It’s time for mobile phone companies to “make cores”: vivo enters the game, and the flagship phone will be released in September

The chip self-research army of mobile phone manufacturers is increasingly enriched. Hu Boshan, executive vice president of vivo, recently publicly responded to the rumors of vivo core making, saying that vivo has independently developed the professional imaging chip V1, which will be launched in the flagship new X70 series released in September. This is also after Xiaomi launched the independent ISP Surging C1 in March this year, another domestic mobile phone manufacturer announced ISP self-development. What advantages will ISP self-research bring to mobile phone manufacturers, and what trends will mobile phone manufacturers make in chip making?

Breakthrough photo homogenization

In recent years, the improvement of hardware performance such as memory and CPU frequency of mobile phones has been slow, and “picking” has become the only choice for flagship phones to seek differentiation and competitiveness.

Lens, CIS, ISP, is a “three-piece set” that affects the shooting effect of mobile phones. Zhou Yu, CEO of Shanghai Xingxin Microelectronics Technology Co., Ltd. once made an analogy. If the imaging system based on dual cameras is the human visual system, then the lens is the lens and vitreous of the human eye, the CIS is the retina of the human eye, and the image The processor ISP is equivalent to the optic nerve and the cerebral cortex responsible for visual processing. It analyzes and processes the signals collected by the CIS and outputs picture information that can be recognized by consumers.

In the third-party mobile phone main chip, the ISP is often integrated in the SoC to reduce the BOM cost and improve the interconnection efficiency with the GPU. However, it is difficult for such ISPs to support differentiated camera functions. If mobile phone manufacturers run customized algorithms on the SoC, it will often bring about power consumption and heat problems. The self-developed independent ISP will be more in line with the personalized shooting solutions of mobile phone manufacturers.

Wang Xi, research manager of IDC China, told China Electronics News that Xiaomi and vivo self-developed ISPs to create a differentiated user experience for future market competition. Mobile imaging is the main track that the entire industry has invested heavily in in recent years, and the main development direction is “computational photography”. Since the development of upstream hardware is open and transparent, and is limited by the mobile phone space, there is a certain upper limit, and the homogenization will continue to intensify. Therefore, the imaging algorithm of mobile phone manufacturers has an increasingly significant impact on the imaging effect of mobile phones.

“If a mobile phone manufacturer runs its own algorithm on the ISP that comes with the SoC, the computational load is large and the power consumption is high. For example, when some flagship video cameras are shooting complex scenes, there are problems such as waiting for the film to be produced, and obvious heating after heavy use of the photography function. .In the future, the algorithm will be more complex, and the work of adaptation, joint debugging and optimization with third-party SoCs will also be more cumbersome. If the image algorithms of each company are fixed in the form of independent ISPs, the image-related software calculations will be converted to mainly independent ISPs. When the ISP hardware is completed, the efficiency will be higher, the power consumption will be lower, and better heat control and user experience will be achieved.” Wang Xi said.

more realistic entry point

Self-developed chips have become the consensus of international and domestic leading mobile phone manufacturers, but different manufacturers are in different stages of research and development. Apple, Samsung, and Huawei have developed and launched a number of SoCs. Although Xiaomi has “first taste” SoC experience and has been exploring for seven years, it has not yet reached the standard of meeting the needs of flagship models and stably iterating. As a new entrant, vivo is a realistic and effective choice to use ISP as the entry point for core building.

Compared with SoC, the threshold for ISP research and development is lower, and it can fully reflect the advantages of terminal enterprises in user demand insight. According to Hu Boshan, the biggest advantage of vivo is that it is closer to consumers. The team will gain insight into consumers’ needs in images and convert them into core algorithms. Yang Jungang, senior analyst of CCID Consulting Integrated Circuit Industry Research Center, pointed out to reporters that the research and development threshold of ISP chips is lower than that of SoCs. The main competition point is the addition of algorithms and functional modules. The improvement of algorithms can increase the processing performance of ISP chips. The functional module can improve the multi-scenario application of the ISP chip and increase the various functions of the product.

Through the actual combat of self-developed ISPs, mobile phone manufacturers can improve their technical reserves for potential risks. Wang Xi pointed out that the design and development of ISP does not need to adopt the most advanced process, and the threshold is lower than that of CPU. At the same time, it is also important for chip development technology, as well as for predicting the development of the industry, gaining insight into the future needs of users, and finally developing products through its own technical team. The reserve and actual combat of a complete set of full-process technologies can enable mobile phone manufacturers to better cope with competition and risks from the internal and external environment of the industry.

Xiaomi and vivo’s self-developed independent ISPs have also sparked discussions on whether self-developed ISPs can be smoothly integrated with third-party SoCs used by mobile phone manufacturers. Wang Xiaolong, research director of Xinmou, told reporters that brand manufacturers have advantages in integration and integration, and mobile phone manufacturers are most aware of component specifications and product requirements, and flagship phones are often dominated by mobile phone manufacturers.

“The flagship mobile phone that needs an independent ISP is generally not using the public version like the low-end and mid-range mobile phones. The flagship model is built with the participation of mobile phone manufacturers, and the layout of the substrate is generally dominated by the brand. Knowing the specifications and performance of all components and products such as the main chip and CIS, it is the most efficient and pragmatic choice to develop ISP by yourself.” Wang Xiaolong said.

where to go next

For Xiaomi and vivo, the research and development of ISP is based on years of investment and the formation of a team of hundreds of people, so it will not be the end of their chip self-development road.

In the documentary “The Cornerstone of a Powerful Country” broadcast on CCTV on August 6, Zuo Kunlong, the Xiaomi ISP chip architect who led the development of the Surging C1, said that he will start from the Surging C1 and return to the SoC chip of the heart of the mobile phone. in the design and manufacture. This shows that Xiaomi will continue the research and development of this series after launching the first SoC chip Surge S1 series in 2017.

vivo’s core-making layout has also been around for a long time. In 2019, the 5G AI chip Exynos 980 jointly developed by vivo and Samsung was officially unveiled. In nearly 10 months of joint research and development, vivo has accumulated 400 functional features, jointly solved nearly 100 technical problems at the hardware level, and invested more than 500 professional R&D engineers.

In the media communication meeting, Hu Boshan revealed the three directions of vivo chip layout. First, vivo’s chip research and development will closely serve the long track that vivo focuses on: design, imaging, system and performance. The ISP processor V1 is strongly related to the video track. In the future, it is not ruled out that chips will be deployed on other long tracks, but the core basic logic is still closely related to consumer insight and algorithm conversion. Second, tape-out will not be performed, because tape-out is not differentiated and will be handed over to partners. The third is to do IP design.

The competition of mobile phone chips in the future will tend to be diversified, which will test the understanding ability of mobile phone manufacturers on chip design. Yang Jungang said that in the future, the speed of physical performance improvement of mobile phones will slow down with the slowdown of Moore’s Law, and chip development will compete more in terms of algorithms, functional modules, and packaging forms.

Whether Xiaomi can extend its self-developed capabilities to more components and integrate it into a flagship SoC, and whether vivo can expand its chip research and development capabilities to more tracks, still needs the test of the market and time.

Author: Zhang Xinyi

Editor丨Lian Xiaodong

American Editor | Mary

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