Qualcomm’s new ISP enables better pictures, 8K video with HDR, and privacy by always keeping the camera on.
During the 2021 Snapdragon Tech Summit, held directly in Hawaii and in-person, Qualcomm also showed off Snapdragon Sight, a new optimization that will effortlessly please photography enthusiasts. Image processing solutions are essential for device owners with phones powered by Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 for more privacy. A total of four ISPs are part of this new optimization and now have their own names.
But do you know how this will affect your daily life in practice? Image gain aside, an always-on camera is a very interesting ISP that focuses on providing more security and keeping your phone camera active all the time. Find out all about the news now and how your daily life can be improved.
First, what is an ISP?
The abbreviation of Image Signal Processor, which can be translated as Image Signal Processor, ISP can be summarized as a processor that specializes in converting the digital signal of the camera sensor into an image, the larger the capacity of the ISP, the better. It will be a photo taken by a smartphone. Because there can be more than one in a processor, Qualcomm chose to pack four ISPs into its new processors.
Typically, the ISP is always present in the SoC (system on a chip), the processor manufacturer is responsible for the advancement of photography, and so is the benefit of video capture. To roll out the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 that will appear in top-of-the-line premium phones coming in 2022, Qualcomm has introduced four new ISPs that reside in the Snapdragon Sight. It’s a tweak that’s comparable to Snapdragon Sound, the company that delivers better wireless audio by addressing latency issues, quality, and more.
What is EIS?
Since we’re already talking about Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), it’s technology that uses your phone’s accelerometer to capture a more stable image. An electronic image stabilizer detects tiny movements and sends information to the lens so all frames are aligned. EIS focuses more on creating high-resolution (HDR or high-definition resolution) images, as well as Night Mode, which uses multiple photos taken at the same time to create a great image.
When it comes to video, EIS looks for a high-contrast point and then keeps it centered on the lens so it doesn’t have problems when the lens is rotated. In fact, the contrast point stabilization is locked, and no matter how much the lens shakes, there is no noise. The key here is machine learning and good real-time processing.
The downside is that in some cases the edge is used as a safety point, which can result in a smaller frame compared to disabling EIS. Therefore, EIS is not always used by professionals, but we can mention that the benefits are important.
Higher quality in photos
Premium smartphones are known for providing users with the best experience, which includes delivering great photos and videos. However, such an advantage is only possible if the processor manufacturer (which could also be the same phone maker, such as Google or Apple) works hard enough to make computational photography really effective.
A good shot can really go a long way, but it turns out that handling is more important. Also because there are areas that can be improved to provide better photos or videos to users. For the Snapdragon Sight, Qualcomm is able to process 3.2 gigapixels per second, a 0.5x improvement over the Snapdragon 888. In fact, with the help of other optimizations, the ISP manages to capture 240 photos at 12 MP per second (each). That’s double what the company’s previous version was able to achieve.
But that’s not the best the Snapdragon Sight ISP can do. If you’re using a smartphone with a 108MP sensor, it uses the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor to take 30 full-resolution photos per second. Common in the mobile phone industry, up to 30 photos per second can be captured using three 36MP lenses. It sounds like a lot, but the final delivery is of the highest quality.
Night mode has also been improved, unifying 30 frames to provide 5x better images than the previous generation in low light environments. Regarding the zoom, the company states that it can deliver up to 100x close-up images without grain or noise.
Finally, panorama mode, which usually ends with compositing multiple images, can now be taken in a single shot, as the chip provides a panoramic view covering 140º with a single click.
Since the ISP can also improve video capture, this was not overlooked when developing the Snapdragon Sight. Qualcomm guarantees the solution runs at 18-bit, and one of the first ISPs in the world to do so. In practice, photos and videos in HDR are better handled, and in addition, files can be exported in 18-bit RAW format so that professionals have the best photos when working with them. Compared to the Snapdragon 888, the new chip with Snadragon Sight can also record in 8K at 30 fps, but now in HDR (HDR10 and HDR10+). The same applies to the electronic stabilization mentioned at the beginning, which allows you to take photos at 64 MP resolution while recording 8K video at 30 fps. Do you like the bokeh effect in your videos? Qualcomm assures you that its new processors can easily deliver this capability in 4K. Check out the progress of the new ISP in the video below:
Facial recognition using artificial intelligence
Indeed, several companies are using AI to deliver better images, and Qualcomm is no exception. Snapdragon Sight in Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 can detect more than 300 points of a face (lips, eyebrows, etc.). That’s double that of the previous generation.
Animated emojis are created with more confidence as the main chip learns more about the human face. It’s unclear how white balance works on darker skin, which has been tweaked in the Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. However, since the company has “taught” its processor to recognize more face details, hopefully it won’t be missed.
What do you think when we say that with Snapdragon Sight you can have your camera active at almost any time of day? Translating to “camera always on,” this ISP focuses on maintaining your privacy based on who’s using your phone. If someone happens to be behind you trying to see what’s on the screen, notifications will be blocked, so they don’t end up seeing important information that they shouldn’t.
The same applies if you stop using your phone temporarily: if for some reason you have to let your phone sit still for a while, the screen will be locked as soon as you stop looking at it.
Privacy with Snapdragon Sight
Digging deeper into the feature, one question that still needs to be answered is: what does the image the phone has been “seeing” do? We all know that everything we say in our daily life is recorded by cell phones and other personal assistants, because the microphones of these devices must be always active.
Will this be sent anywhere? Will the customer really know when the camera is activated? There’s a feature in Android 12 that’s like a great privacy center, a notification in the system tray that shows both the microphone and camera are in use. The manufacturer has to solve this unknown problem and decide whether the customer can access all the content or all the content in the inaccessible folder.
But since the primary focus of Qualcomm’s features is simply to prevent strangers from viewing and accessing information on your phone, you can even expect a lot of transparency when using any of Snapdragon Sight’s ISPs. Time will tell what this looks like in practice.
When should all this be available?
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 will be included in high-end smartphones launching in 2022 – we already know Xiaomi will launch 12 models with the new Qualcomm processors. In addition, the vast majority of high-end phones will be powered by Qualcomm’s new chipsets.
An interesting point is that the Galaxy S22 is scheduled to launch in February next year. So it shouldn’t take more than 2 months to learn more about how Snapdragon Sight and other features work in practice. What do you think of Qualcomm’s new ISP? Do you think it is useful in your daily life? Comment with us!