Multimedia software Archive

What is the new HEIF image file format about?

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

An iPhone or iPad running iOS 11 has native support for the HEIF image file format

A new image file format has started to surface over the last few years but it is based on a different approach to storing image files.

This file format, known as the HEIF or High Efficiency Image Format, is designed and managed by the MPEG group who have defined a lot of commonly-used video formats. It is being seen by some as the “still-image version of HEVC” with HEVC being the video codec used for 4K UHDTV video files. But it uses HEVC as the preferred codec for image files and will provide support for newer and better image codecs, including newer codecs offering lossless image compression in a similar vein to what FLAC offers for audio files.

Unlike JPEG and the other image files that have existed before it, HEIF is seen as a “container file” for multiple image and other objects rather than just one image file and some associated metadata. As well, the HEIF file format and the HEVC codec are designed to take advantage of today’s powerful computing hardware integrated in our devices.

The primary rule here for HEIF is that it is a container file format speci

Simple concept view of the HEIF image file format

fically for collections of still images. It is not really about replacing one of the video container file formats like MP4 or MKV which are specifically used primarily for video footage.

What will this mean?

One HEIF file could contain a collection of image files such as “mapping images” to improve image playback in certain situations. It can also contain the images taken during a “burst” shot where the camera takes a rapid sequence of images. This can also apply with image bracketing where you take a sequence of shots at different exposure, focus or other camera settings to identify an ideal image setup or create an advanced composite photograph.

This leads to HEIF dumping GIF as the carrier for animated images that are often provided on the Web. Here, you could use software to identify a sequence of images to be played like a video, including having them repeat in a loop thanks to the addition of in-file metadata. This emulates what the Apple Live Photos function was about with iOS and can allow users to create high-quality animations, cinemagraphs (still photos with a small discreet looping animation) or slide-shows in the one HEIF file.

HEIF uses the same codec associated with 4K UHDTV for digital photos

There is also the ability to store non-image objects like text, audio or video in an HEIF file along with the images which can lead to a lot of things. For example, you could set a smartphone to take a still and short video clip at the same time like with Apple Live Photos or you could have images with text or audio notes. On the other hand, you could attach “stamps”, text and emoji to a series of photos that will be sent as an email or message like what is often done with the “stories” features in some of the social networks. In some ways it could be seen as a way to package vector-graphics images with a “compatibility” or “preview” bitmap image.

The HEIF format will also support non-destructive metadata-based editing where this editing is carried out using metadata that describes rectangular crops or image rotations. This is so you could revise an edit at a later time or obtain another edit from the same master image.

It also leads to the use of “derived images” which are the results of one of these edits or image compositions like an HDR or stitched-together panorama image. These can be generated at the time the file is opened or can be created by the editing or image management software and inserted in the HEIF file with the original images. Such a concept could also extend to the rendering and creation of a video object that is inserted in the HEIF file.

HEIF makes better use of advanced photo options offered by advanced cameras

Here, having a derived image or video inserted in the HEIF file can benefit situations where the playback or server setup doesn’t have enough computing power to create an edit or composition of acceptable quality in an acceptable timeframe. Similarly, it could answer situations where the software used either at the production/editing, serving or playback devices does a superlative job of rendering the edits or compositions.

The file format even provides alternative viewing options for the same resource. For example, a user could see a wide-angle panorama image based on a series of shots as either a wide-aspect-ration image or a looping video sequence representing the camera panning across the scene.

What kind of support exists for the HEIF format?

At the moment, Apple’s iOS 11, tvOS 11 (Apple TV) and MacOS High Sierra provide native support for the HEIF format. The new iPhone and iPad provide hardware-level support for the HEVC codec that is part of this format and the iOS 11 platform along with the iCloud service provides inherent exporting of these images for email and other services not implementing this format.

Microsoft is intending to integrate HEIF in to Windows 10 from the Spring Creators Update onwards. As well, Google is intending to bake it in to the “P” version of Android which is their next feature version of that mobile platform.

As for dedicated devices like digital cameras, TVs and printers; there isn’t any native support for HEIF due to it being a relatively new image format. But most likely this will come about through newer devices or devices acquiring newer software.

Let’s not forget that newer image player and editing / management software that is continually maintained will be able to work with these files. The various online services like Dropbox, Apple iCloud or Facebook are or will be offering differing levels of HEIF image-file support the the evolution of their platform. Depending on the service, this will be to hold the files “as-is” or to export and display them in a “best-case” format.

There will be some compatibility issues with hardware and software that doesn’t support this format. This may be rectified with operating systems, image editing / management software or online services that offer HEIF file-conversion abilities. Such software will need to export particular images or derivative images in an HEIF file as a JPEG image for stills or a GIF, MP4 or QuickTime MOV file for timed sequences, animations and similar material.

In the context of DLNA-based media servers, it may be about a similar approach to an online service where the media server has to be able to export original or derived images from one of these files held on a NAS as a JPEG still image or a GIF or MP4 video file where appropriate.

Conclusion

As the container-based HEIF image format comes on to the scene as the possible replacement for JPEG and GIF image files, it could be about an image file format that shows promise for both the snapshooter or the advanced photographer.

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Your XBox One now has direct access to your Dropbox media pools

Article

XBox One games console press photo courtesy Microsoft

Now you can have access to the pictures and videos on your Dropbox account through this games console

Dropbox Debuts App for Xbox One | Windows Supersite

Dropbox Now Has An Xbox One App | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Dropbox

Blog Post

Download Link

Microsoft Store (Free)

My Comments

Some of you may be exploiting Dropbox as a media pool for the various special occasions in your family’s or friends’ life. This is because of the ability to share photos at best quality with those you want to share them with, including the ability for you to have people contribute photos and videos to the same Dropbox folder you have for that purpose.

In HomeNetworking01.info, I had outlined how you can integrate your Dropbox media-pool folders with your DLNA-capable NAS and Smart TV by copying them a folder on that same NAS. The use cases I was calling out regarding Dropbox media-pool folders include special occasions such as weddings or major birthdays, the children growing up including pictures of the new baby, or memorialising a loved one who had passed away including choosing the pictures to show at their funeral.

The Dropbox app for XBox One

XBox One connected to Dropbox concept diagram

This is how the XBox One can fit in to the Dropbox ecosystem

But you can have direct access to these media pools thanks to Dropbox’s first effort to target consumer-electronics devices. Here, they wrote up a native client program for the Microsoft XBox One games console. It has been achieved thanks to the ability provided by the Microsoft Universal Windows Platform to allow one to create a piece of software for a Windows 10 regular computer, a Windows 10 phone or an XBox with minimal effort to cater to that new device.

What you can do is that you can view the photos and videos and play audio files in all of the folders in your Dropbox account through your large-screen TV connected to the XBox One.

Here, you can operate its user interface using one of the XBox game controllers or the XBox Media Remote, presenting that kind of user interface expected for consumer-electronics devices such as heavy reliance on the D-pad buttons on the remote. As well, the visual interface is optimised for the 10-foot “lean-back” experience associated with the TV screen and software destined for that use case.

Ability to use USB storage devices with the Dropbox app on XBox One

You can also upload files from attached USB Mass-Storage devices to your Dropbox using this same client, which can come in handy when you want to deliver photos from your digital camera’s SD card to that media pool.

Similarly, you can download and copy the files from your Dropbox account to an attached USB Mass-Storage device. A use case for this function would be to copy choice photos from that Dropbox media pool to a USB thumbdrive that you hand over to a digital print shop like most of the office-supply stores or camera stores so you have snapshots to put in that album or show to others; or to show in an offline environment.

The ability to transfer files between your USB storage device and your Dropbox folders using the Dropbox app on the XBox One means that the largest screen in the house makes it easier to make a better call about what pictures and videos should be contributed or taken further. This is due to the fact that two or more people can see a larger image to make that better call.

Conclusion

What Dropbox is doing with their XBox application is to prove that they can write a native front-end program for their online storage service that is relevant to consumer-electronics devices and is presented with the 10-foot “lean-back” experience. Who knows if Dropbox will develop native client software for other smart-TV, set-top box and games-console platforms to allow users to gain direct access to this online service from the biggest screens in the house.

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FLAC–now the audio filetype for archival use

Naim NDS network audio player

This high-end Naim NDS network audio player is an example of equipment that can handle the lossless FLAC file type

If you work with audio content, whether to “rip” CDs to the hard disk or home network, or record speech or music content for audio projects, you may have been dealing with various compressed filetypes like MP3 or AAC as your main recording format.

But most of these filetypes work on a lossy principle where data is effectively lost and when the file is played back, the software reconstitutes that file to make it something to listen to. Now an open-source file format has been released to allow for lossless compression of audio content.

This recently-issued format, known as FLAC or Free Lossless Audio Codec, has answered many audio technicians’ prayers because the sound is encoded in a manner as to prevent the loss of audio content through recording or playback. This is in a similar manner to how a ZIP or RAR “file-of-files” is prepared in order to conserve disk space or bandwidth. You still have the advantage of a compressed file not taking up too much storage space or transmission bandwidth. Being an open-source free codec, it means that audio applications can implement this codec without the need to pay royalties to particular organisations and there are very few other encumbrances on that codec.

