Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More About Hynix Plans

Hynix news are trickling across the web. Bloomberg reports that Hynix seeks alliances for image sensor chips. "We will be trying to forge alliances with the major players in this sector," Hynix CEO Kim Jong Kap said in an interview in Seoul.

It had been prevented from entering such businesses under a 2002 bailout, which led to a Citigroup Inc. buyout fund acquiring the Korean chipmaker's non- memory unit to help stave off bankruptcy. "To compensate for lost time, Hynix's likely option is to partner with a bigger maker or a fabless design manufacturer," said Lee Sun Tae, an analyst at Meritz Securities Co. in Seoul, without naming potential candidates.

Samsung Buys Transchip

Reuters: Long rumored, it's official now: Samsung has bought Transchip, an Israeli image sensor vendor, in order to turn it into an R&D center. Samsung declined to publish the value of the transaction.

"We are aiming to enhance our presence in the image sensor area," a Samsung spokeswoman told Reuters.

This is Samsung's first foreign acquisition in the semiconductor area since 1997, the company said.

Update: International Herald Trubine says that The Korea Economic Daily newspaper reported the purchase price was $70M.

Digital Chosunilbo: Reborn as the Samsung Semiconductor Israel R&D Center, the company works on CMOS image sensors and has some 60 staff.

Globes: Sources inform that Samsung plans to expand the R&D center, which currently has 70 employees, and might also expand its activity to new fields.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pixelplus Q3 Results

Yahoo: Pixelplus sold approximately 4.2 million image sensors in the Q3 2007, which represented an increase of about 1.2 million units from its sale of around 3.0 million units in the Q2 2007.

As in the previous quartery report, there is a mysterious "services" statement: "the Company provided approximately 2.2 million image sensors arising from its supply of services to a leading Japanese module maker".

In terms of combined figures, the Company sold and supplied a total of about 6.4 million image sensors in the third quarter of fiscal 2007.

Gross margin for the Q3 2007 was roughly 26%, compared to approximately 36% in the Q2 2007.

The Company is fully focused and committed to obtaining a major design win to supply its PO4010 CIF SoC sensors for use in upcoming, high volume mobile camera phones of one of the world's largest mobile phone manufacturers based in Korea. PO4010 is currently in the final stages of testing and inspection by the Korean mobile phone manufacturer, and the Company is confident that it will be in a position to secure a design win in Q4 2007 and ship its PO4010 to that Korean manufacturer starting in the Q1 2008. PO4010 uses 0.13um process and features a 3.6um pixel - quite an interesting combination.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Siliconfile Has More Than 70 Design Wins

Solid State Technology: This old article from January 2007 escaped my attention at the time. It's devoted to Korea semiconductor industry success stories.

One interesting statement is that SiliconFile reports that its CIS devices have been designed into more than 70 handset models manufactured in Japan and in the Asia-Pacific region. Also, SiliconFile cites strategic relationships it developed with Samsung.

Another examples of Korean success are ISP vendors Core Logic and MteK Vision, whose market capitalization in KOSDAQ have exceeded their paid-in-capital by more than 100 times.

P.S. Oops, it was published in January here in the blog. Now we are starting to see the results of these design-ins in the market share.

Friday, October 26, 2007

More Hynix Scares

Barron's: American Technology Research analyst Doug Freedman cut his Omnivision rating based on expected Hynix competition, among other things. Freedman notes that Hynix is entering the image sensor market, “creating more uncertainty.”

All these Hynix fears are very exaggerated, in my opinion. Even if Hynix becomes a strong competitor in the end, it has a very long road ahead.

Hynix in EETimes

EETimes: "Given Hynix' history in memories, the company could turn the CMOS image sensor market upside down with potentially new and low-priced products, observers said."

Personally I do not believe in this. "Me too" products unlikely change the market, while more distinctive imagers take a long time to develop.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cryogenic Jazz

Jazz Semiconductor announced cryogenic models for its 0.18um and 0.25um processes targeted to cooled IR imagers readout designs.

