Friday, December 30, 2005

Analyst is skeptical about Cypress image sensor business

American Technology Research analyst Doug Friedman gave a thumbs-up to Cypress for its solar power unit Sun Power, but was skeptical about the company’s image sensor business, even though camera phone market continues to thrive (EETimes).

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Magnachip focus and goals for 2006

MagnaChip aims to grab 40% share of the CMOS image sensor market and 10% of small to medium size panel LCD driver IC market in 2006. The company stated that its 2.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor has start shipping to US-based first-tier handset vendors. The company also stated that it is in talks with Taiwan and China customers (DigiTimes)
In a related note MagnaChip sells its 8-bit and 32-bit microcontroller, SmartCard controller, microperipheral IC and linear IC product lines to GreenChips. Youm Huh, president and CEO of MagnaChip, said: "After this deal, we plan to focus further on our three core businesses -- display solutions, imaging solutions and our semiconductor manufacturing services,” (EETimes).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tessera completes aquisition of Shellcase assets

Tessera completes $33M acquisition of certain assets of Shellcase Ltd. Tessera has hired a majority of Shellcase's employees and created a Wafer-Level Packaging Center of Excellence working on CSP image sensor packages (link).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

PixelPlus files IPO of $36M

Another image sensor company becomes public (link). Now we get indications about image sensor market from PixelPlus quarterly reports under sticker PXPL. Half of the company would be publicly traded which puts the company valuation at $72M.

Pixelplus released a list of their customers here:

BYD Co., Ltd.,
China TechFaith Wireless Communication Technology Ltd., or China TechFaith,
DART Express Incorporated,
DK Semicon,
Ningbo Bird Co., Ltd.,
Pantech Co., Ltd.,
ROHM Co., Ltd.,
Seiko Precision Inc.,
Sharp Corporation

Quite an impressive list. Sharp is by far the major PXPL's customer:
"In 2004, we shipped approximately 10.8 million CMOS image sensors worldwide, of which 7.7 million CMOS image sensors were sold through DongbuAnam Semiconductor Inc., or DongbuAnam, to Sharp under our services arrangements with DongbuAnam, and during the first nine months of 2005, we shipped approximately 14.8 million CMOS image sensors and camera modules worldwide, of which 5.6 million CMOS image sensors were sold through DongbuAnam to Sharp."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Jed Hurwitz left ST to found Gigle Semiconductor

Jed Hurwitz used to be the leading ST Imaging system and sensor architect. He's one of creators of ST-Nokia SMIA standard. About half a year ago he left ST and founded Gigle Semiconductor, a startup and a consultancy in photo-sensing, imaging and semiconductors. Recently he was also involved in microdisplay works.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Interview with Micron's VP of Imaging

Interview with Bob Gove, Micron's VP of Imaging is published here.
A few quotes:
"That's one reason why Micron has concentrated on delivering very high quality image sensors that can readily operate in the great variety of situations where the amateur's going to want to capture an image without having to think about it. This is particularly acute in low-light environments, and we do have a saying that if your cameraphone still works under a table, then it's a Micron image sensor! We put a lot of effort into ensuring that things like colour sensitivity and accuracy get taken for granted by the end user, without them having to negotiate complex image processing software to get a decent, fit-for-purpose picture or video."

"From almost a standing start three years ago, 20 per cent of our revenues now come from imaging and supporting specialist memory – a proportion certain to increase in coming years as users move from transmitting just their voices and thoughts to include images of the world around them."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Magnachip announced 3.2MP sensor for camera-phones

Magnachip came with it later than its main competitors (link). Also, its pixel size of 2.57um is much bigger than 2.2-2.25um of Omnivision, Samsung and Micron. Too late, too big - not a good sign for Magnachip.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Avago 1.3MP Sensor Customers

The latest ADCC-3000 1.3MP sensor is designed in Corvallis, OR design center (link). It's used in cellular phones by Motorola, Siemens and Sony-Ericsson.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cypress sensors are outsourced to Grace

In an interesting twist of its strategy Cypress outsources image sensors manufacturing to Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (Shanghai, China). (Business Wire, more information about Grace is in EETimes). It is not clear if all image sensor products are outsourced, or only legacy ones from Fillfactory and Smalcamera.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Cheap Image Sensor Testing Solutions

There are not that many cheap image sensor testing sets are commercially available.
Here are some:

Image Sensor Lab by WireWorks West - Quite a good PC add-on, but lacks few important tests, such as photon transfer curve, readout noise, color cross-talk, color noise.

