Dolby Laboratories has begun moving into the imaging space with a technology called JPEG-HDR, which it has reportedly licensed to Qualcomm.
The format allows high-dynamic range images to be encoded into a single format, according to the company, without large file sizes or compatibility issues.
The goal is to improve the quality of cell phone cameras, the company said. The technology has been licensed to Qualcomm as well as an unannounced chip maker, the company told TWICE
. PCMag was unable to reach the company for an interview, but a spokesman provided explanatory documents.
Dolby, of course, is a name that's virtually synonymous with audio technology, in PCs, CE devices, and now in smartphones. Dolby audio technologies are found in over 150 handsets and 12 tablets, Dolby said. Phones from Nokia, Pantech, and LG use the Dolby Digital Plus technology.
JPEG-HDR was originally created
by Greg Ward of BrightSide Technology and Maryann Simmons, then working for Walt Disney's animation department. In April 2007, Dolby completed its acquisition of BrightSide, bringing the JPEG-HDR technology into the Dolby fold.
Creating composite pictures using HDR technology evolved from the problem that most cameraphones have been unable to solve: Non-HDR cameras take pictures at a single exposure level with a limited contrast range, meaning that detail is often lost in either dark or highly exposed segments of the image. A picture of a sunset, for example, generally renders the ground as a uniformly dark image. HDR technology takes two or more images - one optimized for a low exposure, one optimized for high exposure - then intelligently combines them together to create a new image.
The Apple iPhone 4S
solves this problem by building HDR technology directly inside its camera application.
JPEG-HDR consists of two components, according to Dolby: a backwards-compatible JPEG image, which is a tone-mapped version of original image, plus a Dolby-specific unique collection of HDR Metadata which is supplemental information and used to restore the original HDR image. The container is a standard JPEG wrapper with App Marker 11 for HDR Metadata. Dolby said that it is working with the International Standards Union (ISO) to standardize the technology.
The key to the new format is taking advantage of sensors that include 10 to 14 bits per pixel of information; a standard JPEG file stores 8 bits of information. "JPEG is the bottleneck limiting dynamic range," Dolby said.