself is a container, and when containing images and image sequences encoded in a particular format (e.g., HEVC or H.264/AVC) its use becomes subject to the licensing of patents on the coding format.
- Advanced Video Coding (AVC, aka H.264) – an older encoding format for video and images, first standardized in 2003
- High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC, aka H.265) – an encoding format for video and images, first standardized in 2013
- ISO base media file format – a file format standard that covers HEIF and other similarly formatted multimedia files, first standardized in 2001
- MPEG-H – a suite of standards that includes HEIF and HEVC
- Better Portable Graphics – another image file format using HEVC encoding, published by an individual author in 2014
- AV1 Image File Format – a rival container format under development by the Alliance for Open Media, based on the AV1 video codec
- WebP — an image format based on the VP8 video format
- JPEG — one of the most common and supported lossy image formats, released in 1992 by ITU-T and ISO/IEC
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My name is Erik Turnquist and today Brad and I are going to talk about working with HEIF (heef) and HEVC...
- Richie, Rene (November 14, 2017). "MacBreak Weekly 584 - A Free Pass From Darwin". MacBreak Weekly. Event occurs at 1:54:20. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
...you can tap between JPEG and now HEIF (heef) and RAW...
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- CopyTrans HEIC for Windows
- "macOS High Sierra tech preview: A quick look at the stuff you can't see". 2017-06-19. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
If there's one major downside to both HEVC and HEIF, it's that they're covered by patents that may need to be licensed for use in various apps and services.
- "Converting a JPEG to the new HEIF format". Retrieved 4 July 2017.
HEIF and HEVC are extensively covered by patents, which means there could be legal implications to implementing HEIF support, particularly in paid software or a hardware product.
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