Toshiba focuses on improved slow motion with new camera sensor

The sensor has started shipping in small volumes, but won't show up in products until next year

Toshiba has started shipping an 8-megapixel camera sensor for mobile devices that promises to shoot high-quality, slow-motion videos.

The camera has always been a feature that smartphone manufacturers upgrade when they try to make wallet-opening improvements to their products, and that trend looks likely to continue.

A fairly recent addition is the ability to shoot video with a high frame rate that can be played back in slow motion. For example, Apple's iPhone 5s, the G3 from LG Electronics and Samsung's Galaxy S5 can all do that.

However, while an increasing number of products have the feature, the results aren't always great. Toshiba is hoping to change that with the T4KA3, a camera sensor manufacturers will be able to use in upcoming smartphones and tablets, it said on Wednesday.

The basic concept behind slow motion is that the more frames per second a camera captures, the smoother the video will be. However, a higher rate also results in a shorter exposure time per frame, which makes the image darker, according to Toshiba.

To help get around this, Toshiba has developed a feature called "bright mode." It uses an interlaced video format in which only the odd lines of each frame, and then the even lines, are output alternately, making a frame rate of 240 frames per second possible. That lets Toshiba extend the exposure time to the length of two consecutive frames, and increase the brightness, the company said.

Toshiba's software can then convert the signal to progressive video in which all the lines of each frame are shown in sequence, still at 240 frames per second in full HD resolution, with little effect on the image quality, according to a website explaining the feature.

Toshiba has started shipping small volumes of the T4KA3, which in the component sector is called sampling. Larger volumes of the sensor will become available in April next year, according to Toshiba. The company doesn't say what T4KA3 will cost or which smartphone segment it's aiming for.

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