Feb. 5, 2013 at 6:38 PM ET
Taiwanese electronics maker HTC has been trying to build buzz around its upcoming flagship phones, the rumored M7 and its lower-end cousins. The latest feature to be teased is a new camera technology the company reportedly calls "Ultrapixels."
Mobile news website Pocket-Lint cited anonymous sources close to or within HTC who say that the M7 and M5 will feature a non-traditional camera system, possibly using multiple sensors.
Ordinary digital cameras have a single image sensor, with what's called a Bayer array on top: A grid of tiny filters that restrict each photo-sensitive pixel to a single color. It's an established technology, but not without flaws. Certain patterns confuse the sensor, for instance, and there are limits to how fast the sensor can be read and how sharp the image can be.
Camera companies like Sigma and Panasonic have tried new imaging techniques, which often do away with the Bayer array and instead have separate sensors for each color, splitting the light coming into the camera with a sophisticated lens system. Pocket-Lint's sources suggest this is what HTC's Ultrapixels are all about.
One of the side effects of that kind of camera system is that the megapixel count can get confusing. While an ordinary Bayer-based sensor may have 12 megapixels, a multi-sensor system may use 3 sensors at 4 megapixels each. Is the final image 12 megapixels, 4 megapixels or somewhere in between?
It's a confusing technical issue, which is probably why HTC is choosing to brand it with the "Ultrapixel" name instead of focusing on the megapixels. Nokia had a similar problem with their 808 Pureview, which had a 41-megapixel sensor but actually resulted in (very high quality) 8 megapixel images.
Whatever the case, we'll know in two weeks when HTC makes the official announcement on Feb. 19.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.