iOS: What Are HEIF/HEVC & How To Enable The Photo/Video Formats

Along with bumping up of storage tiers across the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch lineups to make room for higher resolution media and larger apps, Apple is in efforts to optimize the usage of device storage as well. With iOS 11, apart from switching to a new, more efficient file system called APFS (Apple File System) and allowing apps to be temporarily offloaded, the company has added support for the HEIF and HEVC media formats, which can drastically reduce the amount of space required by photos and videos.

In what follows, we discuss how these new formats differ from the old ones, how much space they can save you, and how to enable them on your device.

What Are HEIF And HEVC?

HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) or H.265 is potentially the next step in the evolution of the AVC (Advanced Video Coding) or H.264 media compression standard that was used in previous versions of iOS and macOS. While HEVC-encoded videos have the same .mov extension as its predecessor, they can take up as less as half the space at the same level of quality. The codec also supports resolutions up to 8K UHD, which is twice the resolution cap (4K UHD) of the AVC standard.

HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format) is a container for individual images, or a sequence of images, which may be encoded using the aforementioned HEVC standard. This relatively new image format can save storage space by keeping full-resolution photos compressed with the HEVC standard while using low-resolution, JPEG versions for display. HEIF images (with HEVC-encoded payload) have the .heic extension.

How Much Space Can They Save?

Apple claims that the new HEVC codec offers up to 40% better compression than H.264 in general use cases and up to twice as efficient compression for photos and videos captured with an iOS device’s camera. This implies that, with the new formats enabled for capture, any photos you take or videos you record using your iPhone or iPad camera should take roughly 50% or half the space at the same quality. Of course, this only applies to new media captured using the camera. Existing photos and videos as well as any screenshots or screen recordings will continue taking up the same amount of space.

HEIF/HEVC Hardware Compatibility

Enabling the option to encode captured media in HEIF/HEVC formats on an iOS device requires the A10 Fusion or newer SoC while HEIF/HEVC decoding (playback) at original resolution requires the A9 chip or newer, though iOS devices with older SoCs do allow viewing the formats at lower resolutions.

The following breaks it down in terms of devices.

Camera Capture Compatibility

  • iPhone 7, 7 Plus or newer
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2nd generation) or newer

Full-Resolution Playback/Viewing Compatibility

  • iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, SE or newer
  • iPad (2017 or 7th generation) or newer
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 9.7-inch, 12.9-inch iPad Pro (1st generation) or newer

How To Enable HEIF/HEVC For Camera Capture

The following is what you need to do to allow the iOS Camera app to save captured photos and videos in the HEIF and HEVC formats respectively. You can switch back to default JPEG and (AVC) H.264 formats any time you want, but remember that any photos taken with the High Efficiency capture formats enabled will remain unaltered.

1. Navigate to Settings > Camera > Formats.

2. Switch Camera Capture to High Efficiency.

Sharing Or Exporting HEIF/HEVC Files

iOS automatically converts HEIF and HEVC files when using the Share Sheet to send to a service, app, or social media that does not support the formats. When exporting media to a PC or Mac, files can be set to retain their formats or be automatically transferred in a format compatible with the destination device. This behavior can be controlled from Settings > Photos, under Transfer to Mac or PC.

Given the latest version of Windows as of this writing, Windows 10, is yet to roll out support for the new formats, PC users would want to choose the Automatic option here.

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Sameed Khan

I write, game, design at times, and revel in sarcasm. You can find me on Twitter.