Friday, October 31, 2008

Kodak CMOS Sales Start in 2H 2009

Seeking Alpha publishes Kodak Q3 2008 earning call transcript. One of the questions adresses CMOS image sensor sales targets:

Joan Lappin - Gramercy Capital:

So when do you think that significant sales of these CMOS sensors could -- I thought the original target was the second half of next year. Are we able to stick with that target as to when the CMOS sensors start to become a revenue and earnings contributor? Or must we--

Antonio Perez, CEO:

That is the target that we put for ourselves for a significant increase in volume. And that still is the target, Joan.

Joan Lappin - Gramercy Capital:

Okay. So you haven't had to -- no alterations in that.

Antonio Perez:



To me this sounds like Joan is a bit skeptical about Kodak being able to achieve its sales target.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pixelplus Q3 2008 Results

Yahoo: Pixelplus revenue for the Q3 of 2008 was $3.7M, compared to $3.1M in Q2 2008, and $3.9M in Q3 2007. Net loss in Q3 2008 was $2.9M, compared to a net loss of $2.3M in Q2 2008, and a net loss of $1.2M in Q3 2007. Gross margin for Q3 2008 was 15.3%, compared to 4.9% in Q2 2008.

The company sold approximately 7.4M image sensors in Q3 2008, which represents an increase of about 0.3M units from its sale of around 7.1M units in Q2 2008.

Pixelplus CEO and President S.K. Lee says: "The economic slowdown in China had a negative impact on our business in the third quarter, and this impact was much greater and broader than we had ever imagined. In response to the unprecedented financial turmoil arising from the Global Financial Crisis and the severe economic burden this has placed on the Asian economies, we continue to adapt to unfavorable market conditions."

Cypress-Fillfactory Celebrates 100th Cusom Design

Yahoo: Cypress-Fillfactory announced that it has completed its 100th custom CMOS image sensor design.

Cypress’s portfolio of applications includes industrial and medical x-ray imaging, endoscopy, machine vision, star tracking and remote sensing for space, barcode readers, biometrics, high-speed line sensors and high-speed motion analysis sensors. The company designed sensors for Vision Research, Toshiba Teli, Micro Imaging, ARRI Gmbh, along with more than forty other custom-sensor customers.

Sony Image Sensors Profit Declined

Tech-On: Sony announced its financial results for Q2 (July to September) of FY2008. Its operating income plunged 90.1% on year over year basis. Image sensors were cited as one of the fields where income declined more than the average.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ST and Vistec Reveal Their Color Filter Monitoring System

Semiconductor International: ST talks about its method for optical inline monitoring of colorization effects on CMOS image sensors in its fab.

Typical defects in the manufacturing process are streaks on the color filter array. They occur after liquid processes, mainly after resist spin-coating steps. A new, automatic and fast optical inspection method for colorization effects was developed by Vistec Semiconductor Systems in collaboration with ST. The successful detection of colorization problems became possible by using an automated macro defect inspection system (Vistec LDS3200) with a combined microscope module and special optimized analysis software. The tool scans a wafer in less than 6 minutes and delivers the inspection result for the full wafer.

Micron Imaging Business Lost $31M in FY2008

Micron just published its FY2008 10-K form. Micron confirms that Aptina already operates as a separate entity: "We are exploring partnering arrangements with outside parties regarding the separation of our Aptina Imaging business to an independent entity in which we would retain a significant minority ownership interest. To that end, we began operating our Imaging business as a separate, wholly-owned, subsidiary in October 2008."

