Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sharp 1.75um Pixel Sensor Reverse Engineering

Chipworks published a reverse engineering report of Sharp 1.75um pixel sensor. The 3.2MP C13P22 sensor is said to have "evidence to suggest that the device is fabricated by Dongbu".

The part uses 4 levels of Al in the logic areas, and 3 levels of Al in the pixel array. Based on a single preliminary cross section, it was manufactured using a 0.18 ┬Ám process. This makes the sensor quite unique, as most of other manufacturers use 0.11-0.13um process for that pixel size. The pixel layout at poly and diffusion level is below:

Poly to poly spacing looks much smaller than a standard 0.18um process would allow. Probably Sharp pushed DRs to make this.
While making 1.75um pixel in 0.18um process is quite an achievement, the fill factor at the diffusion level looks a bit low, less than 20-25% to my eye. Also, the difference between two green colors in Bayer pattern is probably high and needs some ISP correction.

The sensor was found in the Aquos SH905iTV phone from Sharp, available through NTT DoCoMo in Japan.

Friday, March 28, 2008

IC Insights Reports and Forecasts on Image Sensor Market

Semiconductor International: Rob Lineback, IC Insights senior analyst, says that the optoelectronics market is expected to grow by 10.4% in 2008 to $17.6B. In 2007, problems in the camera phone business were the major reason behind a 2% decline in the optoelectronics market overall and a “rare” 7% drop in the image sensor market.

“Micron Technology and STMicroelectronics both had bad years in the image sensor market because of changes in the camera phone market. We think in the second half of this year that image sensors will start to see a recovery. Video security, automotive and cameras built into personal computers will help that market,” he said.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hynix Establishes CIS Design Center in Glendale, CA

Hynix establishes a CIS Design Center in Glendale, California, probably hunting for ex-Micron engineers from Pasadena center. On its job opportunities page Hynix tells that it is expanding its business to CIS market with strategic goal to become the leader in this market. It claims to have the expertise in producing devices with extremely low leakage current (dark current) leading to superior image performance in low light condition.

The list of open postions is quite long, including Sr. Pixel Development Engineer with a minimum of 5 years of extensive CIS pixel design experience, Sr. Analog Design Engineer with CMOS image sensor column readout circuit and low-noise circuit design experience, Layout Design Engineer with experience in CMOS imager pixel layout and column layout based on pitch requirement, etc.

Omnivision Announces HD Security Video Sensor

Yahoo: Omnivision announces OV9710, 1MP CMOS image sensor that offers HD (720p or 800p) video performance at 30fps. The 1/4-inch chip is based on 3um OmniPixel3-HS pixel and claimed to have best-in-class low light sensitivity of 3300mV per Lux-second.

The OV9710 incorporates ISP functions, including: exposure control, gain control, white balance, lens correction, and pixel correction. It is currently available in sample quantities, and the company expects to begin volume shipments in June 2008.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sentaurus Pixel Simulator Runs Faster with Acceleware published an article on pixel simulations with Synopsys Sentaurus running on Acceleware workstation with few simulation examples.

Aptina Sales Expected Flat to Down

EDN, Barron's: Doug Freedman of American Technology Research lowered Micron’s February quarter estimates, in part due to weaker than initially anticipated image sensor volumes. Freedman says that image sensor units are likely flat to down for the quarter.

Micron quarterly earnings call is scheduled for Apr 2.

Supertex Designs Driver for Varioptic Lens

Video/Imaging Design Line: Supertex designs HV895 inductorless Varioptic liquid lens driver IC and its derivative follow-on ICs.

Supertex claimed its HV895 integrates a charge pump boost converter to drive lenses of up to 200pF with a 1.5kHz waveform at amplitudes up to 60VRMS. The lens driver circuit is contained in a single flip chip die and can be encapsulated within the camera module, the company added.

Tessera Packaging Article

Mobile Handset Design Line: Tessera R&D Director Giles Humpston discusses tips and trics of camera phone module packaging with emphasis on edge vs. TSV contacts. Here is what he says about TSV technology:

"despite many years of endeavour through silicon via (TSV) technology, as it is called, has failed to be widely adopted because of the need for specialist capital equipment to fabricate the via and the reliability of TSV interconnects has not been satisfactorily solved at a competitive cost.

