Science Technology

OPPO leaps over the “challenger’s abyss” and braves the “deep water zone”

The dividend of “retaliatory growth” and the migration of the global market from 4G to 5G have not brought significant improvement to the stock mobile phone industry. On the contrary, under the global semiconductor shortage, the trend of industry inside-out is increasingly obvious.
Chinese mobile phone manufacturers are increasing their investment in hard technology. Among them, OPPO showed a few forward-looking ideas in the industry.
Three years ago, OPPO founder and CEO Chen Mingyong announced at the first OPPO Future Science and Technology Conference that OPPO would invest 50 billion yuan in research and development budget in three years. In addition to continuing to focus on cutting-edge technologies such as 5G, AI, AR, big data, we should also build the underlying hardware core technology and software engineering and system capabilities.
At the “Third OPPO Future Science and Technology Conference” on December 14-15, it was named Mariana? The first OPPO chip of MariSilicon X (hereinafter referred to as “Mariana X”) was unveiled and will enter the stage of market validation in the first quarter of 2022.
OPPO leaps over the “challenger abyss”
But more importantly, it marks that OPPO has begun to have a scientific and technological core with enough depth and hardness to create a big scene in the future when thinking about the future of the integration of all things.
OPPO leaps over the “challenger abyss”
There is “core” to refuse to roll in
With the first self-developed chip, OPPO pointed Mariana X to the NPU chip dedicated to imaging. Why?
Today, the homogeneity of products in the mobile phone industry is becoming more and more serious, and the mobile phone image is recognized as one of the few product directions that still have enough development space. In fact, observing the consumer behavior of mobile phone products, it is not difficult to find that due to the popularity of short video content, it also directly puts forward higher requirements for mobile phone image performance.
In particular, the implementation of processing 4K or higher definition of massive data, the current performance of mobile phone hardware is still inadequate. Compared with larger cameras, mobile phones cannot be stuffed with larger specifications of hardware in limited space due to their limited size.
Therefore, the AI algorithm must be introduced into the image with the support of the algorithm to greatly improve the actual experience of the image, and “computing image” also puts forward higher requirements for the computing ability of the mobile hardware.
However, the vertical integration of mobile phone image links is one of the most difficult technical fields in the mobile phone industry, which is also the reason why OPPO should firmly dive into “Mariana”.
At present, although some manufacturers have launched ISP chips specially designed for mobile phone imaging, there is still a problem of insufficient computing power under this framework of thinking, whether it is integrated in SoC or independent of the main board.
It was in anticipation of various limitations that OPPO was determined to “solve core problems with core technologies”.
“Our self-developed NPU can maximize the computational power and energy efficiency.” Jiang Bo, senior director of OPPO products, explained OPPO’s thinking. As a chip dedicated to mobile phone imaging, Mariana X and SoC together form the “left and right brain” of mobile phone core computing.
OPPO leaps over the “challenger abyss”
Of course, the result is always easier than the process sounds.
In fact, the mobile phone image is not designed to achieve the desired effect by researching a certain hardware or algorithm. It is a systematic project with a long link. From the front-end sensor and lens to the ISP chip responsible for image processing, to the later adjustment and optimization, it needs to achieve deep cooperation.
In the past ten years, OPPO has accumulated profound experience in customizing image sensors, camera modules and lenses, as well as in AI algorithms. The launch of the self-developed NPU chip means that OPPO has become one of the few terminal manufacturers who have truly redesigned the full image link.
The reason why Mariana X is able to break through is that it reshapes the mobile phone image link, elevates the AI calculation completed in the back end under the normal circumstances to the front-end RAW domain with more original information, reduces the loss of information details caused by multiple conversions of the traditional link, and strives to achieve the best image effect.
Under the combination of multiple sets of technologies, OPPO Mariana X chip can achieve 4K+20bit RAW+AI+Ultra HDR nightscape video, which has reached the new limit of current mobile phone image computing power.
The Mariana X image processing unit supports a processing bit width of up to 20bit, and supports 20bit Ultra HDR, which is four times the capacity of the current flagship platform HDR. In the real-time image, the brightness contrast between the lightest and darkest places reaches 1 million to 1.
It is precisely because of the product presentation of such powerful technology application that OPPO is more convinced that the dedicated NPU for imaging will drive “one machine with two cores” to become the future development direction of mobile imaging.