Some noteworthy numbers reported:
  • Image sensor sales were $653M, $687M and $749M in 2008, 2007 and 2006 respectively.
  • Imaging products represent 11%, 12% and 14% of Micron’s total net sales in 2008, 2007 and 2006 respectively.
  • Imaging operation's gross margins were 28%, 34% and 43% in 2008, 2007 and 2006 respectively.
  • Imaging R&D expenses were $144M, $158M and $82M in 2008, 2007 and 2006 respectively.
  • Imaging business loss was $31M in FY2008, vs income $8M in 2007 and income $153M in 2006
  • Aptina quarterly loss in Q4 2008 was $4M vs Q3'08 income $3M

Friday, October 24, 2008

Melexis Announces Automotive HDR Sensor

Melexis announces MLX75307 sensor primarily intended for automotive front vision applications, like Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), high beam assist and night vision. The 750x400 pixel sensor is said to have up to 128dB DR.

Production of the MLX75307 sensor is scheduled for 2009.

EETimes on Magnachip CIS Decision

EETimes comes with a post-mortem article on Magnachip exiting image sensor business. Nothing new is there, just re-iteration that the company is in a difficult cash position and it has no choice but to make the hard decisions.

Digitimes also repeats the same info. These reports are mostly based on Magnachip announcement of its Q3'08 results (Yahoo).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

RIT Team to Develop Photon Counting Sensor

Democrat and Chronicle: Donald Figer and his colleagues at Rochester Institute of Technology got $2.8M grant to develop a light detector that would count individual photons for astronomy applications.

Current technology uses sensors that can be triggered by electronic "noise" within the electronic device itself, resulting in a grainy, speckled image, especially in low-light conditions.

"In our detector we're doing something radically different. Each photon of light is being counted," said Figer, director of the Rochester Imaging Detector Laboratory at RIT's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

Panasonic Develops 3D CCD Range Sensor

Tech-On: Panasonic has developed a 3D range sensor that uses a CCD and can be used at 100,000lux illumination. The range sensor irradiates a signal light on the measurement target and observes the reflected light. In extremely bright ambient light such as direct sunlight, the CCD sensor is saturated with only the ambient light, making it almost impossible to detect the signal light.

In the new sensor, the electric charge corresponding to that generated by the ambient light is removed from the charge generated in the photosensitive unit so that only the charge generated by the reflected light remains. I assume it uses some sort of fast gating to minimize the stray ambient light influence. The 3D CCD resolution is 16x120.

Varioptic Taiwan is No More

Digitimes: Varioptic is to close its Taiwan branch office, because its "liquid lens solutions are not competitive with conventional VCM (voice coil motor) auto-focus devices in terms of price, according to the branch office."

Varioptic's cooperation with Creative Sensor Incorporated (CSI), a Taiwan-based camera module maker, for volume production of liquid lenses will remain unchanged.

SMIC Begins 0.11um CIS Pilot Production

Yahoo: SMIC announces 0.11um CIS technology. The new process is available with both aluminum and copper metalization, which can be manufactured on 200mm and 300mm wafers - looks like too many options to me. SMIC says it has begun 0.11um pilot production for its customers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Foveon Co-Founder Dick Merrill Passed Away

Dpreview Forum: Dick Merrill (1949-2008) brought to the table many of the ideas behind the Foveon X3 imager, which he co-invented with Dick Lyon, who was able to see a concept among many of Dick Merrill's patents. Together with Dick Lyon and Carver Mead, Dick Merrill was one of the founders of Foveon. In 2005, these three were awarded the Progress Medal for this work by the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain.

Dick was a warm and wonderful person and someone who took great pleasure in his passion and the photographic images it provided. In many ways, he was the spirit within Foveon and, before that, Nat Semi.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Caltech Sues 6 Companies over CIS Patents

Pasadena Star reports that Caltech is suing Canon USA, Sony Corp., Nikon Inc., Olympus America, Panasonic Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. for infringing on JPL-Caltech imaging patents.
In dpreview forum Eric Fossum quotes Law360 article that the six patents at issue are:
  1. U.S. Patent Number 5,990,506, titled Active Pixel Sensors with Substantially Planarized Color Filtering Elements;
  2. U.S. Patent Number 6,456,326, titled Single Chip Camera Having Double Sampling Operation;
  3. U.S. Patent Number 6,549,235, titled Single Substrate Camera Device with CMOS Image Sensor;
  4. U.S. Patent Number 6,555,842, titled Active Pixel Sensor with Intra-pixel Charge Transfer;
  5. U.S. Patent Number 6,570,617, titled CMOS Active Pixel Sensor Type Imaging System on a Chip;
  6. U.S. Patent Number 6,744,068, titled Active Pixel Sensor with Intra-pixel Charge Transfer.

