NPUs and Smartphone Cameras: The Power of Computer Vision

NPU and Smartphone Cameras

Do you love taking photos and videos with your smartphone? Do you want to capture every detail, color, and emotion in your shots? Have you ever wished your phone could process images and videos faster and smoother? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need to know about NPUs and Smartphone Cameras.

An NPU (Neural Processing Unit) is a special kind of chip that is designed to handle artificial intelligence tasks, such as computer vision. Computer vision is the ability of a machine to understand and manipulate visual information, such as images and videos.

 

So join me as we explore NPUs and smartphone cameras. We’ll examine how they work, and why they are important for smartphone image and video processing. We will also look at some of the best NPUs available in the market and show you how they can improve your smartphone photography and videography experience.


What is an NPU

See: What is an NPU?


What are NPUs and how do they work?

NPUs are part of an SoC (System on a Chip). An SoC is a single chip that contains all the essential components of a computer system, such as a CPU, a GPU, RAM, ISP, NPU, modem, etc. SoCs are commonly used in smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other mobile devices. This is because they are compact, power-efficient, and cost-effective.

The various components of an SoC have specific functions that they carry out. The CPUs process apps, the GPU renders graphics, the RAM stores tasks, and the modem enables internet connectivity. The ISP is responsible for processing the images and videos captured by the cameras, but it has some limitations.

This is where NPUs come in. NPUs are used for a lot of things but one of their key features is improving computer vision (i.e. how your smartphone camera “sees”). They do this by working very closely with the ISP for various computer vision tasks, such as face detection, object recognition, scene segmentation, image enhancement, video stabilization, and more. NPUs can carry out these tasks very quickly and efficiently. This is how smartphones achieve better image and video quality despite using tiny cameras.

NPU and Smartphone Cameras

NPUs and Smartphone Cameras: The Benefits

NPUs are important for smartphone image and video processing because they provide several benefits, such as:

Higher Resolution Images:

NPUs can process higher-resolution images and videos. This means your phone can produce images and videos with more details, clarity, and sharpness. NPUs can also upscale lower-resolution images and videos to higher resolution (Generative AI), which means better compatibility and quality.

Better Colors

NPUs can process better color images and videos, which means more accurate, vivid, and natural colors. NPUs can also adjust the color balance, contrast, saturation, and brightness of images and videos. This greatly improves the exposure and dynamic range of photos and videos captured by our phones.

Faster Speed

NPUs can process images and videos faster, which means smoother and more responsive performance. NPUs can also reduce the latency, or the delay, between capturing and displaying images and videos, which means a more real-time and immersive experience.

More Features

NPUs can enable more features and functions for images and videos, such as the bokeh effect, night mode, HDR, slow motion, time-lapse, panorama, AR, and more. NPUs can also support more advanced and innovative features, such as 3D scanning, gesture recognition, face unlock, animoji, and more.

Best NPUs for Smartphone and other Mobile Devices

There are many NPUs available in the market, but some of the best ones are:

Qualcomm Hexagon

The Qualcomm Hexagon NPU is designed by Qualcomm, one of the leading SoC makers in the world. It is used exclusively on Snapdragon SoCs. The Hexagon NPU on the Snapdragon X Elite can deliver up to 45 TOPS (trillion operations per second) of AI performance. Hexagon NPUs can also support up to 200MP of camera resolution, 8K video recording, and HDR10+ video playback. Some of the smartphones that use the Hexagon NPUs are the Samsung Galaxy S23, the OnePlus 12, and the Xiaomi 14 Pro.

Apple Neural Engine

The Neural Engine is designed by Apple, the maker of the iPhone and the iPad. The Neural Engine is used exclusively for Apple A and M lineup of processors. The latest version of the Apple Neural Engine is the 16-core Neural Engine, which is part of the Apple A17 Pro and the Apple M3 series. The 16-core Neural Engine can deliver up to 18 TOPS of AI performance. The 16-core Neural Engine can support up to 64 MP of camera resolution, 4K video recording, and Dolby Vision video playback. Some of the devices that use the 16-core Neural Engine are the iPhone 15 lineup, the iPad Pro 2023, and the MacBook Pro 2023.

Google Edge TPU

The Google Edge TPU is an NPU designed by Google for use on Google’s Tensor SoCs and by extension, Google’s Pixel phones. It can support up to 200MP of camera resolution, 4K HDR video recording, and HDR10+ video playback. Some of the smartphones that use the Edge TPU include the Google Pixel 6/6 Pro, the Google Pixel 7/7 Pro, and the Google 8/8Pro.

Huawei Da Vinci

This is the NPU used by Huawei, one of the leading smartphone makers in the world. The latest version of the Huawei Da Vinci NPU is the Da Vinci 2.0, which is part of the Kirin 9000S SoC, the flagship chip for Huawei smartphones in 2023. The Da Vinci 2.0 can deliver up to 30 TOPS of AI performance. It can also support up to 100MP of camera resolution, 8K video recording, and HDR10 video playback. Some of the smartphones that use the Da Vinci 2.0 are the Huawei Mate 60 and Huawei P60.

Conclusion

NPUs are the future of smartphone image and video processing. They can enhance the quality and efficiency of computer vision tasks by using neural networks and parallel processing. They can provide higher resolution, better color, faster speed, and more features for images and videos. NPUs can also enable more creative and interactive applications for smartphone photography and videography.

Most OEMs that are worth their salt have already begun pairing NPUs and smartphone Cameras together to get the best results. You can already see the improvements on phones like the Google Pixel 8 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro, Xiaomi 14 Pro, and several other new flagships.


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