Rediscovering a company we last covered in 2014 and finding ourselves equally impressed is a nice feeling. We managed to get our fix at this year’s MWC from a company called Pixelworks, a video processing SoC developer with a few tricks up its sleeve to make the OLED display of a $1,000 iPhone X look like a cheap gimmick in comparison to much cheaper LCD displays with refresh-rates of up to 120 Hz.
But what fascinated us most about Pixelworks from the offset and continues to today is its ability to save battery rather than suck it dry as you might imagine, with custom silicon optimized for power and heat dissipation. Its Iris video processing product has notable deals with Nokia and HMD handsets, benefiting from years of finely tuned algorithms, rolling out its fifth generation Iris just a couple of weeks ago.
“This is why we do chips. There is no other company that has combined software and hardware in one package, and this is exactly why the gaming community has jumped on us – gamers want 60 fps without the soap opera effect,” Pixelworks told us in conversation this week. Soap opera effect means a visual effect triggered by motion interpolation, a process used to display content at a higher refresh rate than the original source. We were given a demo of this in motion, comparing an iPhone X with a cheaper Xiaomi Blackshark device with Pixelworks technology, showing a video in which the OLED iPhone display clearly suffered from a sort of juddering during panning, while the Blackshark showed an impressively smooth experience.
This judder is overcome using built-in custom tuning capabilities, as well as strobing effects which result from the differences between content frame rates and display refresh rates, while suppressing the undesirable soap opera effect Pixelworks says is associated with alternative approaches. The new Iris 5 incorporates advancements to Pixelworks’ TrueClarity motion processing technology – adding adaptive intelligence and reducing power consumption by more than 50% as compared to the previous generation.
We mentioned upscaling and the ears of Pixelworks’ execs pricked up. “We’re adding dynamic range not upscaling as such. There is no offline stuff, no storage, no caching. As well as working with OEMs, we’re in close collaboration with content producers, so we know when to remove elements from a video and when to leave directors alone,” we were told.
Earning its stripes in the projector market (which still accounts for about 50% of revenues but sitting flat), Pixelworks projects its mobile business to triple in size in the next few years. MWC is not a show where we expect display technologies to be out in force, but our point is – as alluded to in a separate story – that consumer technologies are creeping in and this is not necessarily a negative, rather opening doors for video opportunities as Pixelworks continues to prove.