Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Samsung Announces 8.4MP Sensor with 1.4um Pixels

Digitimes: "Highlight at the forum was the unveiling of an 8.4 megapixel CMOS image sensor with a 1.4-micron pixel design, highlighting that this CMOS image sensor delivers the same quality as charge-coupled device (CCD) image sensors by implementing light sensing features and minimized noise levels. Samsung also makes the device with an extended photo diode technology that enhances higher light sensitivity and saturation levels, resulting in an enhanced fill factor. No production schedule of this CMOS image sensor has been announced yet."

The article looks like automatic translation to me.

Same wording appears in Samsung PR on Yahoo: "The new CIS chip provides a high signal to noise ratio (SNR), a key measure of overall image quality. Samsung achieved the high-resolution level by implementing advanced light sensing features and minimized noise levels. Notably, an extended photo diode technology was implemented to achieve higher light sensitivity and saturation levels, resulting in an enhanced fill factor."

Citizen Abandons Camera Module Business

Tech-On: Citizen Watch Co. has announced "selection and concentration" plan. Under the plan it will withdraw from unprofitable businesses, including camera modules.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Grace Foundry Got Orders from Japan

Digitimes: China-based Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (GSMC) anticipates that one-fifth of its sales are to come from Japan-based customers in 2007, with image sensor orders having already been landed from one customer, said company executive vice president Arthur Kuo.

GSMC will fabricate these image sensors for a Japan-based games console maker on a 0.15-micron process, Kuo detailed.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Micron Predicts Death of Fabless, Again

ElectronicsWeekly: “What makes a great difference is manufacturing. Companies using fabless are really struggling because the technology is all in the processing,” said Sandor Barna, imaging senior director at Micron.

This is at least 7-year old claim. The reality check shows the difference is in execution, rather than fab vs fabless. So far Micron execution was excellent, while, for example, Magnachip was not. So Micron proliferates, while Magnachip struggles, both being IDMs.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mediatek to Buy NuCore

Reuters: Mediatek, said it will pay $37M in shares to NuCORE for a 69 percent stake in the U.S. firm, paving the way to diversify into the digital camera market.

Founded in 1997, NuCORE Technology Inc. develops digital image processing chips for video and digital cameras.

Surveillance Camera Market

EETimes: Global video surveillance camera revenue is expected to grow to from $4.9 billion in 2006 to more than $9 billion in 2011, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.2 percent, according to iSuppli.

As the result in the growth of the video surveillance market, sales of video processor and interface chips, such as Ethernet, Power over Ethernet and Wi-Fi, will grow dramatically, iSuppli said. But spending on image sensors will fall off based on relentless price declines and accelerated adoption of less-expensive CMOS image sensors, the firm projected.

There is no price heaven for image sensors in surveillance market, like many companies think.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

EDN On Camera Progress

EDN feature article covers "Imaging beyond pixels: Low-light sensors, low-power zoom lenses, antishake technology, and innovative optics". Its main claim is that the resolution race in consumer cameras is almost over. The main selling factor becomes features, rather than megapixels.

However, this does not mean an end to pixel size race. Even if resolution advance saturates, the consumer wants ever cheaper and smaller cameras. This translates into smaller pixels, primarily because of smaller and cheaper optical format.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Motley Fool on Micron

Motley Fool writes: "iSuppli expects the overall CMOS image sensor market to grow by 14%-15% annually through 2010. This growth rate may not seem too bad, but this is growth in units, rather than revenues. Throw last year's 19% average selling price decline (for Micron's sensors) into the mix, and it is possible that revenues for the industry overall will grow in the low- to mid-single digits at best over the next few years.

A continuation of average selling price declines seems likely, given that some semiconductor giants are squaring up -- Micron's success hasn't escaped notice. Competitors include MagnaChip, Samsung, Omnivision, Sony, STMicroelectronics, and Toshiba.

In order for any one of the players listed above to outgrow the market, it will likely have to steal market share. Hmm ... slowing growth and increasing competition -- sounds like an environment ripe for a price war.

To me the oncoming price war is a natural result of Micron inability to lead the market, letting competitors like Samsung and ST close the technology gap. Also, pixel technology laggards trying to compensate their lack of small pixels by features, be it DxO focus, SiliconHive ISP or Wide-DR.
The natural way for Micron would be the speed-up the pixel development, but this does not seem to work anymore at Micron. Who will be the next pixel race leader? Samsung?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Toshiba Wide-DR Sensor Launch Time

EETAsia says that Toshiba plans to launch its first products based on the Wide-DR technology in Q2 2007.

Jason Hartlove Leaves Magnachip?

Magnachip "announced that Robert Krakauer, President, has extended his role to take over responsibilities for MagnaChip’s Imaging Solutions Division from Jason Hartlove. Imaging Solutions is a core business of MagnaChip, and the company believes Mr. Krakauer is the best leader to drive continued execution of the growth plans in this area as communicated to date."