Monday, October 20, 2008

New 'Avocet' CMOS Image Sensor Technology and Products from Sensata

Yahoo: Sensata got into image sensors a year and a half ago when it acquired the remains of SmalCamera from Cypress. Today Sensata announced the new Avocet HDR technology based on SmalCamera's Autobrite and now offering a dynamic range up to 154dB.

In SmalCamera's tradition to offer a complete system solution, the new technology is presented in three product configurations: a single box complete solution, Vision Systems Platform (VSP); a standard video camera for 2 box solutions; or as an imaging module for engineers building their own camera. All solution are available with monochrome, RGB or RGBi sensor versions.

The technology applications include a range of vehicle alert and avoidance systems such as night vision, lane departure warning, collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring and enhanced back-up displays.

Aptina Introduces Automotive SoC Sensor

Yahoo: Aptina announced the launch of its new multi-function automotive imaging SOC. The new MT9V126 SOC features the industry’s smallest automotive-grade (AEC-Q100) package, 0.5Lux low-light sensitivity, on-chip lens distortion correction, perspective correction and a dynamic graphic overlay capability.

The MT9V126 will be sampling in December of 2008 and will be in mass production the end of Q2 2009.

Omnivision Starts Mass Production of SoC for Automotive Applications

Yahoo: Omnivision announced that its 1/4-inch OV7710 VGA sensor is in volume production and has shipped to multiple top-tier automotive customers.

ST Announces Its First HDR Sensor

Yahoo: ST Micro announces its first automotive HDR sensor targeted for driver assistance systems. This new VL5510 sensor has a 1024x512-pixel format, suitable for wide-angle products. Its specifications include: 5.6um pixel size; sensitivity 7.14V/lux, low dark current of 33aA/pixel at 25C, and high QE at near infra-red, frame rate up to 34fps; video delivered via 12-bit parallel interface or serial interface (RAW 8/10/12 format). Anti dark sun and defect pixel correction algorithms are also integrated, together with an image histogram is embedded in the delivered image. The high dynamic response of the sensor is fully programmable: 10 knee points are available to tune pixel response.

The device is currently sampling and will be in mass production in automotive applications in early 2009. Pricing is expected to be in the range of $20 for bare-die quantities of 10,000 pieces.

TSV Rollercoaster

Philip Garrou from Semiconductor International anticipates a surge of activity in TSV and 3D integration in image sensors. He summarizes TSV activities by all the leading image sensor makers in his nice blog message from a month ago. A newer post paints a bigger picture where image sensor TSV adoption is just a first step of large scale TSV move.

Graphin Image Sensor Evaluation System

Yahoo: Japan-based Graphin announced image sensor evaluation suite with MIPI interface. Graphin has completed an evaluation for a D-PHY physical layer compliant with the MIPI standard and created a prototyping system with intellectual properties supporting CSI-2 protocol controls. Graphin is working on the MIPI Advanced Board commercially available in December 2008.

The MIPI Advanced Board is an add-on to a range of Graphin CIS evaluation systems.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

SMPT Honors Albert Theuwissen

Entertainment technology innovators will be honored by the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers during an awards presentation at the organization's annual Tech Conference & Expo, Oct. 28-30 at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood.

"The Fuji Gold Medal for the design and development of techniques and equipment advancing photographic or electronic image origination will be bestowed on Dr. Albert Theuwissen, professor at Delft University of Technology and founder of Harvest Imaging, for his contributions to R&D and education in the field of solid-state image sensing."

Omnivision Secures TSMC and PSC Capacity

Digitimes reports that Omnivision is in talks with TSMC and PSC to secure wafer capacity in 2009 to help it further expand market share, according to the paper's sources in Taiwan's wafer foundry industry.

Digitimes says that Omnivision is the top vendor of image sensors in the notebook and handset segments. OmniVision is not being complacent and the company has been trying to grab as much as the global market share through capacity support from foundry companies in addition to continuing product innovation, the sources indicated.

Digitimes sources think that Aptina in its push to expand its capacity is likely to approach TSMC and PSC, as they are the two Taiwan-based foundry services companies that have more production capacity and manufacturing expertise in the production of CMOS image sensors. OmniVision aims to stymie Aptina's efforts to build up business relations with TSMC or PSC through its strengthened cooperation with the two companies, speculated the sources.

CMOSIS on Global Shutter and High DR Solutions

Guy Meynants, CEO of CMOSIS, reviews global shutter and high DR solutions for machine vision sensors in his article published by Advanced Imaging Pro.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tessera on Camera Module Cost Reduction

Mobile Imaging Design Line publishes part three of Tessera's 4-part esse on mobile imaging (parts 1 and 2). Naturally, Wafer Level Package and Wafer Level Camera are named as the important parts of the cost reduction.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

SiOnyx, The Black Silicon Company

SiOnyx is set up to commercialize the new material discovered by Harward University physicist Eric Mazur. As I understand from the company site "Black Silicon" is a modified material having a narrower than bulk Si bandgap and still compatible with Si process (not necessarily CMOS process). The narrower bandgap allows for higher absorption coefficient for visible light.

It looks like the photodetector is based on photoconductive principle, rather than photodiode, so an additional gain is possible right in the detector itself. The noise would be higher as well, both at low and strong light, but the company does not talk about this so far.

SiOnyx sees a lot of applications for the new photodetector, imaging is one of them. A white paper specifically talks about smaller than 1um pixels, leveraging higher absorption coefficient of Black Silicon.

NY Times runs an article about the new company and people behind it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Image Sensors on 2009 Electronic Imaging Conference

The program of SPIE Electronic Imaging 2009 contains many interesting papers on image sensors. First, Industrial and Scientific Sensors and Sytems session:

Fujifilm continues its work on organic film image sensors:

CMOS-image sensor with overlaid organic-photoelectric conversion layers: development of layers with desirable spectral sensitivities
Author(s): Mikio Ihama, Tetsuro Mitsui, Takashi Goto, Kimiatsu Nomura, FUJIFILM Corp. (Japan)

French Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique presents something that sounds similar to the recent Canon color filter patent application:

Nanoplasmonic filters for image sensors
Author(s): Stephane Getin, Yohan Désières, Catherine Pellé, Olivier Lartigue, Ludovic Poupinet, Laurent Frey, Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (France)

Yet another unusual color filter paper from the same organization:

Thin color and stop-infrared metal-dielectric filters for CMOS-image sensors
Author(s): Gilles Grand, Catherine Pellé, Laurent Frey, Norbert Moussy, Jacques Raby, Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (France)

Global shutter is not new, so I wonder what Photron and Toshiba can say in their mutual paper:

A global electronic shutter pixel using pinned diodes fabricated in standard CMOS-image sensor technology
Author(s): Keita Yasutomi, Shoji Kawahito, Shinya Ito, Shizuoka Univ. (Japan); Toshihiro Tamura, Photron Ltd. (Japan); Masanori Furuta, Toshiba Corp. Semiconductor Co. (Japan)

Toshiba continues to perfect its 2.2um pixel generation:

Low Gr-Gb sensitivity imbalance 3.2M CMOS-image sensor with 2.2-μm pixel
Author(s): Nagataka Tanaka, Junji Naruse, Hirofumi Yamashita, Ikuko Inoue, Makoto Monoi, Toshiba Corp. (Japan)

Toshiba also perfects its CCDs:

