Move over JPEG, there’s a new image file format in town that wants to be king. Powered by the latest media compression techniques, AVIF is finding its way into browsers, software, and operating systems. So what is it, and do you need to do anything?
What is AVIF?
AVIF is an image file format developed by the Alliance for Open Media that can be used by anyone. It can store both still and animated images with the “.avif” file extension, using lossless or lossy compression.
AVIF stands for AV1 Image File Format on account of its use of AV1 compression. It is widely seen as a replacement for HEIC (High-Efficiency Image Container), which uses HEVC (High-Efficiency Video Coding) instead of the newer AV1.
In case you’re confused: AV1 compression will eventually replace the older HEVC standard. Since the old HEIC container relies on HEVC, AVIF has been introduced as a new image format that makes use of newer AV1 compression.
Applications for AVIF
AVIF supports both high dynamic range (HDR) and standard dynamic range (SDR) content, including the commonly-used sRGB and BT.2020 color spaces. It supports color depths of 8, 10, and 12-bits, film grain preservation, transparency like PNG images, and animations just like the GIF format.
The new image format boasts better image quality than JPEG and smaller file sizes, with fewer compression artifacts and less image blocking. What does all that mean? It is hoped that AVIF can help save data both for content consumers and the web hosts serving up content.
AVIF support has already made it into Google Chrome (version 85), Mozilla Firefox (version 93), and updated versions of the WebKit engine that powers Safari. Apple has yet to incorporate the AVIF-friendly version of WebKit into Safari’s public release, but Technology Preview 149 has AVIF support. This signals that the feature will make it into iOS 16 and macOS 13 in fall 2022.
A lot of other software already supports AVIF, including image viewers like XnView, media player VLC, Paint.NET, and Adobe Illustrator, and operating systems including Windows 10 and higher, Android 12 and higher, and many Linux distributions.
You Don’t Need to Worry About AVIF
At the time of writing, AVIF has not been widely adopted. There are no current plans to transition your smartphone’s images to AVIF (at present) as there were with HEIC/HEVC. By the time AVIF matters, you’ll probably already be using it and none the wiser.
Want to learn more? You can test out the new format and convert images at avif.io, though you’ll need an AV1-compatible browser. If you absolutely love reading about file formats and compressions then check out our common image file format comparison, an explainer on Google’s WebP, and learn why HEVC (H.265) is so important for modern web video.
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