Ambarella A12S SoC Allows For Cheaper 4K 30 fps Action Cameras, or Does it Not?

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[Update: I’ve been informed that Ambarella A12S product brief from their website contains outdated information, and that A12S does indeed support 4K @ 30 fps, not only 2K @ 30 fps] [Update 2 (03/09/2016): The company has now updated the page, and I’ve myself updated the article accordingly]

Ambarella_A12S75Some ultra cheap Allwinner V3 based cameras are advertised as 4K cameras, but in reality they are limited to 4K @ 15 fps, and on top of that the software have to extrapolate data to get to that resolution. So there are not usable for most people, unless maybe if you somehow need a 4K CCTV camera. Currently one of the cheapest “true” 4K action cameras is Yi Technology / Xiaomi Yi 2 sports camera based on Ambarella A9S SoC, capable of recording up to 4K @ 30 fps, and selling for around $250. But there’s now a new wave of cheaper “4K 30 fps cameras” based on Ambarella A12S75 Cortex A9 SoC such as EKEN H8 Pro selling for $139.99, or Andoer C5 Pro going for $125.99 both of which use Sony 12 MP image sensors respectively IMX078 and IMX177.

Instead of focusing on the cameras themselves, I’ve decided to check the SoC in details instead and  its 4K capabilities.

Block Diagram for a Typical Action/Flying Camera Based on A12S - Click to Enlarge
Block Diagram for a Typical Action/Flying Camera Based on A12S – Click to Enlarge

Nothing shows for A12S75 SoC in Google, just the cameras, so I searched for Ambarella A12S instead, and found A12S75 “string” in the chip rendering shown on the top left of this article, as well as the product brief with the following key features/specs:

  • CPU – ARM Cortex-A9 CPU up to 792 MHz
  • Camera Sensor – Up to 32 MP still picture capture
  • Video Encoding
    • 4Kp30, 1920x1080p100, 2560x1440p30 and 1280x720p240 Encoding
    • Simultaneous second stream
  • Image / Video Processing –  Advanced Electronic Image Stabilization and Tilt Correction
  • Connectivity – USB Host for 4G Module Connectivity, DMA UART for Bluetooth (BT) module connection, dual encode for on-the-fly mobile resolution streaming
  • Processor – 28-nm low-power CMOS Process

The SoC supports ThreadX and Linux.

EKEN_H8_PRO_Fake_4K_Camera
EKEN H8 Pro 4K Camera

Amberalla A12S was initially unveiled together with A9S processor as a Full HD processor in a press release in October 2015 that reads:

Ambarella, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMBA), a leading developer of low-power, HD and Ultra HD video compression and image processing semiconductors, today announced the addition of A12S and A9SE to its range of camera solutions for drones, or flying cameras. The Full HD A12S SoC family enables a new generation of entry-level flying cameras, including small form factor designs and racing drones; while the 4K Ultra HD A9SE SoC family is ideal for midrange designs.

But as often happens, specifications may change over time, and now Ambarella A12S does support 4K 30 fps video too. Since the camera with the A12S processor are quite cheaper than the equivalent cameras based on Ambarella A9S, it’s likely the later still provides better quality and/or performance.

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Ganesh @ AnandTech
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Ganesh @ AnandTech

I can assure you that it does do 4K, and it doesn’t employ the tricks employed by AllWinner or other chipsets.

Ganesh @ AnandTech
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Ganesh @ AnandTech

@cnxsoft
I talked to the person at Ambarella in charge of the product briefs, and he assured me that the marketing collateral currently online is out of date. It will be fixed soon.

Jeff Campbell
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The website is now updated with current information regarding A12S performance. Sorry for any confusion on this point.
http://www.ambarella.com/products/sports-cameras#A12S

Lewis
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Lewis

Hi jeff, does the ambarella support uhs-3 because all i can find is uhs-1 support. If [email protected] has a bitrate of 60mbps and uhs-1 has a max write speed of 30mbps, how does the soc write [email protected] true?

Jon Smirl
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@Lewis

You are mixing megabytes/sec and megabits/sec.