HEIF and HEVC: Inside the multimedia formats that iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra will adopt as standards

What days, my friends and my friends, what days. We already talked about the new MacBooks Pro, AirPlay 2, iOS 11, iCloud Drive, High Sierra, HomePod and now we are continuing our cross-peaks to unravel all the news, no matter how big or small, announced in the keynote. Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) Opening Ceremony 2017.

This time, we'll talk about a subject that was highlighted for a few minutes at the conference, but left some doubts in everyone's mind: from iOS 11 and macOS 10.13, the Apple ecosystem will adopt a new standard for photo compression. and videos as well as a new image format we are talking respectively of the HEIF It's from HEVC, which come to replace the ubiquitous JPEG and H.264.

Apple's justification that these new formats greatly reduce the amount of space (or bandwidth) taken up by photos and videos, without detracting from quality, which in times of higher resolution and 4K video, Always good news. But the introduction of new paradigms, of course, raises questions: how is this transition going to be? How will we share our content with the world if the world is still crawling in the adoption of these formats? I can no longer post my lunch on Instagram?

Therefore, in the next paragraphs, we will take a closer look at the improvements brought by HEIF and HEVC in particular, how this change will affect our lives in practice.

What HEVC?

High Efficiency Video Coding (or high-efficiency video encoder), also known as H.265 or MPEG-H Part 2, a standard for image and video compression, or, more simply, one of several standards adopted for a machine to store and interpret the data from a video file and convert it to the sequence of images we see on the screen.

FaceTime Camera and its indicator LED

Currently, the most common video compression standard is H.264, widely adopted by the technological world and also by the Apple ecosystem. HEVC is in many ways a new generation of H.264, and its main advantage is that it has a much higher compression ratio for various technical reasons, such as a better motion prediction system and variable block compression rates. In short: HEVC compressed video takes up much less space without loss of quality.

Apple states that overall HEVC-compressed video content is 40% smaller on average than H.264-based but of the same quality. However, videos captured by Apple devices, such as an iPhone, will be even smaller, up to 2x smaller, all thanks to various optimizations in the iOS 11 Camera app.

This is, of course, great so you can record much more content on video taking up half the space on your device, but it has other advantages that may not come to our head at first. FaceTime on iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, for example, adopting HEVC video as standard too, ie video calls on these systems will consume up to half the bandwidth compared to those generated on previous OSs (and this is a great time for update our comparative). This means not only lower consumption of your data plan, but also higher call quality even on poor connections.

It is good to note that HEVC is not a video format itself it is simply a compression standard. That said, fortunately it is compatible with basically the vast majority of video formats widely used today, such as QuickTime (MOV) or MPEG-4 (MP4). In the case of films captured by iGadgets and Macs on new systems, these files will continue with the extension .mov, with the difference that they are now compressed to HEVC instead of H.264.

What HEIF?

You may have noticed at the beginning of this text: HEVC is a standard for image compression and videos (which are, after all, nothing more than a sequence of images). In the case of video, the pattern fits most existing formats, as stated in the previous paragraph. When it comes to images, however, this is not the case: popular formats, such as JPEG, do not support HEVC compression. Therefore, a specific format for images that works with the standard is required.

which enters the high Efficiency Image File Format (or high-efficiency image file format), an image format such as JPEG or PNG, but which, unlike the latter two, allows compression via HEVC.

Like the compressed image in the same way, HEIF has the same advantages as described above: a photo in this format occupies, according to Apple, up to half the space of one in JPEG or PNG, so yes you will have the freedom to “click ”At twice as much with your iPhone or iPad. But not only that, as HEIF also encompasses a number of other aspects of the iOS shooting experience, for example, it supports animations (Live Photos) as well as sequential image capture (Photo Burst); That is, no matter what you want to do in terms of photography from iOS 11, your works will take up half the space with the same quality.

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Raphael Rondelli

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What about compatibility?

Beginning with iOS 11 and macOS 10.13, all photos captured by either system come in HEIF format by default; any video will be compressed, also by default, in HEVC. In the first beta of the new system, there is a setting to revert these defaults to the old ones, but we are not sure if this adjustment will continue in future test versions and final OS versions.

The first question that arises from this information is which devices are compatible with the new formats. In terms of software, only iOS 11 and High Sierra (and higher, when they come) will support them. In terms of hardware, things change: In the case of iOS, devices equipped with the A9 chip or higher support the formats; MacOS will require sixth generation Intel processors (Skylake) or higher.

The second question, of course, has to do with what happens when you pass a HEIF image or HEVC compressed video to a device that is not compatible. Well, they can breathe a sigh of relief: the world will not collapse into formats, precisely because these two formats are easily convertible into more common formats if necessary.

At this session held at WWDC the day before yesterday, two engineers involved in adopting the new formats explain how this interaction works. Basically, developers can take two approaches: always converting or converting when needed. In the first case, the authoring device detects whether the target device is capable of reproducing the media in its original format; if it is, it sends the file intact, otherwise it makes the conversion before sending it. In the second, the image or video is always converted to a more common format when transferred from the authoring device to another (s).

Two practical examples, one from each scenario:

  1. You take a picture on your iPhone 7 Plus running iOS 11 so the image is in HEIF format. The photo automatically saves to your iCloud backup. Ma's cloud service knows exactly which devices are connected to your account, and therefore which ones are capable of displaying the photo in its original format and which are not. Therefore, if you open the photo on a high-end MacBook Pro running High Sierra, the image will be displayed in its original HEIF format. On the other hand, if you access your backup on a first-generation iPad, which doesn't support the format, iCloud automatically converts the photo to JPEG on that device. All done automatically and intelligently. Sharing methods such as AirDrop, for example, will also adopt this method.
  2. You take a picture on your iPhone 7 Plus running iOS 11 so the image is in HEIF format. You then want to pass this photo to some contacts via email. IOS Mail, of course, has no way of knowing if its recipients will open this image on devices that support the HEIF format, so it converts the image before sending and everyone will receive the JPEG photo indistinctly. This should be the method adopted by developers whose target is not determined if you upload a photo to Instagram, Twitter or any social networking application, for example, it will be automatically converted for everyone.

In short, there's nothing to worry about: Apple's ecosystem knows how to handle the differences between each device perfectly, and you'll never miss a chance to share a photo or video because of the adoption of the new formats. Change comes only to bring benefits, not a headache, and no one can complain about that?