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Exceeding usefulness…

Sony’s new IMX492LQJ digital image sensor chip capable of 47Mpixel and of capturing 8k video at 30 frames per second. Image credit: Sony

Sony has announced a new digital image sensor designed for video cameras, more specifically security cameras, able to take 8k videos at 30 frames per second.  8k requires a resolution of 8192×4320 pixels, that would be 35 Mpixels, approximately, and the chip has a 8192×5556 pixels, 47+Mpixels.

8k is a huge resolution and it would require a very nice screen and a very good pair of eyes to be appreciated. However, being the market target of Sony the one of security cameras I can understand that such resolution can be useful not for people but for AI image recognition software, that is the evolution we are seeing in the security camera field. Rather than having a person getting bored (and often distracted) watching a screen a dedicated software keeps analysing the images, and extracting meaning, also by comparing historical records to spot any suspicious difference.

Talking of resolution, Samsung has started to ramp up production of its 108Mpixel sensors designed for smartphones and a tele-lens working like a telescope (watch the clip) so that it can fit inside a smartphone. Now 108Mpixel resolution is absolutely crazy, even more so in a smartphone. My reflex camera has a 45.7 Mpixel and if I were to really took advantage of them I should use a tripod, get the mirror up and wait a few seconds before taking, with a radio command, the shot to avoid any vibration that would affect the resolution. Just imaging the problems in a smartphone where the sensors is much smaller than the one in a reflex camera! However, such a sensor is not going to be used to deliver such a resolution, rather to provide plenty of data to a software that can extract meaningful information making the resulting photo sharper, with better colour depth and wider exposure range (HDR on a single frame). Here again we are facing an innovation that is going to be used by software, not by us! It will be up to the software to create a pleasing image (notice the “create”: the software is actually trained to create a pleasing image, not to recreate a faithful reproduction of reality!).

Now, why did I title this post Exceeding usefulness? That is because in parallel with the announcement of Sony I saw the news of 8k video coming, probably, to smartphones. We already have 4k video on smartphone and this is already overshooting our capability to appreciate the difference with respect to an HD video recording on a smartphone.

The news comes from XDA developers. Looking inside the updated software for the camera of the Xiaomi smartphone (MIUI) they discovered that the software is ready to support an 8k video. Xiaomi has been on the leading edge of technology advance in smartphone and it would not be surprising to see them coming up with an 8k video recording capability. The Samsung chip I mentioned previously is already capable of delivering 6k video recording at 30fps. Moving up to 8k is not a matter of resolution, a 32Mpixel chip would do, but a matter of battery usage and heat dissipation. So it makes sense from a technology viewpoint to look at 8k video recording as a next step.

What makes me wonder it is if such a recording would make any sense from a user perspective! As I mentioned current top of the line smartphone able to video record at 4k are overshooting our capability to appreciate the increased quality. Just imagine moving up to 8k where the (potential) resolution goes up 4 times. The perceived quality will go up … 0 times! Yet I am sure that marketing will be using 8k as the reason why we should rush to get the new phone, in the same way marketing is urging us to move to 5G because of the increased (potential) speed and decreased (potential) latency none of which are going to be perceived by the users 99.99% of the times (I am quite generous here. I should have said that a user having access to a 4G performing as marketing is -was- claiming will never be able to tell the difference from 5G).

This is what I mean with exceeding usefulness. Technology has definitely passed the thresholds where we can perceive any difference as it keeps improving its performance. These perceptions can only be enhance by marketing gimmick. To be fair I should also say that marketing is serving a good purpose in the progress of tech. The need for improved technology is now confined to smaller and smaller niches that would not be able to sustain the investment needed to further tech evolution. In this sense marketing ensures a subsidy to research and evolution …

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.