This sounds like Jason is not "the best leader" in Magnachip's opinion and he's unexpectedly fired. I believe if it was planned in advance, there would be a successor announced, rather than President managing a business unit.

In my opinion the true Magnachip problem is its (relatively) small size and thus inability to compete in process shrink. At the time when Micron, Samsung, ST and others work with 90nm process, Magnachip's cutting edge process is 0.13um.
With such a process lag, Magnachip just can not succeed in the mainstream CIS market, no matter who is managing the division.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Foveon Gets Dedicated ISP

HULIQ: Fujitsu Limited today announced the release of image-processing chip MB91680A-T, for use with cutting edge Foveon X3 image sensors and 3CCD camcorder technology, as well as with conventional single layer Bayer pattern image sensors.

Additionally, the validated TRUE image processing system chip jointly developed with Sigma Corporation is used for interconnect to the Foveon X3 sensor.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

New Micron's Sensors

Micron announced two new sensors featuring HD video capture along with high-resolution stills. Both sensor use 2.2um pixels.

The 5MP MT9P401 sensor (or MT9P041 in a different source), which fits into a 1/2.5" optical format, is capable of capturing HD video at 60fps in 720p binning mode. For burst-mode the sensor snaps 15 still photos in rapid sequence.

The 1/4.5" 1.6MP MT9M002 sensor is targeted to camcorder applications. It captures 60 fps in 720p format and delivers excellent low noise performance. The sensor works with long-range zoom lenses (10x-30x). The sensor also has additional pixel area for image stabilization, which reduces the effect of shaky and blurred images typically caused by jittery hands or camera-shake. There is approximately 50 percent additional active pixel boundary area to support image stabilization.

Simultaniously Micron announced that its 8MP 1.75um pixel MT9E001 sensor is in mass production now. Its prototype was announced in May 2006 with promise to start its mass prodution on Fall 2006. The newly announced sensors are sampling now with mass production expected in Q3 2007.

Toshiba High-DR Sensor Announced

PRNewsWire: Toshiba Corporation has developed Dynastron-WD wide dynamic range technology for CMOS image sensors used in mobile-handset applications such as camera cell phones. This new innovation can extend the dynamic range of a CMOS image sensor up to 96dB maximum, compared to the 60dB dynamic range of the current Toshiba technology.

To achieve the optimal dynamic range, Dynastron-WD technology incorporates four stages of operation: dual exposure operation on the photodiode, separate readout operation, linear-conversion synthesis operation and high-signal compression.

Toshiba's white paper reveals the new sensor is based on 4T pixels, meaning it's supposed to offer excellent low light sensitivity. This might be a killer for existing high-DR companies, like Pixim, SmalCamera-Cypress-Sensata and the likes. Even though they offer higher than 96db DR, they are using 3T pixel process for the most part, meaning high DC and DCNU and higher temporal noise.

Still, it remains to be seen how the new Toshiba technology translates into the market-ready products. So far, no such products have been announces, not even samples.

By the way, Pixim today announced completion of an additional $15M round of financing (EETimes).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Panasonic High Efficiency White LED

Tech-On: Panasonic is about to launch the new white LEDs on GaN substrate targeted for automotive and camera flash applications. Their external quantum efficiency is 38%.

They provide a scene illumination of up to 60 Lux, as measured at the distance of 1m.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Omnivision's New High DR Sensor

Omnivision announced OV10620 sensor capable of performing at a dynamic range of up to 110dB in either color or black and white. The new sensor has operating temperature range of -40C to +105C.

The sensor comes in a 1/3-inch Wide-VGA (768 x 492) and a 1/4-inch VGA (640 x 480) image array operating at 30 frames per second (fps) at full resolution and 60 fps at QVGA (320 x 240) resolution. The pixel size is 6um.

As Omnivision PR states, the sensor is intended for security and automotive applications, like backup and rearview cameras, lane departure warning and guidance systems, blind spot detection systems and forward looking sensing applications, such as automatic headlight dimming.

Customer samples are now available and the Company expects to begin volume production in Q3 2007.

GREYCstoration - Open Source Denoising

GREYCStoration is an open source denoising program based on nonlinear multi-valued diffusion PDE's. Its big advantage is the source code availability.

Monday, March 05, 2007

TSMC Increases its Image Sensor Investment

Digitimes: Despite already holding a 43% stake of image sensor packaging house XinTec, TSMC is said to be proposing to take controlling power of the company in an attempt to further strengthen its foothold in the image sensor business.

Industry sources suggested that TSMC, as well as VisEra Technology, its joint-venture with OmniVision Technologies, are going to take director and supervising director positions at XinTec's board of directors during a board meeting on March 5. TSMC VP & CFO Lora Ho is also said to be set to perform as the supervising director at XinTec. VisEra is also another major shareholder at XinTec with a stake of 30% and holds two director seats.

XinTec held the ground breaking ceremony for its 12-inch fab in October 2006, and half of the fab shell has already been completed. The company plans to start volume production of image sensor color filters at this new fab in October 2007.

