AVIF: the future of unlicensed image formats

AVIF image format
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File compression is a key technology for digitalization because it can, in the long run, take some of its resources off-network infrastructures.

In the future, the new AVIF image format is intended to make more data traffic efficient. In the long term, it should even replace the JPEG format, which is widely used today.

Compared to JPEG, the AVIF format offers much more efficient compression, as well as better image quality. Across the world, the largest groups specializing in digital technologies are considering the adoption of this new image format.

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What is the AVIF format?

In 2015, large digital companies formed a consortium with the mission of improving image compression. The Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia) brings together Amazon, Cisco, Facebook, Google (and YouTube), Mozilla, Microsoft, Netflix, Intel, AMD, Tencent, and Apple.

It primarily works on Internet data traffic, with images using more than half of a site’s average bandwidth. Improving image compression doesn’t just benefit the performance of individual sites. The overall Web performance is improved because small files accelerate the data traffic, reduce energy consumption, and use less memory.

In order for this new technology to become the standard as quickly as possible, it must be free and freely usable, while respecting the open-source concept. In March 2018, AOMedia unveiled the specification for a new free video codec. From that point on, the first final version of AOMedia Video 1 (“AV1” for short) was officially made available to the general public.

The efforts of this consortium have therefore made it possible to create a free and open-source video codec for moving images, but also the AV1 image file format (AVIF) for still images. AVIF combines the efficiency of the compression algorithms of the AV1 video codec and the retention technology of the HEIF format, (for “High-Efficiency Image File”) already used for a long time, in particular by Apple.

The HEIF format provides, among other things, a uniform and standardized basis for the exchange, storage (eg at the level of metadata specification), and transmission of image content encoded by AV1.

There are therefore a number of commonalities between the AVIF and HEIF formats. However, these image formats use different compression methods to encode the image information. Rather than AV1 compression, the HEIF format mainly uses the HEVC (“High-Efficiency Video Coding”) video format. In some cases, the H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC video compression standard is also used.

Remark: The HEIF retention technology of the AVIF format is a special version of the ISOBMFF format. This ISO / IEC basic media file format (“ISO / IEC 1496-12”) specifies the creation and storage of metadata, processing of individual images and image sequences (as nested image information for streaming effective). This ISO standard constitutes the generally binding overall structure of multimedia and retention files. It defines important requirements for image format interoperability (such as the ability to work with other systems and technologies). The ISOBMFF format was defined in 2001 by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG).

The size AVIF combines high-quality compression to functional diversity, and to meet the many requirements associated with contemporary image format. It is possible to perform losslessly (“lossless”) or lossy (“lossy”) compressions.

As with other image and graphic formats, additional information about transparent image areas is stored in an alpha channel. Objects exempted by this transparency data are for example used in user interfaces, collages, or company logos.

AVIF supports wide color spaces (“Wide Color Gamut”, “WCG”) and functions of granularity, chroma subsampling, and high dynamic range imaging (“HDR”, “High Dynamic Range” ). This serves as the basis for high contrast images and provides uniform brightness and intense colors and contrasts.

AVIF is ideal for HDR because it surpasses the 8-bit color depth of Standard Dynamic Range (“SDR”) imagery by supporting depths greater than 10-bit. Metadata is used to convey information about HDR and color gamut. You can create animated sequences similar to GIF animations with multi-layered image support for image elements and sequences.