A single-layer CCD image sensor with wide-gap electrode and gradual potential channel

Author(s): Makoto Monoi, Toshiba Corp. (Japan); Syu Sasaki, Kumiko Dobashi, Junya Iwai, Hirokazu Sekine, Iwate Toshiba Electronics Co., Ltd. (Japan); Masayuki Ooki, Seiichi Mashiko, Hiroyuki Saito, Toshiba Microelectronics Corp. (Japan); Ken Tomita, Yasushi Itabashi, Toshiba Corp. (Japan)

Aptina tells about its modeling techniques:

Computational modeling of CMOS image sensor pixels: from module lens to photoelectron
Author(s): Jeff Mackey, Victor A. Lenchenkov, William Gazeley, Xiaofeng Fan, Ulrich C. Boettiger, Gennadiy A. Agranov, Aptina Imaging (United States)

Panasonic found a way to adjust spectral response of its sensors. I hope it's something more smart than just controlling the photodiode voltage and depletion depth:

A day and night MOS imager spectrally adjusted for a wide range of color temperatures
Author(s): Koyama Shinzo, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (Japan)

AWAIBA is trying to penetrate to the lucrative endoscopic market:

Minimal form factor digital-image sensor for endoscopic applications
Author(s): Martin Wäny, Stephan Voltz, Fabio Gaspar, Lei Chen, AWAIBA Lda. (Portugal)

There are few more interesting papers in the Digital Photography session:

DALSA explores large sensor trade-offs:

Very-large-area CCD image sensors: concept and cost-effective research
Author(s): Erik W. Bogaart, Inge M. Peters, Agnes C. Kleimann, Erik-Jan P. Manoury, Wilco Klaassens, Walter de Laat, DALSA Corp. (Netherlands); Cees Draijer, Raymond Frost, DALSA Corp. (Canada); Jan T. Bosiers, DALSA Corp. (Netherlands)

Big surprise - Omnivision's paper! I think this is the first time ever that Omnivision publishes a technical paper on a technical conference (marketing papers are not counted):

Decoupling light collection efficiency and color crosstalk from the Quantum Efficiency Spectrum for the CMOS image sensor pixel development
Author(s): Yang Wu, Philip J. Cizdziel, Howard E. Rhodes, OmniVision Technologies, Inc. (United States)

Aptina presents something that sounds quite interesting:

Pixel with photodiode-contained readout circuitry
Author(s): John W. Ladd, Gennadiy A. Agranov, Xiaofeng Fan, Rick Mauritzson, Zhiping Yin, Robert Gravelle, Xinya Lei, Richard D. Holscher, Aptina Imaging (United States)

Peter Catrysse from Stanford trims small microlens expectations:

Microlens performance limits in sub-2um pixel CMOS image sensors
Author(s): Yijie Huo, Christian C. Fesenmaier, Peter B. Catrysse, Stanford Univ. (United States)

There are too many interesting papers to mention. The course part has two courses for beginners by James R. Janesick, Sarnoff Corp.:

Introduction to CCD and CMOS Imaging Sensors and Applications

Digital Camera and Sensor Evaluation Using Photon Transfer

Thanks to A.T. for keeping me updated on that.

Advasense Talks about Small Pixels in Photonics Spectra

Photonics Spectra just made available the full text of Advasense "Big Challenges of Small Pixels" paper. The paper was published in Nov. 2007. Thanks to L. for letting me know.

More about BYD Getting Into Image Sensor Business

Trading Markets and articles quotes an unnamed iSuppli analyst saying:

"BYD has been striving to build up a complete mobile phone OEM industrial chain by integrating its resources. The Shenzhen company has laid out a detailed deployment in segments like power management chip, CMOS image sensor, liquid crystal display (LCD) driver and touch controlled chip."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

2 Year Balance: Some Gone, Some Came

To put Magnachip news into time perspective, below is the 2-year history of companies getting in and out of image sensor business (acquisitions not counted).

