Until recently, there was only one smartphone on the market equipped with an under-screen camera: last year’s ZTE Axon 20 5G. Other players such as Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi had also been testing this futuristic tech, but given the subpar image quality back then, it’s no wonder that phone makers largely stuck with punch-hole cameras for selfies.
Despite much criticism of its first under-screen camera, ZTE worked what it claims to be an improved version into its new Axon 30 5G, which launched in China last week. Coincidentally, today Oppo unveiled its third-gen under-screen camera which, based on a sample shot it provided, appears to be surprisingly promising — no noticeable haziness nor glare. But that was just one photo, of course, so I’ll obviously reserve my final judgement until I get to play with one. Even so, the AI tricks and display circuitry that made this possible are intriguing.
In a nutshell, nothing has changed in terms of how the under-screen camera sees through the screen. Its performance is limited by how much light can travel through the gaps between each OLED pixel. Therefore, AI compensation is still a must. For its latest under-screen camera, Oppo says it trained its own AI engine “using tens of thousands of photos” in order to achieve more accurate corrections on diffraction, white balance and HDR. Hence the surprisingly natural-looking sample shot.
Another noteworthy improvement here lies within the display panel’s consistency. The earlier designs chose to lower the pixel density in the area above the camera, in order to let sufficient light into the sensor. This resulted in a noticeable patch above the camera, which would have been a major turn-off when you watched videos or read fine text on that screen.
But now, Oppo — or the display panel maker, which could be Samsung — figured out a way to boost light transmittance by slightly shrinking each pixel’s geometry above the camera. In order words, we get to keep the same 400-ppi pixel density as the rest of the screen, thus creating a more consistent look.
Oppo added that this is further enhanced by a transparent wiring material, as well as a one-to-one pixel-circuit-to-pixel architecture (instead of two-to-one like before) in the screen area above the camera. The latter promises more precise image control and greater sharpness, with the bonus being a 50-percent longer panel lifespan due to better burn-in prevention.
Oppo didn’t say when or if consumers will get to use its next-gen under-screen camera, but given the timing, I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be the same solution on the ZTE Axon 30 5G. In any case, it would be nice if the industry eventually agreed to dump punch-hole cameras in favor of invisible ones.