The webcams on the current line of Surface products are nothing to write home about, but Microsoft says their new Surface Book 3 and Surface Go 2 are about to change the game.
Designed specifically for video conferencing in low-light conditions, the 5-megapixel sensors feature larger sensors with larger pixels and feature other optimizations for low light.
Microsoft realized this was an issue when they measured light levels at employee homes.
“It took a while to convince people that webcams—the environments that they’re used in—are really pretty low-light,” said Doug Beck, the director of engineering of A/V systems for the Microsoft Surface team.
Besides bigger pixels the cameras also have “as big of an aperture lens that we can put in,” Beck said, which is a F2.0 aperture.
Microsoft also improved the scaling pipeline, including the image signal processor, to improve SNR, and worked with third-party suppliers to help design better denoisers and other improvements to determine an accurate colour spectrum.
Microsoft spent a lot of time matching skin tones. “We have some IP to match skin tones, across the variability of skin tones that are out there,” Beck said. “We do a really good job of matching those up and presenting them across the calibrated pipeline.”
“We do objective testing to fall within certain contrast and colour accuracies, but then the end of our process is really a subjective process,” Beck said. “They’ll make certain adjustments that sometimes don’t feel like they go with the science, but they provide the best possible outcome.”
Microsoft said the end result is camera hardware that provides the best image quality possible, across multiple lighting conditions and scenarios.
Microsoft also made sure to place the webcam where it belongs, on top of the screen.
In the future, Microsoft hoped to improve video quality even further using AI.
“For the future, the things we’re looking at are using way more sophisticated algorithms, things like deep neural networks, to essentially extract image features that are just way, way, way down in the noise floor,” said Stevie Bathiche, the vice president of Microsoft Hardware. But that will probably be an improvement for next year’s model.
You can pre-order Microsoft’s new and improved Surface Book 3 and Surface Go 2 here.