Nvidia's Tegra 4 and 4i processors will run its new Chimera photography software.

Nvidia has announced the Tegra 4i – a smaller version of its T4 processor with built-in LTE connectivity – to bring greater capabilities to less expensive smartphones. The Tegra 4i includes the "Chimera Computation Photography Architecture" of the larger chip, bringing fast HDR and panorama features to smartphones, as well as the tablets and "superphones" Nvidia designed the T4 for.

Nvidia’s earlier generation Tegra 3 chip runs in the HTC One X and its Tegra 2 chip can be found in Motorola’s Droid X2 and Atrix 4G.

The new Tegra 4i will be available in conjunction with Nvidia’s new Tegra 4 processor—first announced at the Consumer Electronics Show last month. Both components are primed for high-quality video recording, but the Tegra 4 is more suitable for tablets because of its large size.

The Tegra 4i, though powerful in its own right and attractive because of its LTE support, does not have the same capabilities as its bigger counterpart. The Tegra 4i will only be able to power a 1920 x 1200px display while the Tegra 4 can support up to 3200 x 2000px. Also, the Tegra 4i can only output 1080p HD video, compared to the Tegra 4’s 4K.

With its new super-fast processor, Nvidia's Chimera photography engine can run always-on HDR and follow subjects with tap-to-track focusing.

On top of the Tegra 4 and 4i, Nvidia announced new camera software that it claims “will take mobile photography far beyond where it is today.” The Chimera Computational Photography Architecture will include always-on HDR for photos and videos, HDR panoramic capabilities, single-flash HDR capture and a tap-to-track focusing system.

Chimera, Nvidia claimed in today’s press release, will create images that no SLR hardware could take on its own. According to the same release, Chimera is utilizing “computational techniques used in X-ray CT scanners, deep space telescopes and spy satellites.”

Because of the Tegra 4 and 4i’s high-powered processors, Nvidia is boasting that Chimera’s HDR images are created faster than competitors and that its panorama processing happens in “real time.”

While HDR imaging in mobile photography is sometimes done really well, it is often leads to over-processed images and is not the most innovative thing that Nvidia could have developed. What we were most interested in with the Chimera news was the tap-to-track focusing system.

Nvidia’s press release explained the new technology:

In another industry first, the Chimera architecture includes persistent tap-to-track technology, which allows users to touch the image of a person or object to focus on within a scene. The camera then locks in on that subject whether it moves or the camera is repositioned to a better angle, while maintaining proper focus. Persistent tap-to-track also adjusts the camera exposure depending on any movement, helping avoid under- or over-exposure of the image's subject or background.

This tap-to-track focusing system will help mobile photographers capture moving subjects—a problem that everyone from street photographers to parents can identify with. 

Chimera will be integrated into the Tegra 4 and 4i processors and will be supported by Sony and Aptina imaging sensors—specifically Sony's Exmor RS IMX135 13 MP sensor and Aptina's AR0833 1/3" 8MP mobile imaging sensor.

Smartphones with the Tegra 4i processor are expected to be released in late 2013 or early 2014. Because the Tegra 4i is LTE-only, some are wondering if the new technology will be available from U.S. carriers Sprint and Verizon. In the meantime, Nvidia will be showcasing the new hardware in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress.