8K and 4K HDR Smartphone Video Recording with the Snapdragon 865

January 31st, 2020
8K and 4K HDR Smartphone Video Recording with the Snapdragon 865

Capturing 200Mp photos and recording 8K video with your phone is right around the corner thanks to Qualcom’s Snapdragon 865 chipset.

Not to be outdone by Apple, at least not for long, the newest generation chipsets to power this year’s Android devices are delivering some surprising capabilities. The Qualcom’s Snapdragon 865 chipset will power many 2020 Android smartphones and ups the ante considerably in the imaging department.

Before you all skim over everything I’ve written here to torch me in the comments, of course, 8K video recording in a smartphone is ridiculous. All kinds of technical issues and problems (the encroaching limits imposed by the laws of physics being one) immediately come to mind.

Logic, rationale, and physics be damned, it’s going to happen regardless because people will part with their hard-earned cash for something that says 8K on it, whether it allows them to watch 16x upscaled HD SDR content on an 8K HDR TV, or record the daughters ballet recital in 8K with their fancy new smartphone. However, try to keep an open mind because the tech is interesting, and it might actually end up being useful.

The heat is on smartphone manufacturers to up their photo and video capabilities now more than ever. Our smartphones have become the defacto standard camera everyone carries around, even us video professionals, still when carrying a mirrorless or DSLR, or a cine camera as well. The smartphone as a camera is ubiquitous, easy to use, socially connected, and they are now capable of meeting the needs of pretty much any and all casual photo and video use.

Ultra-high-resolution photos and videos are coming to our smartphones, but it’s important to keep the facts straight and not fall for all the hype. At the same time, there may be some real advantages on the go creators can leverage from.

The Snapdragon 865’s Next Generation Spectra 480 ISP

The megapixel race has come to smartphones. In a space where cameras are largely defined by software, there is some key hardware that makes this possible. This starts with the ISP, or image signal processor. The overall bandwidth and sheer processing power of an ISP are what determine the limits of resolution, color bit depth, and frame rates of a particular device.

The Spectra 480 ISP in the Snapdragon 865 supports up to 200Mp photo capture, 8K video capture, and 4K video capture in high bit-depth HDR. Not only can it run the required math and process all those pixels, but the Spectra 480 is also tied into Qualcom’s fifth generation A.I. engine. This allows the device to perform complex image segmentation in real time, identify objects, and backgrounds.

Larger, Higher Resolution Imagers

An ISP and chipset that supports extremely high resolution photo and video capture is nothing without an image sensor that offers up all those pixels. The more raw photosites there are, even if they are tiny and noisy, the more clever math can be done downstream to computationally extract useable image information.

As an example, the Sony IMX586 is a Quad Bayer design that offers 8000 x 6000 pixels in a 1/1.2” size sensor. The “Quad Bayer” CFA effectively groups 2×2 blocks of photosites under each color filter. This results in less chroma resolution than pixel count but is a necessary trade-off for such a high density, small size imager. The ability to cleanly improve the signal to noise ratio and chroma fidelity when you’ve got four samples to work with instead of just one can outperform a single larger photosite. At the same time, it provides more discrete samples when calculating luminance at the full pixel count.

There will no doubt be more innovations in smartphone sensor design to come this year as the battle for sales rages on. It will be consumers and the growing niche of mobile video enthusiasts that will be the winners. It usually doesn’t take long for the technology launched in premium handsets to appear in more budget-friendly phones, and in many cases, the gap in features between entry-level, mid-level and high-end phones is getting smaller.

Snapdragon 865 Camera Specifications

  • Image Signal Processor: Qualcomm Spectra™ 480 image signal processor, Hardware accelerator for computer vision (CV-ISP), Dual 14-bit CV-ISPs
  • Dual Camera, ZSL, 30fps: Up to 25 MP
  • Single Camera, MFNR, ZSL, 30fps: Up to 64 MP
  • Single Camera: Up to 200 MP
  • Camera Features: HEIF photo capture
  • Slow Motion Video Capture: 720p @ 960 FPS
  • Video Capture Formats: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+, HEVC
  • Video Capture Features: 8K video recording, 4K video capture with simultaneous 64MP photo capture, Rec. 2020 color gamut video capture, Up to 10-bit color depth video capture
  • Codec Support: Dolby Vision, H.265 (HEVC), HDR10+, HLG, HDR10, H.264 (AVC), VP8, VP9

Keeping it Real

The actual resolution does not equal sensor pixel count.

