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Will Apple Join the 8K Video Party?

By Bob Raikes

It’s incredible how smartphones, produced in enormous volumes, have led the way in so many technology areas. The sheer scale of the market (Counterpoint Research forecasts that, even with economic headwinds, 1.36 billion new handsets will be sold this year) means that the companies that make the components of which they are composed can invest heavily in R&D. They know that even millions of dollars of investment can be paid back over a huge volume of device sales. It’s that volume that has enabled 8K video capture on smartphones.

Every brand wants to stand out in the market, and one critical way for smartphones to stand out is the quality of the camera. These days, smartphone reviews rarely report in detail on the performance of the devices as phones but focus very heavily on the cameras. One of the significant trends of the last three years is the considerable investment that has enabled 8K video capture. But why would you want to capture video in 8K?

  • If you have an 8K TV, you will enjoy ‘better than broadcast’ resolution, incredible detail, and quality.
  • You can also put 8K content on viewing services such as YouTube and Vimeo to share with other image quality enthusiasts.
  • If you plan to create a video in 4K or FullHD for wider distribution, 8K capture allows you to pan, zoom, and crop content from the full 8K content. You can create 16 FullHD windows from a single 8K frame and four 4K frames.
  • With 8K capture, you can create dynamic panned content at lower resolutions from static camera positions
  • 4K content created from higher resolution content and then processed by supersampling can have higher quality and fewer artifacts than native content.

Back to the Camera Phone Future

It’s hard to realize that it’s only fifteen years since the launch of the iPhone and just twenty years since Nokia launched its first phone with a camera. That was the 7650 with 640 x 480 – just 0.3 megapixels and 650 times fewer pixels than the just-announced Samsung Isocell HP3 sensor.  The first camera phone is often said to be the Kyocera VP (Visual Phone) in 1999. The first iPhone in 2007 had a 2-megapixel rear camera. (Those interested in history might want to read this article.)

The category took off with buyers, and in 2003, camera phones were already outselling dedicated digital cameras. By 2006, more camera phones were being sold than digital and film cameras combined.

The Nokia N90, released in 2006, was optimised for handholding for video.

Video came later to the mainstream, though, and the original iPhone did not capture video. However, camera phones such as the Nokia N90 (released in 2005) could record video, albeit just in 352 x 240 resolution. The Sony Ericsson K850i had trio of LEDs to help illuminate its video capture, but still at 320 x 240. LG pushed things along with its Viewty phone, which could capture 640 x 480 video at 30fps in 2007. The Samsung W880 had the first 12-megapixel camera and was the first to record 1280 x 720 video at 30fps – the first HD camera phone. The Samsung Galaxy S was the first smartphone with 720p recording.

The Samsung W880 was the first HD video camera phone

To handle video, you need a camera that can capture it, but you also need to process it, optimize it for storage using codecs, and then have enough storage for the captured video. Each of those aspects requires more and better processing and storage. Apple introduced video calling and conferencing on the iPhone 4, capturing video at 720p along with video playback.

Apple caught up with video capture in the iPhone 4

The Samsung Galaxy S4 pushed things along with FullHD/1080P video recording to match its FullHD display, which was the ‘state of the art’ in 2013. It sold 40 million units in the first six months.

Samsung Galaxy S5 moved up to UltraHD (3840 x 2160 – also often described as 4K) resolution in April 2014 at 30fps. Sony had an Xperia Z3 family with a 4K capture in September 2014.

Qualcomm launched its Snapdragon 800 chip series in 2015, an enabler of many smartphones adopting UltraHD capture. These days smartphones such as the Sony Xperia 1 IV can capture 4K with HDR at up to 120Hz with any of its cameras.

The most recent jump has been to 8K, and the first phone to get there was the ZTE Nubia Red Magic 3 phone in May 2019 – three years ago! That phone only supported 15fps, and it was early 2020 when top smartphone volume maker, Samsung, announced the S20, which could capture 8K at 24fps – the same rate used for movies. The firm has shipped three generations of its Galaxy S smartphones with 8K video support.

The ZTE Nubia Red Magic 3 Phone was the first with 8K capture.

Now 8K is widely supported in smartphones. Brands that have launched smartphones with 8K capture include:

  • Samsung
  • Xiaomi
  • vivo
  • One Plus
  • ZTE
  • Realme
  • Motorola
  • Asus
  • Lenovo
  • Meizu

At the time of writing, GSMArena was listing 95 models supporting 8K.

Perhaps the most impressive smartphone in terms of video capture is the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra. This device has three rear cameras – a wide one, an ultra-wide one and a periscope. Each has a 64-megapixel sensor, and the main one can capture 8K (although of course, the number of pixels is not the only factor in great video.) HDR is also an important feature, and top smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S22 units can capture 8K with HDR10+ HDR – meaning high-quality pixels and more pixels.

Qualcomm has had 8K support in its processors for a couple of years and continues to support the technology.

What About Apple?

Well, Apple remains at the UltraHD level at the moment and has made no announcements about supporting 8K on its smartphones. The firm doesn’t use Qualcomm processors for its video processing but has its own chips. They have considerable advantages in media processing because of the technology that is seen in their processors.

There have been a number of rumors that Apple will launch 8K video capture. In one tweet from analyst Ming-Chu Kuo, who has often been right in the past, suggested that Apple would get to 8K capture in the iPhone 14 Pro, which should be arriving this year. We don’t know if this is accurate, but the rumors keep coming around.

If Apple does introduce 8K video capture, it would fit with the firm’s general trend of lagging the leading technology companies in promoting the latest technology and features.