0.25um process offers 3.3V CMOS while 0.18um process offers both 1.8V and 3.3V transistors. In addition to the core CMOS, the process supports poly resistors and linear MIM capacitors at densities of up to 4fF/um2. The CMOS cryogenic modeling library has been validated at temperatures of 78K to 298K through a wide range of DC and AC tests. Resistors and metal parasitic effects are also modeled at 78K, enabling full post layout simulation under cryogenic conditions.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Motorola Invests in Siimpel

CNNMoney: Motorola Ventures announced that it has made an equity investment in Siimpel. Financial terms of the investment were not disclosed.

This investment should allow Siimpel to accelerate the production of its MEMS based AF solutions for handset cameras.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hynix to Move to CIS Market

The Korea Times: Hynix says again that it intends to enter CIS market as a part of its strategical move away from DRAMs.

"We will increase the portion of new businesses to a maximum of 40 percent in terms of sales by 2017. The start of the complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) or CIS businesses is the first step toward the long-term goal," Hynix spokesperson Park Hyun told The Korea Times.

Hynix once dominated about 50 percent of the market before selling MagnaChip, The Korea Times writes.

"We cannot survive only with a focus on memory. So we urgently need to diversify our portfolios," Hynix CEO Kim Jong-kap said.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Micron 2MP SOC Die

Don Scansen published his Apple iPod Touch camera module thoughts in SemiSerious blog. The module uses Micron MT9D112 2MP camera-on-a-chip. Naturally, Don gives its die photo by Semiconductor Insight. One can see a heavy price Micron pays in chip area for ISP integration:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pixelplus Lost CTO

Yahoo: Pixelplus announced that Dr. Sang-Soo Lee, the Company's CTO, Executive VP, and also a member of Pixelplus' board of directors, decided to depart the Company due to personal reasons.

Sang-Soo Lee was brought to the company a few years back to improve technology positioning of the image sensor maker. I believe it's a bad sign that he left now.

In a separate strange announcement Pixelplus says that it sold its Taiwan subsidiary stake to some unknown party.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lyra on Camera Resolution

eMediaWire: Lyra Research published a market forcast on camera resolutions. The prediction is that by 2011 more than three-quarters of all digital cameras sold worldwide will have a resolution of at least 8MP.

"Not only has the megapixel race not slowed down in the past year, it has actually accelerated," comments Steve Hoffenberg, director of Lyra's Consumer Imaging Intelligence.

Cypress-Fillfactory's Fast 1.3MP Sensor

Yahoo: Cypress, Belgium continues to serve niche markets. This time the former Fillfactory team designed a very fast 500fps, 1.3MP sensor with huge 14um pixels. Most probably the pixels are based 3T technology.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

ProMOS-Cypress Near CIS Mass Production

Digitimes: Len Mei, executive VP at ProMOS has said image sensors volume production should be ready during late 2007. Progress on CMOS image sensor development is good and ProMOS is optimistic about the role of DRAM makers in this segment in the future. Mei said volume production of the image sensors will start at ProMOS' 12" fab in Hsinchu, Taiwan, at the 0.13um node.

The upcoming image sensor, named NPS, is targeted for digital camera applications, Mei said. An earlier Chinese-language Commercial Times report cited ProMOS as saying that high-end sensors will be fabricated at a 12" fab in Taiwan, whereas low-end models will be fabricated at the ProMOS' new 8" fab in China at 0.18um.

Pixart Business Better Than Ever

Digitimes: Pixart reported that its image sensor inventory easing is being observed in the channel currently, and this is not expected to end until the fourth quarter of 2007. Demand from handset customers is steadily growing and sales should continue to serve as a key driver in the fourth quarter.

Pixart noted that its sensor has gained orders from MediaTek, implying that its exposure in China is set to expand along with MediaTek's growing influence in the China handset market.

Pixart updated that it is the first design house in Taiwan to introduced 4T image sensors. The sensor supports VGA resolution and shipments have been already started to China-based handset customers following volume production in the third quarter.

Since Pixart uses UMC as a foundry, it means that UMC has mastered 4T pixel design, finally.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tower Manufactures Image Sensors for ViTi

Yahoo: Tower began manufacturing of a number of image sensors for Vision Integration Technology, Inc. (ViTi) in its Fab1. ViTi is a Taiwan-based semiconductor company that specializes in products for security and surveillance systems, primarily in the Chinese and European markets. iSuppli projects that the market for surveillance-camera semiconductors would reach $1.25 billion in 2011.