Pulse Instruments offers a set of instruments, but it looks like more effort is needed to make it work, write all the standard test sets, etc.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

mSilicon provides ISP ASIC Design Services

Korean IP design house mSilicon supplies ISP design to Mtekvision (EETimes, BusinessWire).

Image Sensors on IEDM 2005

IEEE IEDM is taking place these days in Washington, DC.
Quite a few interesting image sensors papers are presented on Session 33:

"33.1 A High-Performance and Low-Noise CMOS Image Sensor with an Expanding Photodiode Under the Isolation Oxide, K. Itonaga, H. Abe, I. Yoshihara, T. Hirayama, Sony Corporation, Kanagawa, Japan

We realized 2.5-um pitch pixel with high Qs and sensitivity without shard-transistor pixel for the first time. We propose a novel isolation structure for CIS, which realizes the low dark current as well as triple Qs value of the conventional STI, by expanding the buried photodiode under the isolation oxide."

Probably Qs should be QE - Quantum Efficiency.

"33.2 The Features and Characteristics of 1/3 5M CMOS Image Sensor with 1.9x1.9_m2 Pixels, C.-R. Moon, J. Jung, D. Kwon, S.-H. Lee, J.-S. Roh, K.-H. Paik, D.-C. Park, H. Kim, H. Jeong, J.-H. Sim, H. Noh, K. Lee, D. Lee, K. Kim, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Gyeonggi-Do, Korea

CMOS image sensor (CIS) with 1.9um-pitch pixels using a tailed 130nm logic process has been implemented, and its design and some key process features are introduced. It is shown that several sophisticated processes improve the sensitivity and noise-related characteristics such as random temporal noise and dark current. With this technology, full 5-mega density CIS chips were successfully fabricated."

First 1.7um pixel announcement from Micron in May, now 1.9um pixels from Samsung - the race to zero size pixel is at full speed. What about the image quality then?

"33.3 The Hole Role (Invited), A. Theuwissen, J. Bosiers, E. Roks, DALSA, Eindhoven, Netherlands

The presence of holes in today's imaging products can not be overestimated ! The success of CCDs and CMOS imagers was really boosted once the positive effect of holes was discovered. The most important example of a device that uses holes to improve the quality of the images obtained, is pinned-photo diode. The paper will review various imaging structures that rely on the presence of holes."

This one looks like yet another great lecture from ex-Philips team.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Omnivision 0.18um chips will come from PCS?

"Sources indicate that TSMC plans to give orders for OmniVision 0.18-micron made CMOS image sensor orders to PSC's foundry service (8-inch fab)." (from EMSNow)
Does this mean that TSMC is having capacity problems in 0.18um image sensor process? Or TSMC is under price pressure to do this?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Avago spun-off from Agilent

EETimes: "Agilent Technologies Inc.’s former semiconductor products group became a standalone company Thursday (Dec. 1), under the name Avago Technologies Inc."

Thus Agilent does not produce image sensors anymore. Avago takes on from now on.
The image sensor companies list at the beginning of this blog was updated to reflect this change.

Metal as Microlens in Agilent Sensors

An interesting idea is exploited by Agilent guys in their camera-phone sensor (EETAsia).

"According to Agilent product line manager Sanjeev Chandrashekher, the story began in a series of research experiments. Agilent researchers had observed that in 1Mpixel sensors small enough to be embedded in a handset camera module, the individual pixels were so small that the optical aperture above each pixel was approaching an untenable threshold. Designers throw up their hands when the aperture gets below about 25m.
The research team created a series of pixel architectures based on a trapezoidal well shape in which they moved the metal lines around to measure the effect of the interconnect metal lines obscuring the edges of the aperture. To their surprise, they found that when the metal lines covered up a certain portion of the edges of the well, the charge generation in the well increased. Further work determined that the metal lines manipulated the electric field in the optical path, i.e. they behaved as a tertiary lens, gathering in light that would have fallen outside the well and focusing it toward the phototransistor. The researchers learned that the effect could be optimized to improve the sensitivity of the CMOS sensor pixel.
That unexpected result was combined with engineering projects that were exploring new geometries for the dopant well and the array layout. Those resulted in lower dark current, lower temporal noise and the ability to flush the charge more quickly from the well, thus reducing the image lag effects that harm image quality during high-repetition-rate image capture, such as in video applications."

I eager to see how this new Agilent sensor performs in the real world.