GPU Demos, Audio, Video
Adreno 530 Demos
Though I already detailed the significant performance gains that Qualcomm claims we'll see with the Snapdragon 820 and the Adreno 530, the company did have some impressive looking demos running at the event. The new GPU will support OpenGL ES 3.1, Android Extension Pack, RenderScript, OpenCL 2.0 and even the new Vulkan specification, giving the SD 820 an impressive amount of API integration.
On the floor the demos centered around different builds of the Unreal Engine 4, running new scenes and ones I was familiar with, to demonstrate the power of the GPU contained in the SoC. The screens they were outputting to were 4K though I was told they were only rendering at 720p then being upscaled to the native screen resolution. The visuals were graphically stunning – as anyone that has witnessed the stationary environment tests of UE4 can attest to.
Qualcomm was also demoing the Assassin's Creed Pirates Android title, a game that came out in late 2013 but is still a visual showcase among the best that mobile gaming can provide. We are still waiting for our first hands on with the Snapdragon 820 to really see how it can handle gaming from a performance point of view as well as in regard to play time length. It should be interesting to see how well the 40% gains with 40% lower power claims stand up.
Qualcomm had two audio demos for us using Snapdragon 820 tablets. The first was called Immersive Audio and uses surround sound algorithms to attempt to deliver a multi-channel sound experience with just a pair of stereo speakers. Think of this as the mobile implementation of the technology that headphone vendors have built for simulating surround surround with just two drivers. It worked fairly well but didn't provide the same kind of impact that I have experienced with headsets from Logitech and others.
The second demo was more interesting and uses the Qualcomm amplifier chip WSA8815. The goal is to raise the volume of audio coming out of the usually small phone/tablet speakers without damaging the speaker itself. The solution? Raise the low volume sections of the waveform while capping the high sections, giving us the experience of louder "lows" without blowing the speakers with highs that are beyond what the integrated drivers can handle. The result works surprisingly well – portions of songs and movies that were too quiet to hear at maximum volume were brought up. Obviously audio purists will complain that you aren't getting the true audio experience intended by the artist/author; but if you are listenting on a tablet or smartphone speaker, that is already the case!
Low Light Video
Finally, we wrapped up with a demonstration of heterogeneous computing in the form of enhanced low light video recording. The combination of Qualcomm software and the DSP, CPU and GPU in the Snapdragon 820 allows real time 4K video to be dynamically and intelligently modified to bring up the contrast in low light areas while leaving the detail of properly lit sections alone.
Without Low Light Enhancement
The result is pretty impressive and is improved above what is available today thanks to high quality real-time noise reduction to the under-exposed areas. I have to admit this is one of those features that just instantly sells phones, as long as you have the proper live demonstration opportunity that we had with our NYC backdrop and juggler. Much of this depends on the image sensor included in the device, of course, but with flagship phones utilizing the SD 820, I would expect to see competent parts across the board.
With Low Light Enhancement – Notice the bench in front, street under the performer
We are still months away from the release of retail product based on the Snapdragon 820 processor, with Qualcomm only promising by "first half of 2016." Of course we'll be on the look out for some reference hardware to do early performance testing on, but it should be clear from our walk around the demo area from NYC today that benchmarks may not be what differentiates the Snapdragon 820 from the other mobile SoC on the market.
Qualcomm has some cookies for consumers
It's also important to note that much of Qualcomm's success will depend on the adoption rates of these features with its OEM partners. Not everyone that uses the SD 820 is going to integrate support for image recognition, improved audio technology or even the antenna boost technology, and that's a shame, because they really do make a difference in an oversaturated marketplace. For the benefit of consumers (and Qualcomm) I hope we see some of this impressive new tech on store shelves with the first wave of devices based on Snapdragon 820.