The advantages of the AVIF format in a few words

The AVIF image format has many advantages. Here are the most important of them:

  • The main players in the digital economy support the AVIF format and will therefore be able to exploit any implementation or future evolution linked to this format.
  • Like AV1, the AVIF format is an open source codec . No additional costs are to be expected for the use of AOMedia technology. This not only benefits the major players, but also, more generally, the open source community as a whole.
  • The free availability of the AVIF format gives it a major advantage over the HEIF format, which is currently one of the preferred solutions, in particular by Apple.
  • The AVIF format meets the requirements associated with a modern image format : it combines very good image quality (especially for HDR images with a color depth greater than 8 bits) with many other functions (such as HEIF, the AVIF format surpasses the JPEG format in this regard).
  • Compared to the established standard JPEG format, the AVIF format is currently capable of reducing the size of an image by 50% on average, which is considerable (in this it resembles the HEIF format, which is just as efficient). In addition, the AVIF format is also more efficient than its competitor WebP , which has not yet succeeded in fully establishing itself.
  • AVIF compression is also very efficient; it reduces website load times , saves network bandwidth, and reduces data flow from video-on-demand, cloud, and web hosting providers.
  • However, many advantages of the AVIF format go far beyond the simple network . Image libraries, photographers, printers… Everyone can also benefit from its developments and better image resolution without being overburdened in terms of available resources.

Current AVIF format support

Compared to the JPEG format, which has been around since the early 1990s and is very popular, the AVIF format remains a relatively new file format for static images. it is therefore considered to be the “newcomer” who has not yet proven himself. Therefore, it is difficult to make reliable predictions about the future of this image format. However, due to its many advantages, today it is increasingly susceptible to widespread implementation.

The image format and video codec are starting to develop and further optimizations are expected to emerge over time, especially for playback quality and file size reduction. The hardware requirements should also be reduced by optimizing the code.

Currently, the AVIF format is just as demanding as the HEIF format for encoding (transferring or converting an output file to AVIF format via an algorithm) and decoding (decrypting information encoded file, for example for the operational processing of an image or the display of an image on the screen).

Netflix, the video-on-demand service provider, is today one of the most important pioneers to adopt this new technology. This streaming specialist is already testing the AVIF format, for example by trying to convert the user interface of the platform’s SDR into an HDR solution (in particular to obtain better quality thumbnails).

It is expected that the AVIF format will be introduced gradually, with use on an ever-increasing number of content and platforms.

Browsers and operating systems are also learning about this new technology. Opera (from version 71) and Google Chrome (from version 85) support the format (it is, therefore, native support), but this is not yet the case with Apple’s Safari.

For Mozilla Firefox (from version 77), you must manually modify the browser configuration. Once the ” ” image.AVIF.enabled flag in ” about: config ” (in the browser’s address bar) is set to ” true “, Firefox can also display individual AVIF files.

Microsoft Edge is still struggling to adopt this new image format. Since the current version of Windows 10 (version 86) relies on Google’s Chromium engine, its support for the AVIF format is probably only a matter of time.

The Windows 10 users working with this new image format and open files with their AVIF viewer Paint. The AV1 video extension free is available on Microsoft Store. The Paint.NET application paid has a built-in plug-in for AVIF files. Windows users can open AVIF files and save image files in AVIF format (for their website…). Free, the image processing software GIMP is available for any operating system (with the AVIF format from version 2.10.22).

Integrate AVIF images into your website today; create a solution that integrates AVIF into your website (instead of the standard JPEG format) and requires little HTML code. Use the HMTL <picture> tag, a container with multiple image sources ( ) for an image ( ).

If your browser is not suitable for WebP or AVIF format, the lowest image element is read as a ” fallback “. You can specify an image in JPEG format, normally supported by major browsers:

	<source srcset="img/monimage.AVIF" type="image/AVIF">
	<source srcset="img/monimage.webp" type="image/webp">
	<img src="img/monimage.jpg" alt="Description of the photo">

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Conclusion: a promising successor for the JPEG format

The AVIF format meets all the conditions to impose itself on a large scale and replace the JPEG format by becoming the new Web standard. If you are able to tackle the remaining technical challenges (encoding processes are still quite slow and consume a lot of resources), then closely combining this multifunctional image format with the AV1 video codec can give you great still or moving images.

In conclusion, this solution represents a big step towards greater sustainability, as the AVIF format saves energy, network, and storage resources.

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