Closeup of the Oppo under-screen camera (USC) module

Oppo teased the world with a video showing an under-screen camera (USC) in action earlier this month. Today, it has peeled the curtain back on the technology at MWC Shanghai, giving us the key details.

Oppo said it kicked off early research into the technology in 2017, and officially started development in May 2018. This lead to the technology on show in China this week.

The USC solution uses a customized camera module for its under-screen camera solution, which offers a larger sensor, a wider aperture, and bigger pixels.

But hardware is only part of the equation: the under-screen camera requires plenty of software processing to deliver great results. The company specifically pointed to tweaked HDR, haze removal, and white balance algorithms in use for this camera.

Oppo under-screen camera (USC) render revealing how it works

Oppo says the picture quality it delivers is “approaching that of mainstream smartphones.” That doesn’t tell much, but it suggests that there’s a way to go until we reach parity with today’s most flagship devices.

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There are a few hurdles to overcome when placing a camera under the screen, said Oppo, namely glare, diffraction, color cast, haze, and dark background noise.

All of this means that a quality drop-off compared to conventional selfie cameras is expected. This is understandable, as a sufficient amount of light needs to pass through the screen and hit the camera sensor. Meanwhile, light only needs to pass through lenses on a conventional camera.

These are still early days for under-screen cameras, but Oppo seems to be committed to the long game.

Despite the quality challenge, the area above the Oppo USC still supports touch. Furthermore, the company says the camera supports face unlock, portrait mode, a smart beauty mode, filters, and other popular Oppo selfie features. The brand also touts the technology as ideal for water-resistant devices.

We’ll need to wait for pictures from a commercial device before we make a verdict, but we expect lower quality results compared to traditional cameras; this is the first generation of the technology after all. Heck, we’re now in the second year of in-display fingerprint sensors and they still haven’t quite reached parity with conventional fingerprint scanners.

Oppo demo phone featuring an under-screen camera (USC)

The Chinese brand hasn’t issued a commercial release window for USC tech, but it plans to refine it with better screen materials, a “redesigned pixel structure” and customized camera modules. This is encouraging, as it means photo quality could yet take a big step up before commercial availability.

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Oppo also confirmed that it’s investigating the possibility of under-display 3D ToF and structured light cameras, opening the door for face unlock that doesn’t require a notch or slider design. In fact, the company suggests that this might be easier to implement than the under-screen camera, because color capture isn’t necessary.

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