The only wafer-level package solution adopted by industry in high volume is edge contacts.

About Tessera edge contact:

"Edge contacts have a minor drawback in that die on the wafer have to be spaced slightly wider apart than usual to provide access to create the structures. Consequently, the maximum number of die that can fit on a wafer is decreased, slightly increasing unit cost. This issue is circumvented in the latest generation of wafer-level package for image sensors which use a via-through-pad interconnect... The interconnect is still an edge contact, but it is radially symmetric within the area of the bond pad. Not only does this permit the dicing lanes to be as narrow as the silicon design rules allow, but it removes many restrictions on the bond pad size, pitch and location, making this style of wafer-level package directly compatible with the majority of existing CMOS imagers."

Magnachip Opens Pasadena Research Center

Yahoo: Magnachip opens Image Signal Processing Advanced Research Center located in Pasadena, headed by Dr. Ilia Ovsiannikov. Ovsiannikov will also head the whole MagnaChip's US R&D, including the old design center in Sunnyvale.

Previously, Dr. Ovsiannikov worked at Micron, where his most recent position was R&D manager and architect in Imaging. It looks like Magnachip is aiming to pick up Micron Imaging engineers who decided not to relocate to Aptina's San Jose center.

Ilia Ovsiannikov has filed more than 20 patent applications in the areas of noise reduction, camera functions, defect correction, contrast enhancement, lens shading, and CMOS pixel technology, among others. Prior to Micron, Dr. Ovsiannikov was a research scientist at Rockwell Scientific and Photobit. Dr. Ovsiannikov received a BS, cum laude, in Computer Engineering from MIREA Moscow State Technical University, as well as an MS and PhD in Computer Science from the University of Southern California.

Update: EETimes also runs a story on this matter, mostly citing the official PR.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More about Intertech-Pira Conference

ElectronicsWeekly published a review of the recent Intertech-Pira Conference. The review covers Spiral Gateway ISP technology, Cypress holographic storage sensor and Tessera's new MVP package.

WLCs Becoming Mainstream

Digitimes: Leading CMOS image sensor makers are said to extend their production from CMOS image sensors to WLC (Wafer Level Camera) module production, according to Digitimes sources.

Aptina is able to shrink WLC modules by more than 50% when compared to existing module solutions. The first camera produced by WLC is a VGA-resolution model, the company said. OmniVision and STMicroelectronics are also said to be adopting a similar approach, the sources noted. According to Tessera, a cost reduction of as high as 30% can be seen from WLC production.

Even though WLCs are mostly only capable of meeting demand for entry-level purposes, such as a secondary camera in a handset, they reduce BOM and shorten time-to-market schedule.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Intertech-Pira Conference Report

Don Scansen posted his impressions from Intertech-Pira Image Sensor Conference in his SemiSerious blog. Talking about the hot topics, Don mentions HDR and backside illumination:

"The other technology worth watching is backside illuminated imagers. <...> Now it seems like it is picking up some momentum inside image sensor companies and starting to be considered for a potential production technology."

Another interesting technology is the shape memory wires used for AF:

"The shape memory alloys are being used by a company called 1Limited to move the lens in an autofocus system. The alloy wire takes up almost no space (diameter is only 25 microns) inside the module providing space for larger lenses inside smaller modules. The next application of their wire is for adding zoom to future cameraphones."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spiral Gateway Demos Disruptive ISP Technology Edinburgh-based startup Spiral Gateway has got a fully functional samples of its RICA Reconfigurable Instruction Cell Array test chip.

RICA is a reconfigurable silicon fabric programmed in C and allowing any existing or new C code to load straight onto the fabric. A range of applications can be run in a highly optimized fashion, such as ISP (reconstruction, image quality improvement, scene manipulation) and multimedia (MP3, H.264 etc.). Using RICA enables new applications to be dynamically loaded onto a device and be run without any performance penalty.