Out of business, together with my personal guess why:

Magnachip - failed to meet business objectives year after year
IBM - too expensive
CMOX - no sufficient differentiation
Biomorphic - key customer loss

Status not clear, may be defunct:

Newport Imaging
Peripheral Imaging (part of AMI, now ON Semi)
CI Sensor

Newcomers, in no particular order:

BYD (China)
Rosnes (Japan)
CMOSIS (Belgium) - custom design
Caeleste (Belgium) - custom design
ePhocus (San Diego and Hawaii)
HiMax Imaging (US and Taiwan)
Hynix (Korea)
Lumiense Photonics (Canada) - custom design
SETI (Korea)
Rui Xin (China)
Harvest Imaging (Belgium) - teaching and training

So, it looks to me that over the last two years more companies have come than gone.

BYD Enters CIS Business

Rumors that huge Chinese conglomerate BYD enters CIS business have been circulating for a long time now. The first published indication I was able to see is BYD patent application filed in the European PO (freepatentsonline).

BYD has started a 13 years ago from car battery business, then continued on to mobile phone batteries, then to whole mobile phones, then to camera phone modules with sensors from others and now going to CIS business.

By the way, anybody knows what BYD stands for? May be a joke, but I was told it's "Bring Your Dollars".

Magnachip Officially Abandons Image Sensor Business

As said in comments to the previous post, Magnachip's 8K SEC filing reveals the details of the decision to abandon CIS business (Yahoo):

"Effective October 6, 2008, MagnaChip Semiconductor LLC (the "Company") will close its Imaging Solutions business segment, subject to support for existing customers. The Company expects the business segment closure to strengthen its financial performance and allow for continued investment in strategic growth areas.

In connection with this action, the Company will reduce its global workforce by approximately 200 employees, primarily located in the United States and South Korea, and primarily including managerial, engineering, sales, and administrative positions. The departure of terminated employees is expected to be substantially completed by October 31, 2008.

The Company expects to complete final activities associated with the closure by the end of its second fiscal quarter of 2009. The Company anticipates that it will record total restructuring and impairment charges of approximately $54.8 million related to one-time employee termination benefits and impaired assets, as well as expenditures related to the closure of facilities and contract termination costs. Of this amount, approximately $43.6 million relates to non-cash charges and approximately $11.2 million relates to cash expenditures, which is expected to be recognized over the next four fiscal quarters.

As a result, the Company expects costs savings, including reductions in research and development and capital expenditures, of approximately $50.0 million in the Company's fiscal year 2009."

Rumor on Magnachip Exiting Image Sensor Business

I decided to post it, as I'm getting this rumor from few sources. Here it is, even though there is no official confirmation from Magnachip:

The rumor is that Magnachip is shutting down all its US facilities - Pasadena, San Jose, Phoenix and Seattle offices. Another message says that Magnachip has decided to abandon image sensor business, as for a long time it's unable to get a significant market share and margin. Yet another message says it's a long due decision as image sensor business has quarter after quarter failed to reach its business targets.

Over the years Magnachip assembled a great team in the US. It's a pity, if they really decided to disband it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Image Sensors on IEDM 2008

Just published IEDM 2008 program has many interesting presentations on image sensors:

A 36x48mm2 48M-pixel CCD Imager For Professional DSC Applications,
E.-J. Manoury, W. Klaassens, H. van Kuijk, L. Meessen, A. Kleimann, E. Bogaart, I. Peters, H. Stoldt, M. Koyuncu, J. Bosiers, DALSA Professional Imaging

A 48M-pixel, 6kx8k, 36x48mm2 full-frame CCD imager was developed for professional digital SLR cameras and digital camera backs. Compared to the previous generation, the pixel size was reduced by 30% from 7.2x7.2um2 to 6.0x6.0 um2 to meet the demands for higher resolution. Still, by improvements in technology and design, the SNR under identical exposure conditions was increased by 30%.

