Smartphone cameras are getting so good that they are fast replacing point and shoot cameras for the consumer market, the ease of use and the accessibility on phone cameras is unparalleled and some of the best mobile cameras can be found on the Google Pixel and Pixel 2 XL but what make them the smartphones touting the best cameras? Visual core is the answer. Intrigued? Read on to understand everything about it and enable it on your Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

Before we dive into what visual core is let us first understand what HDR is and what its relation to the visual core is. HRD stands for High Dynamic Range in photography terms, in layman terms HDR helps balance light so the images look natural and not manipulated. HRD makes sure that if you are clicking a picture against a direct light source the subject won’t be too dark and the background won’t be filled with light. HDR+ unlike its competition clicks multiple images at different exposure levels and then merges them into one instead of having the shutter open for a longer time period which adds noise and grain to the images. In the pixels HDR up until recently was only available in the stock camera app but thanks to visual core it is no longer restricted to the stock camera app and can now be used with 3rd party applications.

On the left is an Image without HDR + and on the right is an Image with HDR+

Coming to the visual core, it is basically a custom designed chip found in the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL which is the reason why the Pixels excel in the camera department. It was designed in collaboration with Intel and was developed so 3rd party applications like Snapchat and Instagram can make use of the HDR functionality available in the stock camera app. If a 3rd party developer uses the Google Camera API they can deliver images similar to what you would get from the stock camera app which opens up a host of opportunities.

Pixel visual core
The Pixel Visual Core

The pixel visual core is google’s first foray into custom chips on a consumer level, the chip features 8 custom designed image processing units coupled with 512 arithmetic logic units that allows the Pixel 2 and 2 XL to shoot in a wider color spectrum by combining multiple images at varying exposure level into one final image without the typical delay we in see while processing regular HDR images. Google is using 2 domain specific languages for the new chip, Halide for image processing and TensorFlow for machine learning.

Normal without HDR
With HDR+

Google had disabled the visual core when the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were launched but with the latest update to android 8.1, it is being enabled so developers can make full use of it. The visual core, when enabled, will also process HDR images up to 5 times faster than it would on other Snapdragon 835 phones and would also reduce the amount of energy required to process images by about 90% so the visual core will add functionality while being efficient.

Also to be noted is that the pixel visual core is a programmable chip and the current purpose of the SoC is to allow developers to use HDR+ but google may open it up to developers for different use cases in the future. Similar to Apple’s A11 Bionic chip which can manipulate lighting and other elements in real time, Google too could implement this feature, where on a warm sunny day you could possibly simulate a wintery feel to the image using artificial intelligence and augmented reality elements where it would pick and choose the elements that need to be manipulated to change the look and feel of the image. The enabling of visual core would also open new opportunities in the ARCore domain where developers can make use of Augmented reality to change and manipulate the physical reality simulate what the user wants.

Also Read: Download Google Pixel 2 stock wallpapers

It is interesting to see that Google has chosen to add a custom chipset like the visual core to their signature Pixel Lineup. In the past, when Google owned Motorola, the developers behind the first the gen Moto X had implemented a special core for natural language processing which allowed Moto to implement a unique feature at the time namely Hello Moto. Later on, we saw it being implement in most Android devices as the ever popular Snapdragon and Mediatek chipsets picked up natural language processing capabilities. The ‘Ok Google’ and ‘Hey Google’ triggers have now made their way to a slew of smart devices like speakers and smartwatches- from Android TVs to tablets, invoking the Google Assistant with a voice prompt has become ubiquitous to an extent that we consider it a part of our daily lives.

Also Read: 10 Best apps for your Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Apple set a precedent with the A11 Bionic and with Google following suit, will we finally see AR come in to limelight in 2018? This might be the year of AR as most chip manufacturers are now implementing a dedicated neural processing unit, the Snapdragon 845 is rumoured to tout a dedicated neural processing unit, the HiSilicon Kirin 970 comes with one too and the the Exynos 9810 chip set to debut at MWC on the Samsung Galaxy S9 is rumored to be equipped with one as well.

As these flagship chips will be touting a dedicated hardware component to handle the AI and AR, will this begin a trickle down effect that sees budget phones being equipped with AI and AR capability? Would the Visual core be the tipping point for neural processing units at least on the Android side of things? These are questions we too are looking forward to being answered hopefully by 2019.

In the meantime, how to enable visual core on your device you ask? Well, it is fairly easy to do so, but it requires developer option to be turned on so to turn on developer options follow these steps.

  • Go to Settings
  • Scroll down to System Settings
  • Enter the About Phone menu
  • Click the Build Number 7 to 10 times until a message pops up saying now you are a developer.

Also Read: How to Fix Wi-Fi Issue on Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Now that you have developer options enabled on your device, head straight to the developer options and follow these steps to enable the visual core.

  • Go to Settings
  • Scroll down to System Settings
  • Enter the Developer Options
  • Make sure the developer options toggle is switched on and scroll down
  • Find a toggle called Camera HAL HDR+ and toggle it
  • If done correctly a pop up should appear asking you to restart the phone to enable the visual  core
  • Restart the device and you should have visual core enabled

We hope this guide helped you in enabling visual core on your device and harnessing its full power. If you would like us to cover any other topic do let us know in the comments.

A Masters in Business Administration student, Yash is working towards making it large in the Tech Blogosphere. With a knack for Mobile technologies, he loves to be in technology all throughout the day. An Avid Apple FanBoy and an Android loyalist a perfect oxymoron. Yash tries to live his life in the simplest of ways possible among the most complex of gadgets. Oh and did we mention, he is also a Google certified digital marketer.

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