RICA technology target is image signal processing for the next generation of mobile phones. The technology delivers reconfigurable logic which uses an order of magnitude less power than FPGA with very high performance, and requiring minimal hardware design and no need for large design teams.

Graham Townsend, the company CEO, used to be CTO of ST Imaging Division in the past.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Samsung 8MP Camera Module

There is a slew of articles on Samsung announcing 8MP camera-phone module, with no article mentioning the source of this information. I see no official word from Samsung, which is strange. Here is the info, anyway:

Infomobile and TG Daily say that Samsung announced 8MP camera phone module measuring 28 x 15.3 x 8.5mm. The in-module ISP provides anti-shake, low-light compensation (?), ISO 1600, smile recognition and face-tracking. The module's F2.6 lens features a macro mode.

The new image sensor is said to use Low Light Trio technology that compensates for low light (?) and improves indoor pictures.

Samsung plans mass production of the new module in 2Q 2008, with samples shipping to manufacturers in May. Samsung Korea said it will use the sensor in its own phones by the end of 2008.

Update March 21: Here is the link to the Google automatic translation of the official Samsung PR in Korean.

Chipworks Compares DSLR Sensors

Chipworks has a very nice blog with a good portion of it devoted to image sensors. Its latest post compares Nikon and Canon approaches to DSLR full-frame sensors. While many companies seem to go for this market recently, the article shows this is not that easy business, despite a relatively high price per sensor.

Another interesting post compares Sony sensors tailored for various applications.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tessera Shellcase MVP Package Announced

I-Micronews: Tessera announces its latest generation of the image sensor packaging technology - Shellcase MVP. MVP stand for Micro Via Package. The new package is based on Through Silicon Via (TSV) and provides thinner package (less than 500um height), higher yield, enhanced reliability and lower cost.

It's claimed to utilize image sensor wafers without requiring any chip design modification. If true, it's a step forward from the old Shellcase package requiring an I/O layout modification, as compared with COB sensor.

Bents Kidron, VP Marketing at Tessera says in an interview to Yole Developpement: "All previous constraints for special pad extension design were removed in the SHELLCASE MVP solution, so the outcome is better silicon utilization, which results in more chips on wafers and standard mask design, which enables design flexibility and additional cost reduction (in unit price).

The SHELLCASE MVP solution still uses the SHELLCASE edge contact concept (or T-contact). Instead of a line contact in the dicing lane, the SHELLCASE MVP solution uses a circumferential edge contact in the bond pad. This means there are few limitations on bond pad location or pitch and no changes are required to the silicon layout. Also, because the dicing lanes are no longer used, they can be as narrow as the silicon design allows.

Talking about future packages, Bents Kidron mentions wafer level 3D stacking solutions, mating sensor with ISP or memory.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Aptina's Channel on YouTube

Aptina has opened a nice YouTube channel with the company and product videos.

IntertechPira's Image Sensors Conference

IntertechPira hosts Image Sensors Europe conference on March 18-20 in London. The conference seems to have mostly marketing direction, talking about the industry trends (ST, SI, Grass Valley), market realities and opportunities (Cypress), user expectations (Nokia, Motorola, Bosch) and challenges (Micron, DXO, Vista Point).

The conference is complemented by Image Sensor Principles workshop by Albert Thuwissen and Image Processing Challenges of Small Pixels lecture by Frederic Guichard, DXO.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hynix Expands CIS Development in India?

The Korea Times: Hynix said today that it plans to use skilled Indian IT workforces in its long-term strategy to boost the CIS business - a hard to interpret message. I guess it primarily means the embedded software development to integrate the oncoming Hynix sensors into camera phones.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Varioptics Teams Up with Seiko I missed this news from about a month ago: Varioptics and Seiko Instruments (SII) signed an areement to cooperate on the development, manufacturing and marketing of Varioptic's liquid lens products.

