This one is a surprise from Google. The company has revealed that Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL, two latest Google phones that will go on sale in India from November 3, come with a special micro-processor that will help users click better photos, especially the HDR+ images. Google calls the microprocessor Pixel Visual Core and says that it is company’s first consumer chip that it has designed in house.
Google on Tuesday shared a small image of the silicon on chip (SoC) die that it has used in the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL cores. This SoC die shows the core hardware of Pixel including its Snapdragon 835 processor with its 8 cores, 4GB RAM and other parts of the chip. The surprising element in the image is on the top left corner where Google has sneaked in a self-designed single core processor that will improve the HDR processing on the Pixel phones.
Just to recall, Google Pixel phones, including the original Pixels launched last year, have arguably the best HDR mode ever seen in a phone. Google calls the mode HDR+ and it uses company’s proprietary algorithms to improve photos by giving them richer colours, better dynamic range and correct exposure. But these algorithms run using the general processor — Snapdragon 835 for example — on the phone. Now, with Visual Core inside the Pixel 2 phones, Google will use this special processor to do photography computations.
“To expand the reach of HDR+, handle the most challenging imaging and ML applications, and deliver lower-latency and even more power-efficient HDR+ processing, we’ve created Pixel Visual Core,” a Google spokesperson wrote on the company blog. “Pixel Visual Core is Google’s first custom-designed co-processor for consumer products. It’s built into every Pixel 2 (and Pixel 2 XL).”
Although for now it is not yet active. Google says that it will be making the Visual Core active in the coming months with a software update. “In the coming months, we’ll turn it on through a software update to enable more applications to use Pixel 2’s camera for taking HDR+ quality pictures,” says the spokesperson.
The Pixel 2 camera
Apart from Google secret sauce — the HDR+ algorithms and now the Visual Core processor — the Pixel 2 camera has regular hardware that you can also find in other high-end smartphones. The Pixel phones use a 12-megapixel image sensor in the camera on the rear. This is a medium-size image sensor, not as big as the one in the original Pixel phone neither as small as the one inside the iPhone 8 Plus. This image sensor has a pixel size of 1.4um. To ensure that the low-light performance is as good as that of the Pixel phone despite smaller image sensor — bigger sensor means capturing more light — Google has equipped the Pixel 2 with a faster F1.8 lens. The original Pixel phones came with a F2.0 lens.
At the same time, Google says that it is using an image sensor with dual-pixel technology in the Pixel phones. This allows, says Google, Pixel 2 phones to offer an improved portrait mode that is as good as the one offered by phones like the iPhone 8 Plus that have dual-camera system.
Expect more custom silicon from Google
Although the Pixel Visual Core is Google’s first self-designed silicon chip for consumer products, going forward in future it is almost certain that the company will create more processors for its phones and other hardware. It is even possible that Google may create its own general processor, similar to Apple’s A series SoC that power the iPhone.
While talking to India Today Tech, Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management at Google, said that the company would be taking a fresh look at everything that goes inside a phone and then will explore how it can be made better. “We have got a long-term roadmap and we are mapping all the components – CPU, radio chips, other components — and we will be figuring how to do it in the best possible way. We will see lot more specialisation in the system as we go forward,” he says.
On Tuesday too, Google hinted that the Pixel Visual Core is just a start. “HDR+ will be the first application to run on Pixel Visual Core. Notably, because Pixel Visual Core is programmable, we’re already preparing the next set of applications. The great thing is that as we port more machine learning and imaging applications to use Pixel Visual Core, Pixel 2 will continuously improve,” said the Google spokesperson.