OPPO leaps over the “challenger abyss”
Bravely break into the “deep water zone”
The breakthrough in self-developed chips is a big step for OPPO to break into the deep water area of hard technology.
In the system capacity building of hardware, software and service collaboration, the breakthrough of the underlying core technology is an important prerequisite. Therefore, the launch of Mariana X will promote OPPO’s technological competitiveness to a new dimension.
In the direction of future innovation, OPPO put forward the “3+N+X” strategy, in which “3” represents the basic technology of hardware, software and service; “N” stands for the capability center, including connectivity, multimedia, artificial intelligence, security and privacy, and “X” stands for differentiated technology, including flash charging, imaging, new forms and AR augmented reality technology.
“In 2019, we said that we should have the courage to grind a sword for ten years and have the courage to step into the R&D deepwater zone for three years. Now I can say that the first step we step into the deepwater zone is this chip,” Chen Mingyong said.
OPPO leaps over the “challenger abyss”
But does OPPO “core making” have to be researched by itself?
Long ago, OPPO realized that “time difference” and “intergenerational difference” would lead to differences in software, hardware and even services, and these differences may be the key opportunities for manufacturers to achieve differentiation in the internal market.
“There is no NPU on the market that can meet OPPO’s scenarios and algorithms, and achieve the expected optimal solution. Through self-developed Mariana X, the depth coupling of OPPO’s self-developed algorithms and chips has been achieved. The image chain has been optimized from sensor customization to receiving processing, and then to image processing chain, so as to maximize and optimize the performance of the algorithm on the NPU.”
As Jiang Bo said, this is OPPO’s differentiation advantage as a mobile terminal manufacturer.
In 2018, OPPO officially established the research institute to strengthen the research field of underlying technology. In addition to the chip project “Mariana Plan”, software engineering and cloud service capacity building are named “Pantanal Plan” and “Amazon Plan” to create a full set of underlying capabilities.
OPPO leaps over the “challenger abyss”
6nm “watershed”
This “advantage” is difficult to be erased in a short time, because OPPO adopted the “saturated” stacking method when designing Mariana X. What’s more surprising is that OPPO challenged the 6nm high process technology at the very beginning.
The 6nm process is more difficult to develop due to the ecological needs to be improved, which is 6 to 9 months longer than the mature process, and 6nm needs more high-end EUV lithography technology. Compared with the low process process, the DUV lithography technology used is more expensive, reaching the level of tens of millions of dollars, 2 to 3 times higher than 12nm, and the cost of a test chip is up to 100 million yuan.
In such a difficult and risky situation, OPPO is committed to solving the pain points and value points on the user side.
Mariana X was able to successfully mass produce and commercialize, which made a good start for OPPO to develop its own chip. At present, there are only four manufacturers in China capable of designing 6nm process chips – Huawei HiSilicon, MediaTek, Alibaba and OPPO.
It can be said that OPPO, which has successfully conquered the 6nm process, has obtained the tickets for the high-level process, and the chip is manufactured by TSMC, which means that the probability of OPPO has entered the list of TSMC’s strategic customers. This is also the recognition of OPPO chip design strength.
“A technology company cannot have a future without its underlying core technology, and high-end products without core technology are castles in the air,” Chen Mingyong said earlier.
The technological breakthrough will also promote OPPO to launch a new round of challenges to the high-end products. This opening image of the decade will also be used on the flagship new product of the Find X series in the first quarter of next year.
In addition to the self-developed chip, OPPO Air Glass also attracts countless people with its lightweight appearance and cool experience.
OPPO leaps over the “challenger abyss”
Among them, OPPO Air Glass belongs to the above product category representing the differentiation ability “X”. Before that, OPPO has launched two generations of AR products. The release of this new generation of products has completed the transformation from toys to tools. OPPO has its own understanding of such products: for auxiliary display products, information is the most desired pain point for users to break through, and products need to be easy to use and practical.
“Mariana X is just a small step for us, and our pace will not stop. We will continue to invest resources and use a team of thousands of people to develop our own chips down-to-earth. No matter how many challenges ahead, we will persevere and stick to the green mountains.” At this year’s Future Science and Technology Conference, Chen Mingyong’s statement clearly shows that OPPO will continue to explore the deep water area of science and technology, and has a more determined outlook.
In the era of insider trading, OPPO did not follow the trend, but returned to its original intention and solved key problems by using key technologies. Even in the face of high-risk uncertainty, OPPO remained committed to the right path.