Enlarge / Google’s Pixel Visual Core, an SoC designed for image processing and machine learning. (credit: Google)
Google’s newest flagship smartphone, the Pixel 2, is nearly out.

The company has been talking a big game about the 2’s camera and calling it, definitively, “the best smartphone camera.” But Google has been keeping a huge secret under wraps: the Pixel 2 has a custom, Google-designed SoC dedicated exclusively to camera image processing.

The SoC is not active yet, but Google claims it will make the Pixel 2 process photos faster and more efficiently than ever.
In addition to the usual Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, the Pixel 2 is equipped with the “Pixel Visual Core,” an extra, second SoC designed by Google with hardware-accelerated image processing in mind.

At the heart of the chip is an eight-core Image Processing Unit (IPU) capable of more than three trillion operations per second. Using these IPU cores, Google says the company’s HDR+ image processing can run “5x faster and at less than 1/10th the energy” than it currently does on the main CPU.
The Pixel Visual Core is currently in the Pixel 2, but it doesn’t work yet.

Google says it will be enabled with the launch of the Android 8.1 developer preview.

At that time, the chip will let third-party apps use the Pixel 2’s HDR+ photo processing, allowing them to produce pictures that look just as good as the native camera app. The chip isn’t just for Google’s current camera algorithms, though.

Google says the Pixel Visual Core is designed “to handle the most challenging imaging and machine learning applications” and that the company is “already preparing the next set of applications” designed for the hardware.
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