ViTi uses 0.35-micron CIS process and employs Tower pixel IP.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Rumors on Micron CIS Spin-Off

Digitimes: Private equity firm the Blackstone Group will invest in the Miceon CIS spin-off, although Micron will maintain control. The spin-off is expected to be finalized by the end of 2007 at the earliest, according to the rumors.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Richard Baer's Papers Collection

I've just discovered Richard Baer's page with all his papers on-line. Among other things, there is hard to find stuff, like his ISSCC 2007 Workshop lecture on noise in a camera system and ISSCC 2005 Workshop presentation on ISO metric.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Rohm Develops Cu-In-Ga-Se Image Sensor

Tech-On: Rohm exhibited a thin film multilayer image sensor at CEATEC Japan 2007. The major difference between Rohm's new image sensor and the existing CMOS sensors is that the former has a structure technically identical to that of a Cu-In-Ga-Se (CIGS) solar cell, instead of employing the existing Si photodiode. The CIGS photodiodes formed directly on an LSI chip.

The sensor has 100K pixels, 10um each. Its QE for visible light is said to be approximately twice of that of crystalline Si photodiode. Assuming that good Si photodiode in large pixel approaches to 60-70% QE, I wonder how Rohm doubles that.

The major remaining issue is how to miniaturize the sensor. The pixel in the latest prototype is a 10um. In the technology used for the latest development, grooves between the adjacent elements are made after the formation of CIGS layer. "We need to develop a more sophisticated technique to miniaturize the picture element blocks," Rohm said.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Image Sensors in IEDM 2007 Program

IEDM 2007 program has been published. The image sensor session is here:

38.1 A 0.5μm Pixel Frame-Transfer CCD Image Sensor in 110nm CMOS, K. Fife, A. El Gamal, H.-S. Philip Wong, Stanford University

Keith Fife was the key person in Smal Camera startup. He has many bright ideas and every his paper is certainly worth reading.

38.2 Development of a Production-Ready, Back-Illuminated CMOS Image Sensor with Small Pixels, T, Joy, S. Pyo, S. Park, C. Choi, C. Palsule, H. Han, C. Feng, S. Lee, J. McKee, P. Altice, C. Hong, C. Boemler, J. Hynecek, J. Lee, D. Kim, H. Haddad, and B. Pain, Magnachip Corp.

Backside illumination is the future of imaging, the only question is when this future becomes reality. Many companies look in this direction. It's interesting to see what is the pixel size that Magnachip was able to achieve. I'm eager to see the results of its sensors, such as pixel crosstalk in blue and image lag.

38.3 Two-Transistor Active Pixel Sensor for High Resolution Large Area Digital X-ray Imaging, F. Taghibakhsh, K.S. Karim, Simon Fraser University

I'm not sure why transistor count is important in X-ray sensors. The pixels are supposed to be big, it should be sufficient room for as many transistors as needed.

38.4 Fully Implantable Retinal Prosthesis Chip with Photodetector and Stimulating Electrode Array, T. Tanaka, T. Kobayashi, K. Komiya, K. Sato, T. Watanabe, T. Fukushima, H. Tomita, H. Kurino, M. Tamai, and M. Koyanagi, Tohoku University

38.5 3D real-time CCD imager based on Background-Level-Subtraction scheme, Y. Hashimoto, F. Tsunesada, K. Imai, Y. Takada, K. Taniguchi*, Matsushita Electric Works, Ltd., *Osaka University

Thursday, October 04, 2007

IDM vs Fabless, New Round

The fact that Micron Imaging Division lost money in May quarter struck me.

How come that IDM Micron with fully depreciated fabs and low wafer price lost money? Combine this with a rumor that another IDM Samsung lost money too in its image sensor business.

And who is earning money? - Fabless Omnivision!

To me this is another nail into a coffin of IDM's superiority myth.