The agreement enhances the existing production capacity for Varioptic's Arctic 314 and Arctic 416 liquid lenses, designed for 5-Megapixel, 1/3"- and 1/4"-format camera modules. SII intends to use its large manufacturing capacity to produce liquid lens in very high volumes and apply aggressive cost reductions. The company's production capacity is expected to reach 0.5 million units per month by Q3 2008, with further expansion according to market needs.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

CCID on Trends in China's Digital Image Market

The Earth Times, Yahoo: CCID Consulting released its 2007-2008 Annual Report on China's Digital Image (DC and DV) Market. It says the following on the sensors:

"SONY and CANON are both investing heavily to strengthen their CMOS product lines, targeting at an increase in production capability by millions each year. Not only DSLRs, but also minitype domestic camera will be equipped with CMOS in the near future. The increasing combination of CMOS and digital videos will drive development of digital video market."

Chinese DSC market projection is below:

Chinese DV Market forecast is here:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

OptiML UFL from Tessera Improves Low Light Imaging

Yahoo: Tessera announced OptiML UFL technology, now avaliable for licensing. It's claimed to improve low-light performance of a camera module by increasing the amount of available light by as much as 250%, without degrading the field depth or other performance factors.

OptiML UFL uses a combination of advanced lens design and embedded processing technology. It has a unique fast lens design, which enables an F number that is significantly lower than a standard lens, without sacrificing the camera module’s close-range focus capability. This greatly improves indoor image capture where low-light situations generally occur.

From the PR it looks like OptiML UFL is based on Tessera EDoF technology, but the depth of focus enhancement is traded for an increased F number.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

More Aptina Speculations

Don Scansen published his speculations on Aptina's past and future in his SemiSerious blog. His main conclusion is that by creating Aptina Micron is thinking less about how to run an imaging business than how to sell it.

Friday, March 07, 2008

More About Aptina and Competitors

Micron generated a string of news this week. EETimes article touches image sensor bisiness situation, while mainly discussing Micron's recent memory alliance with Nanya:

  1. Aptina will be free to seek manufacturing alliances with outside foundries.

  2. Bob Gove, president of Aptina, hints on the possibility of outside partnership, sort of.

  3. As for whether Micron might spin out the division, Gove said the company is weighing "all sorts of options" but would not elaborate.

  4. Aptina employs 650 to 700 people and represented some 11 percent of Micron's total net sales in the first quarter of fiscal 2008.

  5. In 2007 Omnivision became the world's largest CMOS image sensor vendor in terms of sales, displacing perennial leader Micron, according to a new report from Gartner.

  6. Gartner analyst Jon Erensen said Micron's sensor unit took a hit last year when Motorola's handset unit, which reportedly uses a Micron image sensor in its Razr phones, suffered its own market-share losses. As Micron lost share in 2007, its main rivals gained ground, despite flat market conditions, Erensen said. "Omnivision did really well, particularly with ODMs in China. Samsung continues to do well. Toshiba had a good year."

ACET Develops New Wafer-Level Package

Digitimes: Advanced Chip Engineering Technology (ACET) claims to deliver the thinnest wafer level packaging (WLP) for image sensors. The thinnest chip inside this package could be 150um, which ACET claimes is the thinnest in its class. The package is of fan-out type which is said to have advantages in the ability to package different chips in different natures in the same package, with proven electrical performance, which should help speed up time-to-market, lower costs, and enhance yields.

The company chairman DF Lin said ACET is already in talks with two US-based design houses on potential partnerships. ACET also has plans to introduce the solution to the medical segment by packing ICs in pills for gastroscopic imaging.

The package volume production is to be ready in the 2H 2008. The company currently houses a monthly capacity of 10,000 8" wafers. Expansion is planned in Q3 2008, with most to be focused on 12-inch wafers.

View on Aptina's Future

Idaho Statesman has a pessimistic view on Aptina division's future:

"Will it succeed? I think it will depend on how quickly the company can become a market leader. If you remember, Micron did something similar with its personal-computer division that became Micron Electronics, but that company was never able to gain the market share it needed as big players like Dell and Gateway took over most of the market. What's left of that division is no longer owned by Micron and is called MPC Corp., which still produces computers, but has a minuscule market share.

The same scenario could play out in the imaging-sensor market unless Micron gets ahead of the big players like Samsung and Hynix, which both plan major moves into the market.