It looks like TSMC does not believe into the claim that IDMs win over fabless in image sensor industry.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

New PixArt Report

Masterlink published a new research report on PixArt, including the sales forecast.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Forbes on Omnivision

Forbes presents "A Bleak Outlook for OmniVision":

The camera phone market is moving to 2 megapixels, and it looks like the companies winning the accounts are Micron and ST Microelectronics.

Still, in China, OmniVision has increasing competition from MediaTek in Taiwan, which has a 70% market share in China. And MediaTek has started bundling in with its products, imaging sensors from a company called PixArt, to the detriment of OmniVision.

The situation could get worse. Average selling prices for its products continue to fall due to a higher percentage of lower-end VGA chips which means that the company is not getting traction at higher resolution image sensors. Another poor sign--sales to equipment manufacturers have been falling.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Camera-Phone Image Quality Forum Presentations

Dec. 2006 Technical Forum on Camera Phone Image Quality (CPIQ) put its presentations on-line.

Omnivision Q3 Conference Call Bits

SeekingAlpha OmniVision F3Q07 (Qtr End 01/31/07) earnings call transcript mentions a few interesting bits:

  • OV9660 1.3MP sensor with 2um pixels "hasn't ramped production yet... But it's actually doing very well in the market place with a very high number of design wins... By the end of the year you'll see a significant switch over of not just the current 1.3 customers to the 9660 but also a lot of upgrades." The current assumption it will go into production by the end of this year.

  • About 60% of last quarter unit shipments were VGA.

  • 2MP sensors shipments were about 10% going slightly down from the previous quarter due to inventory adjustment.

  • Gross margin for the Q3 was 24.9% compared to 33.1% previous quarter.

  • TueFocus was mentioned as a promising new technology, but no solid production schedule was announced.

  • A new high DR sensor for security applications will be announced next week.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Another ProMOS Article

EETimes-Asia: ProMOS' image sensors are expected to roll out in 2008 and be in the 1.3Mpixel range.

Like several of its rivals, ProMOS is looking to leverage its older DRAM fabrication facilities to make the sensors. "It's been well-established by Micron and then Samsung that, compared with a normal foundry, a DRAM fab is better for a CMOS sensor because both products require very low leakage current," said Ben Tseng, VP of sales and marketing at ProMOS.

ProMOS owns Taiwan's oldest 300mm wafer fab, built in Hsinchu Science Park in 2002. Tseng said the fab is a good candidate for producing the sensors since it is almost fully depreciated. Another possibility is its 200mm wafer fab, also in Hsinchu, that will be shut down in 2008 and its work transferred to mainland China to lower costs. The sensor business would also be able to source at other foundries if capacity is tight at ProMOS, Tseng said.

First Kodak 2.2um Pixel

CameraTown: Kodak announced the KODAK KAC-05010 5.0 megapixel CMOS image sensor targeted for mass-market consumer applications in the high-volume digital still camera and mobile phone markets.

The KAC-05010 image sensor is 2.2 micron pixel, 1 / 2.5 format CMOS sensor. Up until now the smallest Kodak CMOS sensor had 2.7um pixels.

The KAC-05010 incorporates KODAK PIXELUX technology, an architecture that uses pinned photodiodes and a four-transistor (4T) shared pixel structure to produce lower noise. It also includes charge-domain binning of multiple pixels on the imaging array for higher sensitivity and 30 frames per second video recording.

The KAC-05010 image sensor is now sampling.

Cypress Sells Its Image Sensors Unit

TheStreet: Two years after attempting to become a player in the cell phone and automotive-image-sensor business, Cypress is calling it quits.

The San Jose, Calif., chipmaker announced Wednesday that it is selling its SMaL Camera Technologies subsidiary, which it purchased in February 2005 for $42.5 million in cash.

Cypress did not disclose how much it sold the subsidiary for, saying only that the deal is expected to close later this quarter. The buyer is Sensata Technologies, the former sensors and controls division of Texas Instruments.

EETimes: SMaL Camera provides cameras and camera subsystems to automotive advanced driver assistance systems for such customers as Bosch and Delphi. The company has approximately 25 employees.

Yahoo: "Cypress acquired SMaL Camera in February 2005 and with it came great technology to supplement our image sensor business and achieve a stronger position in the market," said Cliff Drowley, vice president of Cypress's image sensor group.

"Our decision to divest the business is based on a strategic shift to focus resources onto our custom image sensor business. We believe that SMaL Camera's automotive imaging technology will complement Sensata's existing strengths in automotive applications."

Drowley said Cypress will retain its growing custom image sensor business in Mechelen, Belgium.

Planet82 Awarded

Businesswire: Microprocessor Report awarded Korea Electronics Technology Institute (KETI) and Planet82 by the 8th Annual MPR Analysts’ Choice Award "for inventing a high-sensitivity image sensor, the Single Carrier Modulation Photo Detector (SMPD)."