A High-Sensitivity Broadband Image Sensor using CuInGaSe2 Thin Films,
O. Matsushima, K. Miyazaki, M. Takaoka, M. Moriwake, H. Takasu, S. Ishizuka*, K. Sakurai*, A. Yamada*, S. Niki*, Rohm Corporation Limited, *National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science & Technology

We report a novel CMOS image sensor using CuInGaSe2 thin films. The combination of LSI and solar cell technologies has realized a novel CMOS image sensor that outperforms conventional crystalline Si CMOS image sensors. The newly developed CuInGaSe2 thin film image sensor shows considerable higher sensitivity and wider spectral range.

Setting up 3D Sequential Integration for Back-Illuminated CMOS Image Sensors with Highly Miniaturized Pixels with Low Temperature Fully Depleted SOI Transistors,
P. Coudrain, X. Gagnard, C. Leyris, Y. Cazaux*, B. Giffard*, P. Magnan**, P. Ancey, STMicroelectronics, *CEA LETI-MINATEC, **Institut Superiéur de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace

We present a comprehensive study of 3D sequential technology having the capabilities to become a breakthrough in CIS miniaturization. Back-illuminated pinned photodiodes are constructed on SOI, while part of the pixel transistors is processed on a second SOI layer with HfO2/TiN gates at low temperature, targeting low noise levels.

Advanced Image Sensor Technology For Pixel Scaling Down Toward 1.0µm (Invited),
J.C. Ahn, C.-R. Moon, B. Kim, Y. Kim, M. Lim, W. Lee, H. Park, K. Lee, K. Moon, J. Yoo, Y.J. Lee, B.J. Park, S. Jung, J. Lee, T.-H. Lee, Y.K. Lee, J. Jung, J.-H. Kim, T.-C. Kim, H. Cho, D. Lee, Y. Lee, Samsung Electronics

As pixel size of image sensors shrinks down toward 1.0um, we are reaching technical barrier to get the required SNR10 performance. To overcome such a barrier, integration of advanced technologies such as back-side illumination, WC CFA, EDoF technologies, etc. are described and improvement for small pixel size is estimated.

A short course program features CMOS Imaging tutorial by Albert Theuwissen.

Thanks to A.T. for letting me know.

Panasonic Breaks Ground for Dedicated Image Sensors Fab

Impress Watch (Google translation): Panasonic started construction of the new image sensors fab in in Tonami City. The fab is scheduled to start operation by mid-2009. Its planned production capacity is 30,000 wafers/month (equiv. 8" wafers). The plant construction investment is about 94B Yen.
The plans to build the fab were initially announced in January 2008.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Chipworks Discusses Samsung Camera Phone Module

Chipworks blog shows the internal structure of Samsung camera phone module with AF. The module has a 1.75um generation sensor and separate ISP chip, all fitting in 8.5 x 8.5 x 6.5 mm.

Recent Samsung Papers

Samsung presented a poster paper "The Effects of Nano-Sized Defects on Dark Current of High End CMOS Image Sensor" on May 2008 Electrochemical Society Meeting. The main claim is that defects in epi layer cause a significant increase in hot pixels. The article compares few epi wafer vendors and shows dark current difference between them.

Another Samsung paper presented on 2008 Symposium on Design, Test, Integration and Packaging of MEMS/MOEMS, Nice, France describes WLP process flow entirely developed by Samsung. The claim is that the new process is cheaper and better than the available alternatives, such as Shellcase by Tessera.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

DXO Talks About ISP Challenges

DxO's Nicolas Touchard talks about ISP challenges in his presentation on CPIQ forum. The main problem is to keep up with pixel shrink effects, despite a long ISP design cycle. So the modern ISPs are optimized to compensate pixel imperfections that were 2-3 years ago.

