Android 8.1 Oreo coming soon to Pixel 2, will enable custom Pixel Visual Core processor

Google's custom-designed Pixel Visual Core Image Processing Unit. (Source: Google)
Google's custom-designed Pixel Visual Core Image Processing Unit. (Source: Google)
Google has revealed that it will be releasing Android 8.1 for developers soon. At the same time, it revealed a previously unknown morsel about some previously unknown custom silicon it has embedded in its Pixel 2s that will be enabled with the update.

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Google has published a blog revealing that it will be releasing a developer preview of Android 8.1 “in the coming weeks.” The update is particularly notable as it will enable a hitherto unannounced custom-designed Pixel Visual Core, which is an imaging co-processor embedded in both of its Pixel 2 smartphones. It is the first such piece of custom silicon in a smartphone made by Google and follows in the footsteps of what Apple has been doing (exceptionally well) in recent years.

In fact, Google’s intentions to start developing custom silicon become patently clear when in it hired one of Apple’s veteran chip architects away from Cupertino to join its ranks as Lead SoC Architect. While the hire of Manu Gulati probably played no part in the development of the Pixel Visual Core, it seems to point to a custom ARM-based SoC coming from Google in the future. As for the Pixel Visual Core, its primary function is to process HDR+ photos. Its eight bespoke cores each incorporate 512 arithmetic logic units (ALUs) that allow it to process more than 3 trillion operations per second.

When enabled on the Pixel 2 via the Android 8.1 update, the Pixel Visual Core image processing unit (IPU) will run five times faster and at less than one-tenth the energy required when the function runs through the main CPU. At that time, the HDR+ through Pixel Visual Core functionality will only be enabled in the default camera app. Google, however, plans to make the API for the Pixel Visual Core available to third-party apps and developers in the future. The Pixel 2, you may recall, has recently received the highest ever score from DxOMark for its camera.


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Sanjiv Sathiah, 2017-10-18 (Update: 2017-10-18)
Sanjiv Sathiah
Sanjiv Sathiah - News Editor
I have been tech-obsessed from the time my father introduced me to my first computer, an Apple ][. Since then, I have grown to enjoy exploring and experimenting with any computing platform that I can get my hands on – I am the definitive early adopter! I have always been interested in how we can use technology to shape and improve our lives, most recently using it to record, mix and master my debut record, Acuity – Nature | Nurture out now on Spotify.