Micron's New Automotive Sensor

Yahoo: Micron announced MT9V023, 1/3-inch, wide-VGA (752 by 480 pixels) sensor. The sensor features near-infra-red capability and global shutter. Its speed is 60fps at full resolution.

A new context switching feature adds a second register bank, so that two applications with separate imaging needs--like intelligent headlamps and lane departure warning--can operate from a single sensor on alternating frames.

Improved HDR control extends the range of the sensor's knee points to adjust to images containing both brightly lit scenes and relative darkness, such as experienced when exiting a tunnel on a bright, sunny day.

Micron is currently sampling the MT9V023 now, with mass production expected in Q1'2008. Vehicles equipped with this new sensor are expected to hit the roadways in mid-2008.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Micron Reports FQ4 Results

Seeking Alpha published a transcript of Micron quarterly results conference call. Micron says that it's taking market share at the high end, evidenced with 5% quarter-over-quarter increase in sensor revenues despite a moderate decrease in unit shipment. Also Micron sees unforecasted "positive movements" in the low-end, which is VGA and 1.3MP.

In May quarter the Image Sensor business lost money on an operating basis. The situation in the most recent quarter will be reported in K form later.

Imaging business has been down, so no more DRAM capacity is converting to image sensors now. If the situation improves, the conversion process would start again.

On imaging business spin-off side Micron says that it's still exploring the alternatives. In any scenario, Micron intends to continue to manufacture sensors at the silicon level, so spin-off would not include fabs.

Regarding the sensors transition to 300mm wafers Micron responds that it would come eventually but not in the nearest two, maybe three years.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Broadcom Dreams about 12MP and HD Video in Cell Phone

Yahoo: Broadcom announces BCM2727 high definition mobile multimedia processor supporting 12MP sensor and 720p HD Video encoding and decoding with H.264 main profile.
Its integrated ISP processes all the usual camera pipeline functions at speed of up to 144 million pixels per second, that is up to 12fps at 12MP resolution.

The only thing preventing this processor from winning the mainstream is availability of 12MP mobile sensor. The current generation of pixels allows to do this in 1/2" format. Sould we expect such a sensor soon?

Omnivision Announces 2MP 1.75um Pixel Sensor

Yahoo: New Omnivision sensor is packed with features: it has anti-shake and HDR functionality, single-lane MIPI and integrated ISP with jpeg compressor, all in 1/5" form factor. The 2MP OV2650 sensor is based on the new 1.75um pixel. The sensitivity is 520mV/lux-sec. HDR mode provides up to 85db of DR.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Toshiba Starts Super-Small Camera Modules Production

Digitimes: Toshiba starts mass production of new very small camera modules at Iwate Toshiba Electronics from January 2008. The ultra-small chip scale camera module (CSCM) that will be the first camera module manufactured with through-chip via (TCV) technology. The modules will be demonstrated at CEATEC Japan 2007 from October 2.

TCV technology reduces wire bonding substrate area by mounting components directly on the wafer and running electrodes through the vias on the circuit board, securing them with balls of solders on the substrate.

Toshiba in-house CMOS camera module production plan and specification overview

Model number




Module size (mm)




Megapixel resolution




Cell size (micron)


Output format

8-bit parallel

Frame rate (fps)

30 (VGA)

15 (SXGA)/
30 (VGA)

15 (UXGA)/30 (VGA)

Production amount (million)




Mass production schedule




Source: Toshiba, compiled by Digitimes, October 2007

Update Feb. 14, 2008:
Datasheetblog nicely organized the information on this with a picture of the new package:

Siliconfile Develops 1.75um Pixel

ECN Asia Magazine presents some details of Siliconfile's newly developed 1.75um pixel:

"The fill factor of SiliconFile’s ¼-inch 3M CISs no longer has the plain-old 4T architecture, and has increased from 30 to 60 percent through the propriety shared pixel of the company. Sensitivity degradation, which occurs in smaller pixels, has dramatically improved."

"The company further notes, that as makers shrink the pixel size of their CIS products, enhancing resolution using low light has become a major concern. Hence, makers, most large companies, have developed a technology for processing less than 90nm."

With that advanced pixel technology it's no wonder that Siliconfile takes quite a remarkable market share of 7.5%: