Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pixelplus Reports Q2'07 Results

Yahoo: Similarly to the previous quarterly report, Plixeplus says that a part of its sensors is "sold" while another part is "supplied" - a strange statement. Here it is:

"The Company sold approximately 3.0 million image sensors in the second quarter of fiscal 2007, which represented an increase of about 1.8 million units from its sale of around 1.2 million units in the first quarter of fiscal 2007. Separately, the Company provided approximately 7.4 million image sensors arising from its supply of services to a leading Japanese module maker in the second quarter of fiscal 2007, which represented a decrease of about 0.8 million units from its supply of around 8.2 million units in the first quarter of fiscal 2007. So, in terms of combined figures, the Company sold and supplied a total of about 10.4 million image sensors in the second quarter of fiscal 2007, which represented an increase of roughly 1.0 million units from its sale and supply of around 9.4 million units in the first quarter of fiscal 2007."

Gross margin for the Q2'07 was roughly 36%, compared to approximately 26% in the Q1'07 - excellent margins for relatively low-end product mix of the company.

Monday, July 30, 2007

CCD Remains Mainstream in Digital Cameras

Digitimes: In spite Kodak launch of C513 CMOS sensor-based camera, the Taiwan-based digital camera manufacturing industry said that CCD will remain as the mainstream image sensor for mid-range and high-end models.

More than 90% of the digital cameras shipped by Taiwan-based makers during the first half of 2007 were CCD models and the proportion for CMOS was less than 10%, according to the sources.

When the mainstream resolution level of digital cameras stood at 3-4 megapixels in 2002-2003, CMOS was thought likely to eventually replace CCD as the mainstream type. However, viewing that the mainstream resolution for digital cameras is predicted to shift from the current 7-8 megapixels to 10 megapixels, and that Japan-based suppliers such as Sony, Matsushita and Canon are making efforts to reduce the production costs of CCD sensors through decreasing defect rates, CCD will continue to be the mainstream type of image sensor, the sources explained. CMOS has become dominant only among entry-level models, the sources noted.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Planet82 Under Investigation

The Hankyoreh: Korean prosecutors have launched a probe into whether Planet82 Single Carrier Modulation Photo Detector (SMPD) really exists. The probe comes amidst prior charges raised on stock manipulation and false disclosure.

The technology was allegedly developed by the Korea Electronics Technology Institute (KETI), a state-run research institution operated under the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. It was then sold to Planet82 Inc., a KOSDAQ-listed company, in November 2005 for 5 billion won (US$5.5 million). The government reportedly spent as much as 10 billion won (US$10.93 milion) to develop the technology in question.

After disclosing that it had acquired the technology, stock prices in Planet82 skyrocketed more than ten-fold, from 4,300 won (US$ 4.69) per share on November 11 to 46,950 won (US$ 51.31) on December 7.

On July 24, prosecutors raided the offices of Planet 82 and confiscated boxes of computer files to obtain related evidence. The previous day, college professors who had participated in certification of the nano image sensor technology were summoned as part of the investigation.

The prosecution’s move comes as some have raised suspicion over whether the technology really exists, as its commercial launch has been long delayed. Stock manipulation charges have also been raised. In December last year, the Korea Exchange asked the prosecution to launch a probe into the charges that seven workers of Planet 82 had sold off their stakes in the company, just after company stock prices soared in the wake of its disclosure of the technology development.

The prosecution is also weighing charges of a fake disclosure in which the company promised to make the nano image technology commercially available within three months. “To that end, we have no choice but to investigate whether the technology itself exists,” the prosecution said.

Planet 82’s legal representative Cha Hyung-geun said, “The company has already been under investigation by KETI’s technology certification committee. The prosecution, without waiting for the results of the probe, is just going ahead with its own investigation.” She added, “The nano image technology surely exists and is in its final stage of development before its commercial launch.”

Meanwhile, the KETI said the results of its own investigation will be announced on July 25 and a certification committee consisting of outside experts will soon carry out an in-depth probe into the suspicions.

So far there is no update on the probe results.

Monday, July 23, 2007

iPhone Uses Micron Sensor

With all the noise about iPhone components, I felt this blog would be incomplete without saying that iPhone uses Micon 2MP sensor (Yahoo).

Friday, July 20, 2007

ADVIS Dies while Signal Sciences Lives

It came to my attention that Mark Bocko's and Zeljko Ignjatovic' ADVIS company site is down now, while they offer similar ideas under different name - Signal Sciences.
It's time to update image sensor companies list.

ProMOS Sensors Nearing

Digitimes reports that image sensor samples from ProMOS Fab2 (Hsinchu, Taiwan) are to be available in August and September.

ProMOS chairman ML Chen says deprecation on Fab2, ProMOS' first 12-inch fab, will be completed in 2007, meaning that this fab should runs on an optimized cost structure next year.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Foveon Under Scrutiny

EDN compiles a negative article on Foveon technology. The main statement is that Foveon's Mpixel claims can't be taken seriously. The statement is supported by many references, including the recent Popular Photography tests.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Canon to Build $451M CIS Fab

Reuters: Canon will invest about 55 billion yen ($451 million) to build a new factory site in Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo. The new plant will have roughly the same annual production capacity as another factory in Kanagawa that can churn out 3 million image sensors a year. It is expected it to start operations in July 2008.

The CMOS chips will be used in both SLR models as well as in some compact models. Canon's compact cameras have to date used CCDs. The company has been developing CMOS sensors for compact models as part of its strategy of bringing key component production in-house to lower costs.