It is worth mentioning that there is a big difference between the actual resolving power of any camera system, and the number of photosites an image sensor may have. Also, just because a camera records a file of certain pixel size, doesn’t mean that the image actually holds the same amount of detail.

Marketers like to hype pixel counts but it’s only one small part of a much larger equation. This is especially true of miniaturized camera modules as small as those in smartphones. As good as they are, and they have become excellent, the real ability to resolve detail in a smartphone image comes down to the design of some very small optics, the design, efficiency and performance of the sensor itself, exactly how sensor data is debayered, and of course all the math and video compression that goes on downstream.

The Advantages of Downsampling

There are some advantages to high pixel counts, even if some, or a lot of it doesn’t contain much extra information. When I first started shooting video with an iPhone, I was recording 4K at the highest bit rate possible in order to get a better looking downsampled HD image in post.

Taking the same approach to 8K smartphone video (very likely to remain 4:2:0) may produce a pretty decent downsampled 4K result, especially if manufacturers move to 10-bit encoding. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see how all this is implemented and what kind of video files 8K capable smartphones will actually give us.

The Smartphone Camera is Here to Stay

Smartphones as photo and video cameras are definitely here to stay, and they will continue to get better at it. They will become less noisy, and better in low light. Higher color bit depth is coming, AI and machine learning is helping to fill in the gaps.

What do you think of 8K video recording on a smartphone? Are you convinced this trend is headed somewhere useful or will this always be a compromised camera for consumer use only? Let us know what you think in the comments.


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Johnnie BehiriWayne SLainolShyam BharteeyJoray Joseph Recent comment authors
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 Shyam Bharteey
Shyam Bharteey
MemberFebruary 1st, 2020

What about bit depth on mob. Camera, raw recording ?

 Joray Joseph
Joray Joseph
MemberJanuary 31st, 2020

I’m excited for 2 things, the bigger sensor delivering more natural bokeh and background separation. Also how much detail can be accrued through 8k to the point where I can do some descent landscape photography with my smartphone.

MemberFebruary 1st, 2020

The real deal here is the ability to manage (encode and decode) 4k footage on an ultra portable device, like the new laptops presented. Adobe has the final word…

 Wayne S
Wayne S
MemberFebruary 8th, 2020

The 8k support is only one part, combine that with an capable 8k Samsung in frame HDR sensor.

I was just thinking of contacting you guys about doing a yearly/half yearly Pro Video 8k camera phone shootout. You basically contact each manufacturer who appears to offer a best spec capable camera phone by looking through gsmarena search for news and specs to find them, and ask them for the best top soecy phone for the shootout. You test based on complete manual controllability, controllability through on phone physical controls, and external controllability (through devices). Then you test based on video codec performance, and picture levels seperately. You do colour and picture level accuracy and enhancement (as a little bit of auto enhancement done right might help in some phones, as the manual control and post situation is ussually poor), ability to set look in phone at shooting and swap between looks in order to make it more professionally usable. Then you measure performance the dynamic range, low light level at video frame rates and noise level (using the HDR tiling chart, and color chart and scene for detail and edging, as noise removal and picture enhancements can stuff up detail and edges) at lower lumen to simulate, which also shows the noise effect accross the range. Then you comment that they really need 12-16 bit modes, 4:2:2/Raw, higher datarates and a high speed file system for recording internally with external record option, and what else needs to be improved. It is a promotional excercise into spuring competition about making better video phones, which has been really lagging behind still camera functionality.

What camera feature phones really lack, is descent video recording functionality.

You also test with software apps able to make up for Deficiencies and extend what a phone can do. Like FreeDcam which has a video profile editor, open camera, and filmic Pro.

There appears to be two main release pulses of phones a year, the early year, and the pre Christmas where shootouts could best happen.

Something useful compared to dxom.


Johnnie Behiri
Johnnie Behiri
AdminFebruary 8th, 2020

Hey Wayne. Thank you for you suggestion. We are aiming to do much more with mobile phone in the near future. Stay tuned.

Thank you

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