Sunday, March 04, 2018

Himax on 3D Sensing Strategy

SeekingAlpha publishes Himax Q4 2017 earnings call transcript. Few quotes on 3D and CMOS sensor business:

"At present, our total market is primarily the Android based smartphone. SLiM, our total – our structure light-based 3D sensing total solutions which we announced jointly with Qualcomm last August, brings together Qualcomm’s industry leading 3D algorithm with Himax’s cutting-edge design and manufacturing capabilities in optics and NIR sensors as well as our unique know-how in 3D sensing system integration.

The majority of the key technologies inside the SLiM total solution is developed and supplied by Himax ourselves. These critical technologies include, on the projector end, DOE and collimator utilizing our world leading WLO technology, a tailor-made laser driver IC, and high precision active alignment for the projector assembly; and on the receiver end, a high efficiency near-infrared CMOS image sensor. Last but not least, Himax also developed an ASIC by incorporating Qualcomm’s algorithm for 3D depth map generation. The fact that all of these critical components are developed in-house puts us in a unique leading position. It represents a very high barrier of entry for any potential competition and a much higher ASP and profit margin for us.

The Qualcomm/Himax solution is by far the highest quality 3D sensing total solution available for the Android market right now. It has the industry’s best performance in all of the dimension, 3D depth accuracy, indoor/outdoor sensitivity and power consumption. It passes the toughest eye safety standards with a proprietary glass broken detection mechanism to safeguard the user from any potential harm. Furthermore, we have the only solution to offer face recognition for secure online payment, a must-have feature for high end smartphones of the future. We are working with multiple tier-1 smartphone makers, aiming to launch 3D sensing on their premium smartphones starting the first half of 2018.

Our SLiM solution will be ready for mass production and shipment by the end of the first quarter, 2018 with an initial capacity of 2 million units per month, following some waiting period. The initial capacity is part of our Phase I expansion of $80 million. We have already achieved pretty satisfactory production yields in our internal pilot production. Given that SLiM is a highly integrated solution with ASPs much higher than those of individual components, by the time we started making shipment, it will be a major growth contributor to our top and bottom lines.

In an attempt to accelerate the adoption of 3D sensing for Android phones, in addition to SLiM, we’re also working on stereoscopic type 3D sensing as a lower costs alternative. Unlike SLiM which utilizes structure light to generate 3D, stereoscopic type uses two cameras to replicate 3D vision in nature, augmented by coded light for image depth enhancement. Both types of solutions offered by Himax operate on active NIR light source with high sensitivity NIR sensors, thus working very well even under extreme brightness or total darkness.

For 3D sensing purposes, structure light approach offers better depth precision than stereoscopic type but the cost is also higher. By introducing stereoscopic 3D sensing, we aim to bring down the cost of 3D sensing so that it can be afforded by mass market smartphone models. We are pleased to report that development of stereoscopic 3D sensing total solution for face recognition and 3D features has been under way. We are aiming to be mass production and shipment ready by Q4 of this year. Similar to our experience in SLiM, we are working with some of the most prominent ecosystem partners in developing our stereoscopic 3D total solution.

We are very update progress in due course or low costs compared to structure light their stereoscopic 3D was still represent a much higher ASP and better gross margin potential for us. Last but not least and this year CES many of our customers and partners demonstrated 3D sensing applications in IoT or promoted AR/VR and robotic related products with Himax SLiM inside and received very positive feedback. As I mentioned before, 3D sensing can have a broad range of applications that go beyond smartphone. We are very excited about the growth prospects it represents and believes 3D sensing will be our biggest long-term growth engine.

A slide from the company presentation:

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