Google’s upcoming Android 14 update is going to allow smartphones to capture a a new “Ultra HDR” mode which is a new format that captures in JPEGs but with more dynamic range than the the typical 8-bit limitation the file format currently records.
As long as there is enough processing power available, Android 14’s Ultra HDR will support the capture of 10-bit high dynamic range (HDR) photos that retain more image data and allow photographers to get more vibrant colors and better contrast than current methods.
“The goal of this file format is to encode additional information in SDR image files that can be used in combination with the display technique to produce their optimal HDR renditions, in a single file,” Google explains.
In order for the company to meet these goals practically, Ultra HDR must be backward compatible so that photos can be displayed on standard dynamic range (SDR) monitors and not take up too much storage space. The file also can’t require heavy processing to decode and has to perform well without clipping highlights, crushing shadows, compressing or changing local contrast, or changing relative tonal relationships between objects in the scene.
The result of these goals is Ultra HDR, which Google says will be fully backwards compatible with JPEGs which allows apps to seamlessly interoperate with HDR images and display them in standard dynamic range as needed. This is a major difference between what Google’s Ultra HDR will do versus conventional HDR, which isn’t able to dynamically switch like this.
“Ultra HDR is set to greatly improve the quality of photos on premium Android devices bringing 10-bit HDR experiences to photos users capture and share. We are excited to partner with Qualcomm Technologies to bring Ultra HDR support to Snapdragon mobile, taking advantage of their advanced 18-bit ISP capabilities,” Karthic Veera, Product Manager at Google, says.
“You can also capture 10-bit compressed still images on supported devices. With more colors recovered from the sensor, editing in post can be more flexible,” Google adds.
As mentioned, this is all possible as long as there is enough processing power under the hood. Qualcomm says that any phone running its latest Snapdragon processor will be able to meet these requirements thanks to its 18-bit image signal processor that already allows it to capture extreme detail in photos. Given that Google developed the technology, Pixel’s Tensor chip will also undoubtably be able to handle the new format, too.
The Android 14 beta is currently available for anyone using a Pixel phone and the final release of the operating system is expected to release in the early fall.