Qualcomm’s Second-Gen Spectra ISP Brings Massive Improvements to Smartphone Photography

Qualcomm’s Second-Gen Spectra ISP Brings Massive Improvements to Smartphone Photography

At the Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit in Hawaii on Wednesday, Qualcomm finally took the wraps off its newest Snapdragon Mobile Platform: The Snapdragon 845. A crucial component of the new system-on-chip is the Spectra 280 Image Signal Processor (ISP), the co-processor that accelerates on-device processing. It’s been redesigned from the ground up in the Snapdragon 845, and there’s a lot that’s new.

The second-generation Spectra ISP is particularly adept at handling pics and videos, unsurprisingly. Qualcomm integrated support for improved multi-frame noise reduction, much like what’s seen in the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL’s HDR+ and the Xiaomi Mi Note 2‘s Handheld Twilight Mode. It’s also implemented motion compensated temporal filtering (MCTF) and improved electronic image stabilization (EIS), which improves overall image quality by tapping the Snapdragon 845’s heterogeneous computing capabilities.

Other key features include slo-motion video, HDR recording, and high-speed performance capture, and InMotion, a feature that uses computational photography and video capture to superimpose a still image on a moving background.

Source: Qualcomm

But Qualcomm also hopes to make inroads into Extended Reality (XR) markets with the new Spectra ISP, building upon its success with the Snapdragon 835 Head Mounted Display (HMD) platforms.

While infrared-based depth-sensing technologies like Project Tango are phenomenal at mapping environments, those devices’ extra IR sensors aren’t particularly cost-effective at mid- and entry-level price points. That’s why the new Spectra integrates a parallax-based depth-sensing system that works much like the human eye, judging the relative distance of objects from a two-lens perspective. Qualcomm says it’ll enable many dual-camera devices to achieve competitive depth-sensing performance at a substantially lower cost.

The Spectra 280 ISP’s depth-sensing capabilities will enable immersive VR/AR/XR experiences by achieving sub-16 ms motion to photon latency for head and body tracking, with 6 degrees of freedom and a simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) system (accelerated heterogeneously) that models and tracks the environment around the wearer. Sub-16 ms latency allows for single frame responsiveness at 60 Hz, which is crucial to comfort in particularly intense games and applications.

It also supports a higher per-eye resolution in VR headsets than its predecessor. The Snapdragon 835 maxed out at 1.5k x 1.5k at 60 frames per second, but the Snapdragon 845 and Spectra 280 can go up to 2k x 2k at 120 frames per second. Qualcomm says it’s working with Google, Vive, Oculus, and others on upcoming high-resolution headsets.

spectra isp

Source: Qualcomm

The second-gen Spectra retains support for Qualcomm’s Clear Sight technology, of course, as well as the dual-camera dual focal length configurations Snapdragon chipsets currently support. But it also adds something new: Native support for iris scanning and depth sensing. Qualcomm claims that in its preferred configuration, authentication times are already below 40 milliseconds with low-power iris scanning, which works even when you’re wearing sunglasses.

In addition to iris scanning, the second-gen Spectra ISP allows devices to leverage their depth mapping capabilities for facial scanning as another liveness security measure, opening the door for improved biometric authentication in devices that take advantage. The Spectra 280’s depth-sensing will also improve the quality of bokeh effects on newer devices and re-focus/post-capture effects, Qualcomm says.

It’ll be up to OEMs to implement it in software, though.

What do you think of the improvements coming to the second-generation Spectra ISP? Sound off in the comments!

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