Google quietly debuts its first custom-designed co-processor for consumer products.
The major hardware drop earlier this month from Google heralded a new era of innovation for the company, and now one detail has come to the fore: the Pixel Visual Core (PVC).
This is Google’s first custom system-on-a-chip (SOC) for consumer items, and it functions to make the most of the HDR+ technology, which makes it possible to get high-quality images of scenes with varying brightness levels.
Google pioneering HDR+ technology
Capturing everything from a dusky, low-light sky to a sunny beach trip, the HDR+ algorithm has been evolving over the years in terms of intelligent processing.
Google has been working in the background to create hardware capabilities for its products and, eventually, third-party apps.
The PVC chip is built into every Pixel 2 phone, and is currently dormant in both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, so it will be a nice bonus for buyers when its capabilities finally go live.
The Pixel camera is already a whizz in terms of HDR shot processing, so fans will enjoy the prospect of a further speed increase.
This low light shot shows what the Pixel 2 is capable of. Unbelievable amounts of detail retained in pretty challenging lighting conditions pic.twitter.com/t7DTOI64Cv
— Daniel Bader (@journeydan) October 17, 2017
The centrepiece of the PVC chip is the Google-designed image processing unit (IPU), “a fully programmable, domain-specific processor designed from scratch to deliver maximum performance at low power”.
PVC chip rapidly speeds things up
Using the new chip, HDR+ can run five times faster than running on the application processor, and at less than a tenth of the energy.
Google said it will enable PVC as an option in the developer preview of Android Oreo 8.1, and will later enable it for all third-party apps using the Android Camera API, giving them access to Google’s powerful HDR+ photography capabilities.
The company said: “A key ingredient to the IPU’s efficiency is the tight coupling of hardware and software – our software controls many more details of the hardware than in a typical processor.”
Google will also continue to port new machine learning and imagining applications to use the PVC chip, meaning continued improvements and updates for Pixel users.