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Can I call you on my camera?

As the boundaries between mobiles and digital cameras blur, the images get sharper

As the resolution and imaging capabilities of mobile phones continue to climb, it may only be a matter of time before we talk of calling someone with our camera.

At this week's 3GSM World Congress in Cannes last week, manufacturers showed off a number of technologies that render the line between phones and cameras more blurry, but make the pictures they produce ever sharper.

Camera phones typically have one feature: take a picture. Some cameras try to give users more control after the fact with a range of functions for editing stored images, but these are often limited in capability.

Two companies exhibiting in Cannes – Scalado of Lund, Sweden, and DxO Labs of Boulogne, France – demonstrated image processing software for camera phones that improves image quality in different ways.

Scalado demonstrated software to solve one of the hidden problems of image editing on mobile phones: lack of memory. The company's Caps software libraries perform operations such as colour correction, picture rotation, image compositing and pixel editing directly on the compressed version of the image, reducing the memory required for editing a 2Mp image from 12MB to less than 1MB. By reducing the requirement for memory and processor power in the phone, the software can cut phone costs by between $1 and $5, said Pierre Elzouki, Scalado's vice president of business development.

DxO Labs showed its DxO Mobile Embedded Edition software running on an Omap DM275 imaging processor from Texas Instruments. The software corrects for image defects such as noise, colour imbalance and low contrast introduced by digital image sensors. The software allows cameras to produce the same image quality with just a quarter of the ambient light, according to the company. This is especially useful for camera phones, which usually don’t have flashes.

Scalado and DxO both maintain that there's more to picture quality than increasing the number of megapixels in the image sensor, but that didn't stop companies from touting sensors with higher and higher resolution. LG Electronics showed its LT1000 phone, with a 1.3Mp camera – and a built-in TV tuner into the bargain. Panasonic Mobile Communications showed its VS3 and VS7 phones, also with megapixel cameras.

Motorola showed its own answer to the problem of image quality at low light levels: its E1120, a 3G (third generation) phone for the European market, has a built-in 30-lux lamp, and ups the stakes on resolution with a 3Mp camera.

Nokia showed its 6680 Imaging Smartphone for 3G networks, with a 1.3Mp camera on one side and a 0.3Mp resolution camera on the other. The launch marks something of an about-face for Nokia, which has until now maintained that people were more interested in sending images of what they can see than they are in face-to-face videoconferencing. With the 6680, they can do both, Nokia says.


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