Tuesday, February 19, 2013

HTC Announces Ultrapixel Camera

HTC One smartphone features UltraPixel camera "that includes a best-in-class f/2.0 aperture lens and a breakthrough sensor with UltraPixels that gather 300 percent more light than traditional smartphone camera sensors. This new approach also delivers astounding low-light performance and a variety of other improvements to photos and videos."

The camera spec does not tell how many pixels the camera has, saying instead that the sensor is of BSI type, has 2.0um pixels and 1/3-inch format. The camera has F2.0 lens with OIS. Both front and back cameras support HDR in stills and video mode.

Once we talk about HDR, the new Nvidia's Tegra 4i is the second application processor that supports "always-on HDR" imaging.

Update: CNET published HTC's director of special projects Symon Whitehorn comments on why HTC flagship smartphone has only 4MP resolution: "It's a risk, it's definitely a risk that we're taking. Doing the right thing for image quality, it's a risky thing to do, because people are so attached to that megapixel number."

HTC Ultrapixel page shows few illustrations:

HTC One vs iPhone 5 comparison

HTC marketing efforts are aimed against high megapixel sensors:

Typical Smartphone CameraDifference
HTC Zoe™ Camera with UltraPixels
Lens with F2.0 apertureLens with F2.8 aperture1.96x more light entry than F2.8
2.0um pixel size~1.4um pixel size (on typical 8MP sensors)
~1.1um pixel size (on typical 13MP sensors)
2.04x more sensitivity than 1.4um
3.31x more sensitivty than 1.1um
2-axis optical image stabilizer2-axis optical image stabilizerAllowing longer exposure with more stability, resulting in higher quality photos with lower noise and better lowlight sensitivity
Real-time hardware
HDR for video (~84db)
No video HDR (~54db)~1.5x more dynamic range with 84db compared to 54db in competitions

HTC One camera spec:
Sensor TypeCMOS BSI
Sensor Size1/3'
Sensor Pixel Size2um X 2um
Camera Full Size Resolution2688 x 1520 16:9 ratio
Shutter speed up to 48fps with reduced motion blur
Video Resolutions1080P up to 30fps
720P up to 60fps
1080P with HDR up to 28fps
768x432 up to 96fps
H.264 high profile, up to 20mbps
Focal Length of System3.82 mm
Optical F/# ApertureF/2.0
Number of Lens Elements5P
Optical Image Stabilizer2-axis, +/- 1 degree (average), 2000 cycles per second
ImageChip / ISP EnhancementsHTC continuous autofocus algorithm (~200ms), De-noise algorithm, color shading for lens compensation
Maximum frames per secondUp to 8fps continuous shooting


  1. Anyone know who help hTC manufacture its image sensor? I have a bold prediction that could be Toshiba since they have done same kind of image sensor for Nokia, yet it is still just a guess.

    1. Looking at the specs I'm wondering whether there is anything really "special" about that sensor.
      Wouldn't it be rather cheap to order a 4MP 2.0um sensor if you commit on a proper volume?

      For a sensor manufacturer it must be a easy task with good yield, considering the low density.

      Just wondering, any opinions on that?

  2. I just hate marketing - pixel properties and whole sensor properties are interchanged feely even though they are very different from each other.

    I imagine the small pixel count is there to allow for fast enough processing of all the operation functions.

    1. Surely the small pixel count is there to keep the camera size reasonable, the sensor is 1/3inch so roughly the same as Apple/Samsung smartphones, any bigger and the focal length will be too big to comfortably fit in a phone.

    2. Yet, it is marketing that led to the demise of the technologically superior plasma displays over LED displays

  3. I spent some time comparing the two images and I have to say that the lighting seems to be quite different between the two. I think the HTC image uses a flash if you look carefully at the differences in shadows.

  4. I'd bet real money the sensor is from Omnivision. Likely to be the OV4688

  5. Finally! Don't need to be an expert to understand that bigger pixel, better image. Also, 4MP is more than enough for 99% of the applications the phone pics are used. OK, less crop possibilities, a bit worst image processing BUT less storage size needed, lower power, better low light, better SNR!

    1. The pixel size is lagely irrelevant for low light and the SNR of the *image* may be worse. The key is the light collecting are of the sensor, not the pixel.

      The real advantages are in power saving and lower processing requirements. There may be less crosstalk, though I'm not sure if it is much of an issue with 1.4 ┬Ám pixels. Other than that it is an inferior solution.

    2. Hi, I've studied the image sensor theory recently. I just wonder why the pixel size is irrelevant for low light imaging and why SNR of the 'image' worsens by the larger pixel size. Doesn't the sensitivity and SNR depend linearly on the pixel size? (in more detail, SNR is proportional to square root of full-well capacity) I think the low light imaging gets better when the pixel size is large, assuming that other factors such as FF, resolution, noise-suppression technique, image processing are the same as each other.

      Is there any point that I missed?

  6. Even 3-4um pixel is OK for me. 8MP or more is meaningless!!

  7. Rumor says that this sensor comes from InVisage!!!

    1. Does not fit to HTC description saying the sensor is BSI. Invision's one is closer to FSI.

  8. You know the song : "Rumour has it ..."

  9. I am holding out for the uber pixel!

  10. These comments about reducing camera resolution to make pixels bigger is just sensor techies trying to make their jobs easier. Real consumers want to zoom and crop. OK - not all the time or even most of the time. But it's like taking windshield wipers away from cars. Making pixels bigger is a step back in time. Make products better by investing in technology. This decision was risky.


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