Pixel 2
The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL both come with Google's new Pixel Visual Core image processor. Google

Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones come with very impressive cameras, but the company revealed something about them today. Apparently, both Pixel 2 devices are hiding Google’s own image processing unit (IPU), which hasn’t enabled yet.

Called the Pixel Visual Core, it's Google's first custom-designed System on Chip (SoC) for consumer products that’s totally separate from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835. To put it in simpler terms, it's like a scaled down version of Qualcomm's Snapdragon chip. The Pixel Visual Core is dedicated to handling processing for images taken with the PIxel 2's camera. The purpose of the Pixel Visual Core in the Pixel 2 smartphones is that it will speed up the HDR+ process when taking photos.

“With eight Google-designed custom cores, each with 512 arithmetic logic units (ALUs), the IPU delivers raw performance of over 3 trillion operations per second on a mobile power budget. Using Pixel Visual Core, HDR+ can run 5x faster and at less than 1/10th the energy than running on the application processor (AP),” Google said on its press release (via Droid-Life)

Pixel Visual Core
The Pixel Visual Core is a system on chip that features eight cores for processing images. Google

The big surprise here is that the Pixel Visual Core is already inside the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. When Google announced its new pair of smartphones, the company didn’t say anything about it. Perhaps Google decided not to announce the new IPU since it won’t be enabled when the Pixel 2 smartphones reach their customers. Google says it will turn on the Pixel Visual Core “in the coming months” through a software update.

Another great thing about Google’s Pixel Visual Core is that third party camera app developers can take full advantage of it. This means developers could have Google’s HDR+ camera feature work on their own camera apps. Google says it will enable the Pixel Visual Core as an option to developers for the developer preview of Android 8.1 (MR1) in the coming weeks.

“Later, we will enable it to all third-party apps using the Android Camera API, giving them access to the Pixel 2’s HDR+ technology,” Google said. “We can’t wait to see the beautiful HDR+ photography which you already get through your Pixel 2 camera also be available in your favorite photography apps.”

The Pixel Virtual Core is programmable, so developers can also leverage the IPU’s additional power to add other functionalities to their camera apps. Google says the the IPU also supports Halide and TensorFlow, making it easier for developers to adopt HDR+ and other functionalities in the future, according to Android Police.

“HDR+ produces beautiful images, and we have evolved the algorithm over the past year to utilize the Pixel 2’s application processor efficiently and enable the user to take multiple pictures in sequence by intelligently processing HDR+ in the background. In parallel with that engineering effort, we have also been working on creating capabilities which enable significantly greater computing power, beyond existing hardware, to bring HDR+ to third-party photography applications,” Google explained.

“To expand the reach of HDR+, to handle the most challenging imaging and machine learning applications, and to deliver lower-latency and even more power-efficient HDR+ processing, we have created Pixel Visual Core.”