Pixelworks announces the i6 display processor with AI-based visual enhancements
Pixelworks is a California-based company that specializes in developing video processing technology. In the mobile industry, Pixelworks is best known for its line of display processing chips and software-based picture quality enhancements, which have been used in smartphones from TCL, OnePlus, OPPO, Black Shark, HMD Global, ASUS, and ZTE. Today, the company unveiled its new i6 display processor, a new chip that uses AI to enhance the picture quality of mobile devices.
Pixelworks develops and licenses two kinds of visual enhancement technologies: Its software-based “Pixelworks Pro Software” and its display processing chips. The display chips used to be marketed under the “Iris” brand. For example, the OnePlus 8 Pro and OPPO Find X2 Pro both feature the Iris 5 chip from Pixelworks. This “Iris” brand is now being dropped in accordance with Pixelworks’s new product portfolio, however. Instead, Pixelworks’s chips will be split between the new “i” and “X” lines. What was once called the “Iris 5” will henceforth be known as the X5, while the Iris 3 is being renamed to i3. Pixelworks says the “X” series is aimed at high-tier smartphones like the OnePlus 8 Pro and OPPO Find X2 Pro and is currently their only chip to support Motion Estimation/Motion Compensation (MEMC). “i” series chips, on the other hand, are intended for low-to-mid and mid-to-high-tier phones and don’t support MEMC. These display processing chips can be paired with any applications processor (AP) since data is communicated between the chips via MIPI.
Pixelworks Pro Software, on the other hand, is software-based and hence runs entirely on the applications processor (AP). That means Pixelworks Pro Software can’t do as much as the dedicated “i” or “X” display processors, but it does (likely) cost less for device makers to implement and saves a bit of internal space. For example, the new ASUS ZenFone 7 series features Pixelworks Pro Software for DC Dimming and SDR to HDR upmapping, while the OnePlus 8 Pro combines the X5 chip and Pixelworks Pro Software for the full gamut of features, including MEMC, true flesh tones, brightness smoothing, tone adaptive display, and more. When a device employs both the display processor and the Pro Software solution in this manner, Pixelworks adds a “Pro” designation. For example, the “X5 Pro” designation means a device is using both the X5 display processor and Pixelworks Pro Software. Likewise, when a device is using the new i6 chip and Pro Software, that device is said to feature Pixelworks’s “i6 Pro” solution.
So what’s new about the i6 chip? Exactly what kinds of “AI Display Processing” features does it offer?
Pixelworks i6 and i6 Pro
The new i6 display processing chip has both a picture quality engine block and fuzzy logic inference block—the latter appearing for the first time in a Pixelworks display processor. The fuzzy logic inference engine is used to power features like AI Display Processing (adaptively optimizing visual quality), Always-on HDR (AI-assisted, real-time SDR to HDR up mapping), the Picture Quality Engine (for AI-assisted local contrast and sharpness enhancements), Auto Adaptive Display (for AI-assisted 6-mode auto brightness and tone), Skin Tone Accuracy (dynamically detect and protect skin tones), and Dark Noise Suppression (dynamically reduce visual background noise in low-light videos and photos). The new chip consumes up to 40% less power than its predecessor, the Pixelworks i3.
We asked the company to clarify what kind of data informed these AI algorithms during production and what family of AI techniques were employed. We were especially curious to learn more about the AI-assisted scene adaptation feature, which was said to be content-aware. Is that content-awareness based on image statistics or the actual scene? For example, if there is a sunset, does the up mapping work off of the color statistics of the image (the predominance of yellow/orange), or something more complex that takes into account the content (sunset)?
Peter Carson, Vice President of Corporate Marketing, and Vikas Dhurka, Senior Director of Product and Strategy, told us the following:
“…as the new Pixelworks i6 series processors are targeted primarily at the mid-high and high tier phones, the AI PQ [picture quality] engine is designed to balance performance improvement, power efficiency and personalization, and utilizes a proprietary, lightweight inferencing block that augments our fuzzy logic IP and does the following:
Takes inputs from external and internal sources like ambient brightness and color temperature, display type, user preferences, content being played, etc.
Follows the visual inferencing rules based on the Pixelworks knowledge base that leverages over two decades of experience, including recent input from expert colorists and creatives in Hollywood working closely with our TrueCut platform.
Dynamically adjusts the display pipeline to create a superior visual experience optimized for mobile devices across a wide array of content and ambient lighting conditions.
The knowledge base mentioned above (#2) is updated over time as we learn and gather inputs from both OEMs on user preferences and from content professionals in Hollywood. It is important to note that the architecture of the PQ block in the Pixelworks i6 processor has been upgraded to a 2-layer pipeline for even finer control of processing as it is applied to different attributes of an image or video. While this 2-layer capability is not AI-specific, our AI engine allows the 2-layer pipeline to be more fully leveraged than with conventional PQ processing.
As an example, with the i6 processor, the decision for showing sunset isn’t just based on the accuracy of the shade of yellow/orange on the display but is rather based on decisions that would enable the user to see the sunset accurately considering AI-based scene detection/image composition, display type, ambient brightness/color temperature and more.”
As competition in the smartphone industry continues to heat up, more and more device makers are turning to third-party vendors like Pixelworks to differentiate their products. The display features offered by the i6 chip could serve as a selling point for future smartphones, though device makers typically don’t mention the actual company behind these features.
Pixelworks says its new i6 chip is sampling to customers now and is expected to ship in commercial devices as early as Q4 2020.