FLAC re-rip of CD

FLAC – a better archival format

One of the best analogies that I came across for using FLAC in the audio-archival context is that it is like if you are a wine collector and you purchase a premium wine-cellar to keep your collection. Here, the wine-cellar is keeping the wine collection at an ideal temperature and humidity for long-term storage. But when you want to serve that drop at the dinner party, you have the bottle sitting on the sideboard and resting until it is at the ideal serving temperature.

Previously this required a user to download and install a FLAC codec on their computer to be able to record, play or edit these files. Then the Linux and Android operating systems had native support for this filetype built in to tie operating system and various audio applications provided application-level support for working with these files. Similarly, high-end sound cards and USB DACs furnished this codec as part of their software. Now Windows 10 has provided native support for FLAC files including ripping CDs to these files.

How can I use FLAC in my audio workflow

Creating your digital-audio content

If you use a computer or a file-based digital-audio recorder (including some digital mixers) to record audio content, make sure that you record as a PCM form like a WAV or AIFF file; or as a FLAC file. You may find that some equipment like a lot of the digital mixers with integrated USB recording abilities may only work with USB hard disks or solid-state drives that use high-speed data transfer if you have them record to WAV or similar files.

Then you use an audio editor like Audacity, NCH WavePad, or Rogue Amoeba’s Fission; or an audio converter program like NCH Switch, dbPowerAmp or Foobar2000 to convert the WAV or AIFF file in to a FLAC file. You may find that some video converters may offer audio-to-audio conversion for the FLAC file.

dbPoweramp Music Converter - one of the audio converters worth using out there

dbPoweramp Music Converter – one of the audio converters worth using out there

You could do this to your audio file once you have that file in “master-ready” condition – you have edited it and applied any audio transformations to that file to get it sounding right and it is ready to distribute. On the other hand, you could also create a “raw” FLAC file from the WAV or AIFF you have recorded before you perform any of the editing and audio transformation work. In this situation, you then use this “raw” file as your reference file if you needed to approach the editing in another way.

Even if you are salvaging audio content from legacy media like LPs, open-reel tapes or cassettes, you can still use FLAC as your audio filetype for these efforts. Here, you can use theses FLAC files simply as the digital archive for this media.

As you create or edit a FLAC file, you can add metadata about the content you recorded to that file and, like with MP3 files, that data which describes the song title, performer, genre, album and other attributes stays with that file. This will work properly with smartphones or media players that play these files; along with DLNA media servers that distribute these files across small networks – these servers can index them and have them found according to the metadata that describes the content.

Distributing your FLAC-based audio content

When you distribute your content, you can then use the FLAC file as your source file – you could simply copy that file if you are targeting newer FLAC-compatible  “open-frame” equipment like Android or Windows 10 smartphones or Windows computers, or convert to MP3, AAC or Apple Lossless for Apple and other equipment that doesn’t support FLAC. Similarly, most current-issue DLNA-capable NAS units can work from FLAC files especially if you have FLAC-capable playback equipment on the network.

The FLAC file is also useful as a “master” audio file if you are creating an Audio CD because it is a compressed audio file that has has the same audio qualities as a PCM WAV or AIFF file. Similarly, you may have to convert the FLAC to a WAV or AIFF if you are importing it in to a video editing program for use as part of your video project’s soundtrack.

Conclusion

Once you use FLAC as your main file type for audio recording and editing or simply convert legacy audio files to FLAC, you are then ending up with a digital-audio file that can be used as an archival or distribution-master form.

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Elementary video software available for peanuts

It is worth knowing that if you are wanting to dabble with video editing, there are some options out there that offer more functionality than what Apple and Microsoft offer for their platforms but are within the budget range of most hobbyists, small businesses and community organisations.

NCH and Wondershare offer video-editing and video-conversion tools that are easy to use for someone with modest computer skills but don’t cost an arm and a leg. Here, the video conversion options are NCH Prism (US$50) and Wondershare Video Converter (US$50) and your video-editing options are NCH VideoPad (US$69) and Wondershare Filmora (US$50).

I have experienced these tools or seen them in action for myself with, for example, my former pastor turning out a video of my church’s recent overseas missionary trip using Wondershare Filmora. He was able to get a very impressive video without having to face a steep learning curve.

These video tools can earn their keep for turning out “small-time” video efforts without having to face either paying through the nose for the software or taking a long time to learn the software. In some cases, they may make you justify the use of the video abilities in your DSLR or premium compact digital camera or you buying a digital camcorder.

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