Canon is aiming to produce 24 million digital cameras this year, including 3 million SLRs. Assuming just 6 million imagers production capability on both fabs, old and new, only a small fraction of its compact cameras will be equipped by CMOS sensors.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pixelplus Announces 1/11" CIF Sensor

Yahoo: Today even Barbie cameras have VGA resolution. Nevertheless, CIF sensors might still find some use somewhere, so Pixelplus decides to fill the niche. The company begins sampling of its 1/11" PO4010 CIF SOC sensor, The 0.13um-based sensor sips just 10.8mW at 30fps speed.

The sensor was developed for "tier-one mobile phone manufacturer in Korea", probably Samsung, given good old relationships between the companies.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Micron Lost Nokia Business?

EETimes: Micron reportedly had a falling out with a big customer: Nokia.

Speculating about possible image sensors spin-off, EETimes gives some statistics:

In fiscal year 2006, Micron's image sensor business represented 14 percent of its total sales ($749 million), compared to just 6 percent in fiscal 2005 ($303 milllion) and 2 percent in fiscal 2004 ($99 million).

Micron is the world's largest CMOS image sensor player with $845 million in sales in 2006, followed by ST ($540 millioin), OmniVision ($520 million), Toshiba ($455 million) and Sharp ($345 million), according to IC Insights Inc.

Pixelplus Announces its First 2.2um Pixel

Yahoo: Pixelplus has completed development of its first 2.2um pixel-based product - PO5030 VGA SOC. The 1/10" sensor was jointly developed with a "leading Japanese module maker".

The company expects to deliver the PO5030 product to module makers and mobile phone manufacturers in Q1'08.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Micron Considers Image Sensors Spin-Off

Barron's: Micron is considering spinning off its image sensor business into a separate company as part of a corporate restructuring plan, according a brief research note this morning by RBC analyst Mahesh Sanganeria.

Sanganeria wrote that one option under consideration is selling a stake to a private equity firm, “creating an immediate cash infusion.”

So, first was ST, now Micron is possibly abandoning IDM model. Who's next?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Holographic Storage Standards Adopted

Holographic storage systems seems to be the next image sensor frontier. ECMA just adopted two new standards in this area.

ECMA-377 Holographic Versatile Disc (HVD) Recordable Cartridges standard describes 200GB cartriges. ECMA-378 Information Interchange on Read-Only Memory Holographic Versatile Disc (HVD-ROM) standartizes 100GB disks. Both standards are available for free download.

Effectively the standards enable a mass market for the next generation removable storage. The data readout is achieved by a fast image sensor there. Now speed instead of sensitivity or pixel size is the name of the game. One can forsee HVD readers sporting 1.5x, 2x, 3x, etc. speeds - imaging what should be the sensor speed there!

Kingpak CIS Packaging Surge

Digitimes: Kingpak Technology expects sales from packaging and testing of CMOS image sensors to rise sharply in 2007. Its chairman Joe Liu expects revenues from the CMOS image sensor segment to double for 2007, and it will also be the chief source of the company's overall profits for the year.

Pixelplus Doing Better in Q1'07?

Yahoo: In its delayed Q1 report Pixelplus says it narowed its loss on ever-declining revenues. It looks like the company has quitely made layoffs, otherwise it's not clear how the loss has been reduced.

In an intriguing statement Pixelplus says it sold 1.2 million image sensors and separately "provided approximately 8.2 million image sensors arising from its supply of services to a leading Japanese module maker" in Q1'07. All this resulted in US$4.4M revenue for the quarter.

The gross margin for Q1'07 was roughly 26%, compared to approximately 6% in Q4'2006.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Notes from IISW 2007

Don Scansen from Semiconductor Insights puts out his notes from the 2007 International Image Sensor Workshop:

Scaling of the CIS pixel is feasible for the next two generations - 1.4 and 1┬Ám. Beyond that, a new approach is probably needed. Some possible alternative technologies are:
  • Back-side illumination (BID)
  • Active layer over IC (AIC), and
  • Single Photon Avalanche Detectors (SPAD)

Walton to Make CIS Packaging in China

Digitimes: Walton Advanced Engineering (WAE) received Taiwanese government approval to invest US$18 million to perform CMOS image sensor packaging at its plant in China.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

ST Weights CIS Outsourcing

Digitimes: ST is looking to outsource manufacturing of its CMOS image sensors to TSMC and ProMOS, according to industry sources.

ProMOS chairman ML Chen has confirmed that his company has been in talks with ST about the outsourcing of CMOS imaging chips, but that nothing has been set.

ST has been producing the chips and modules at its in-house facilities so far. But the company is heading towards outsourcing in order to expand its market share and lower its production costs, the sources said. It is also considering selling CMOS sensor chips alone, in line with clients' wishes that they can purchase the chips and package them into modules themselves, the sources added.

The sources noted that STMicroelectronics currently produces its CMOS imaging chips mostly at its 8-inch fabs. As depreciation and amortization for the 8-inch fabs is almost completed, its production costs are competitive. But as demand for higher resolution sensors is growing, it is necessary to increase production of the sensors at 12-inch fabs, and Taiwan is a place to look for such foundry partners, the sources said.

Chen said ProMOS is confident it can produce CMOS image sensors, and its 12-inch FAB II is one of few 12-inch fabs that can provide such outsourcing services in Taiwan. ProMOS's 12-inch fab is also cost competitive because its depreciation and amortization is almost complete, Chen said.

Now tell me about IDMs overtaking fabless in image sensors!