In my opinion, consider Hynix a competitor is very premature, but he's right in that Micron has quite strong competition.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

NoblePeak Raises $12M

Yahoo: SiGe near-IR sensor start-up NoblePeak raised $12M in Series B financing. The Series B round was led by Chart Venture Partners, a new NoblePeak investor. NoblePeak’s original investors, Matrix Partners and Northbridge Venture Partners, also fully participated in the round.

The company is currently taking orders for its NPV700 evaluation camera platform and developing a camera core product that will be supplied to camera OEM partners in Q3 2008.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Micron Imaging Becomes Aptina Imaging

Yahoo: Micron launched Aptina Imaging, creating an independent division and new identity for its CMOS imaging business. It's said that "operating as an independent division provides Aptina with more manufacturing flexibility." It's not immediately clear whether this flexibility allows Aptina to use other foundries.

Bob Gove is named the President of Aptina. Sandor Barna is VP of Marketing.

Aptina announced 1.4um pixels based on 95nm Cu process, featuring improved pixel scale optics. Aptina will begin sampling to customers the products designed on the 1.4um pixel in summer 2008. Aptina also revealed that it is producing color images taken with a 1.2-micron pixel prototype in the lab. No performance parameters are given for 1.2 and 1.4um pixels.

Aptina also presented 9MP sensor based on 1.75um pixel. Its speed is 15fps at full resolution or 30fps in 720p mode - this is what PR says. Interesting that the product flyer only claims 9fps speed at full resolution. Aptina said it received production orders from name-brand Japanese DSC manufacturer.

Yet another technology announcement deals with wafer level camera (WLC), integrating optics with sensor on the wafer level. It's claimed to shrink camera solutions, or modules, by more than 50 percent when compared to existing camera solutions. The first product using WLC technology is VGA module measuring 4mm x 4mm x 2.5mm.

There is also a nice launch press kit with product flyers and sample pictures.

But the most interesting portion of the announcements is an absense of any mention of the new investors. EETimes published a hint, possibly explaining this strange omission:

"In an interview last week, Mark Durcan, Micron's president and chief operating officer, reiterated that the company plans to "separate" its CMOS image sensor business, but he declined to comment on the specifics. "We continue to drive that business as a separate entity," he said. "We may do that on a wholly-own basis by Micron or we may look for other investors as we move through time."

So it looks to me that Micron was unable to attract investors to its loss-making division and went on its own when spinning it out. Actually it remains a division of Micron, albeit under different name.

Pixelplus Revenues To Double in 2008

Yahoo: Pixeplus announced that it got key design wins since December 2007, and that it was experiencing strong and steadily growing demand for Pixelplus' new line of third generation image sensors based on PlusPixel2 technology, including the Company's PO4010 CIF SoC image sensors from its customers in Korea and also its PO6030 VGA SoC image sensors from its customers in China. Continued demand for the PlusPixel2 sensors is expected to positively affect the Company' results of operations in 2008, with revenues projected to at least double in 2008 compared to 2007, based on the assumption that current order flows continue.

Trading Markets reports that Maybach Financial Groups has invested in Pixelplus.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Dongbu Exhibits Its First Internally Designed Sensors

Yahoo: Dongbu showcases its first VGA, 1.3MP and 2MP sensors and camera phone modules at the International IC China (IIC China) trade show, which opens in Shenzhen on March 3, 2008. They are the first fruits of Dongbu's internal development efforts. No pixel size or other technical data is stated, so I assume the sensors are pretty much generic.

The PR names China as Dongbu's high-priority target market and emphasizes Dongbu HiTek executives meeting with the executives from China’s mobile handset developers including Mobile Innovation Chip Technology and Ginwave Technologies.

In July 2007 Dongbu entered into a strategic partnership with China based HNT, a camera module manufacturer. The HNT partnership is expected to expand Dongbu HiTek’s monthly capacity to produce camera modules by approximately 1M units, while also ensuring a stable supply to Chinese OEMs.

“Our focus on developing competitive, high quality CIS chips and camera modules will continue to intensify over the course of 2008,” stated Hae-Soo Jeong, Dongbu HiTek Senior EVP.