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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 focuses on AI, VR and battery life

Qualcomm teased its new flagship smartphone chip at day one of its Summit in Maui, and, as expected, the companys got a lot more to offer us on day two. The Snapdragon 845 is the latest premium processor, due out next year. And like its predecessor, the 835, you can expect the thing to be nearly ubiquitous on 2018s flagship handsets — not to mention a few Windows PCs. As anticipated, new chip will sport the same 10 nm manufacturing process as its predecessor, but the company is altering its architecture some in order to bring even more of a focus to imaging. No surprise there, really — the entire industry has been headed in that direction, as smartphone makers work to differentiate themselves with improved photography through multiple cameras, while embracing next-generation AR and VR applications. New here are the Spectra 280 ISP and Adreno 630 — new architectures designed to improve photography and video capture. That includes the ability to capture significantly more color information with HDR photos and improved playback on Ultra High-Def displays. Also on-board is SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) with simultaneous six-degree of freedom — that can be used for obstacle collision, pointing to Qualcomms increased focus on technologies like augmented and virtual reality. Artificial intelligence is, naturally, another big focus here. The San Diego chipmaker is promising some pretty big gains on that front — specifically a 3x performance boost. That means improved personal assistant performance and all sorts of other improvements to existing features. The companys also added support for TensorFlow Lite and the new Open Neural Network Exchange frameworks, in addition to regular old TensorFlow and Caffe, freeing up developer choice on that front. For security, theres a devoted secure processing unit on-board, which should bring improvements to biometrics and encryption. Battery life is another key upgrade, with the new Snapdragon promising almost one-third power reduction for energy-hungry features like video capture, AR/VR and gaming. The new chip has already started shipping to manufacturers and is due out in devices early next year. That means theres a pretty good chance were going to see quite a few devices announced in roughly a month from now at CES. Huawei has already announced its intentions to use the chip on an unnamed flagship, and if the 835 is any indication, most of the other major Android manufacturers will join them soon enough.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 doubles down on cameras and AI

It'll enable 4K HDR video capture, faster neural processing, and, of course, improve performance. The next-generation mobile processor that you'll most likely find in many of next year's major flagships is here. At its second annual tech summit today, Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 845, which is its latest "premium" mobile CPU. The chipset will retain the same 10nm footprint as its predecessor, but feature revamped architecture that brings about new features like 4K HDR video capture on smartphones and improved AI processing. That's in addition to the typical performance and power-consumption upgrades we see each year. Qualcomm said it's focusing on AI, immersion, security, connectivity and performance with the new chipset. Immersion basically means the ability to capture and render the world around you at high resolutions and quality for more realistic results. The Snapdragon 845 will feature an Adreno 630 graphics processor and Qualcomm's Spectra 280 image signal processor (ISP) which we previewed earlier this year. The company's graphics lead, Tim Leland, explained that the ISP allows for "Ultra HD premium" video capture at 60 frames per second. Qualcomm believes the Snapdragon 845 will be so good at photography that the phones powered by this chip will score above 100 on DxOMark, but that depends on how each device maker implements the new features. With Ultra HD color capture, Leland says cameras can collect more color volume than before -- a shift from the resolution race that's been the focus of mobile photography in the past few years. The Spectra ISP collects more color data by combining three methods - moving from 8-bit to 10-bit color, expanding its color gamut from Rec 709 to Rec 2020, and increasing luminance (the brightness of an object). That's a lot of jargon to parse through, but basically, the chip can process more shades of the same color for more depth, more colors and increased levels of brightness (up to 10,000 nits) for the same hue. That allows for more nuance in image quality. Spectra ISP will also bring about improvements to low light footage thanks to new software that enables multi-frame noise reduction at using 60 16-megapixel images per second. Having that much data helps the processor make more informed decisions on what specks in your picture are noise and what are parts of the photo to keep. Snapdragon 845 will also provide "motion compensated temporal filtering" as an image stabilization method, which compares a frame in a video to the frames before and after it to figure out where an object's outline should be. As for XR (extended reality), Leland said the Snapdragon 845 will enable devices to achieve world-scale-esque tracking (with 6-DoF and SLAM), which is similar to what HTC's Vive headset can do. Previously, the Snapdragon 835 enabled 6-DoF tracking, so your hands could be detected across pitch, yaw and roll (axes of movement). Now, you can move about a room freely and still be detected within your virtual environment. Snapdragon 845 will also come with Adreno Foveation, which tracks the viewer's gaze to optimize image rendering for the center of what you're looking at while "blurring out" the surroundings. There will also be natural voice processing improvements - more on that when we check out in-depth demos later. The new chipset also brings about improvements for AI processing. Let's face it, AI is going to be running our lives in the future, and Qualcomm wants to help accelerate machine learning tasks. On Snapdragon 845, which the company says is actually its third-generation mobile AI platform (the first being the Snapdragon 820), the focus is on core optimizations. This means the processor will assign tasks to different cores to execute based on the type of power needed. Developers will also be able to choose which cores to use -- whether it's the Hexagon 685 digital signal processor (DSP), the GPU or the Kryo CPU. With all the changes introduced in the architecture (mostly involving adding support for various computational frameworks), Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 845 executes AI tasks three times faster than its predecessor. Snapdragon 845 will support a variety of popular AI frameworks like Google's TensorFlow, Facebook's Caffe 2, as well as the newer Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX). The chip will also enable AI features in photography like video style transfer, artificial bokeh effect with single cameras as well as face recognition and unlock. Digital assistants will apparently get a boost, too, with the potential to become faster and more accurate. We'll likely see more concrete examples of this later today during Qualcomm's deep-dive demos. Hackers have gotten so good at exploiting existing security architecture that Qualcomm added a "Secure Processing Unit" to the Snapdragon 845. The SPU has its own processor, random number generator, memory and power island to defend against attacks. "It is its own secure island," Qualcomm's security lead Sy Choudhury explained. This vault provides a third level of security on top of the two existing layers, and is designed to protect biometric information. This means that processes that use your fingerprint, iris or face authentication data will run in a separate environment from, say, the parts of the chip that render graphics or play music. The SPU will also handle authorizations for payments, transit and SIM cards. While the Snapdragon 835 enabled gigabit LTE, the Snapdragon 845 will feature the company's second-generation gigabit LTE modem, called the X20. It will improve peak and real world speeds over the Snapdragon 835's X16 modem by 20 percent. One of the biggest changes is support for five-carrier aggregation, an increase from four-carrier before, as well as open up access to unlicensed spectrums. With these updates, Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 845 can achieve so-called wireless fiber speeds that enable downloads of two-hour videos in two minutes or less. Just how much faster is the Snapdragon 845 is over its predecessor? According to Qualcomm, about 25 to 30 percent. The 845 has a similar octa-core architecture to the 835, consisting of four "performance" cores that can handle more taxing tasks but require more power, and four "efficiency" cores that run lighter, shorter tasks while sipping energy. The performance cores can go up to 2.8GHz clock speed, while the efficiency modules can reach 1.8GHz. Overall, the Snapdragon 845 is also consumes 30 percent less power than the 835. The first devices to pack Snapdragon 845 will arrive in early 2018, so it will be awhile before we get to see what all the new features introduced today will look like in consumer devices. We'll be checking out some demos here at Qualcomm's event later today to get a more concrete sense of what to expect, so stay tuned for those updates.