I don't completely agree with this view. There are ISP design teams with good connections with sensor vendors and there are others with bad or no connections. The later ones learn pixel effects from literature and naturally have 2-3 years lag. The former ones have quite good understanding of small pixels and their ISP account for all modern pixel effects.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Weekly Patent Review

This week the most interesting application comes from Canon. US20080231859 application is supposed to solve most of the small pixel problems, such as reduced sensitivity and low SNR. It achieves the improvement by changing a Bayer RGB filter for a "spectroscopic element formed by means of an optical microresonator".

The bad thing is that I was unable to understand how these resonating cavities made and how they manage to effectively generate photocharge in smaller than wavelength pixels. I've read the description back and forth and I'm still puzzled. Anyway, the promise of this idea is great and if Canon knows how to make it, this would be a huge boost in image quality of small pixels.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Aptina Becomes Independent Separate on Friday, Oct. 3

Seeking Alpha's Micron earnings call transcript has few words about Aptina's next stage in life:

Daniel Amir - Lazard Capital Markets:

Just a question on the image sensor business. Can you comment a bit on the visibility there, what you’re seeing there in terms of growth for the next couple of quarter, if at all? And kind of what the strategy is now for the segment?

Steven R. Appleton, CEO:

I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of growth. I think it looks pretty stable. I would say not a lot of growth, not a lot of decline. There are some incremental improvements that we’re making. If you would have noticed, for image sensor companies, they’ve made somewhat of a comeback and I think have gained some market share in the last quarter or two.

But, hey, look, I think that business, a lot of it is in the mobile stage and the technology stage, if you will, around PDAs and digital cameras and PC cams, etc. so I think we have some similar challenges to what other segments do, but it still looks like they’re on a pretty good path.

In terms of what we’re intending to do in that space, there hasn’t been any change of plans with respect to what’s happening with that Aptina. In fact, on this Friday they will start operating as a separate company from Micron, although it will be a wholly-owned subsidiary they will have their own systems and so forth, and we’re still moving down the path as journey with a partner to likely take that company and try to work, but yet have Micron continued to manufacture the product, at least in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Micron Quarterly Results

Yahoo: Micron reported its quarterly results today. Sales of CMOS image sensors in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2008 increased slightly compared to the third quarter and represented 12 percent of the company’s total sales in the fourth quarter. The company’s gross margin on sales of imaging products during the fourth quarter decreased to 29 percent compared to 35 percent in the third quarter, primarily due to lower average selling prices.

Samsung Techwin on Image Sensors

DPReview published an interview with Choong-hyun Hwang, Vice President of the Digital Camera Business of Samsung Techwin Strategy Marketing Team. There are few interesting bits on DSC image sensors from Samsung Techwin point of view:

DPReview: On your compact cameras do you use your own sensors?

Samsung: No, we don't.

DPR: Would there be any advantage to developing your own compact sensors?

S: In terms of efficiency we're better at the moment outsourcing. We currently buy sensors from a range of suppliers.

DPR: Do you make any compact camera sensors?

S: No, at the moment we don't.

DPR: Do you think that CMOS is likely to eventually take over from CCD sensors in compacts?

S: Ah you are asking difficult questions! I think that many people - everyone - expects CMOS sensors to be applied to more compact cameras. Sony has a high speed CMOS sensor in development, and the speed is remarkable.

DPR: Is it less expensive to manufacture CMOS sensors?

S: Oh no, it's much more expensive. The Sony and Canon high speed CMOS sensors are very expensive to manufacture. The standard CMOS sensors used in mobile phones are very small and are inexpensive, but not those for compacts cameras. Canon has been making a lot of effort to replace CCD with CMOS, and they have not yet been successful because the performance and efficiency aren't good enough yet.

SiliconHive Partners with Acutelogic

Video/Imaging Design Line: A partnership of Silicon Hive and Acutelogic spawned a new family of HiveGo programmable camera imaging subsystems (CSS) for SoC manufacturers in the mobile phone and consumer electronics space.

The three initial products offered as licensable IP are:
  • HiveGo CSS 3016J which targets DSC, DVC and UMPC cameras, incorporates Silicon Hive's 3rd generation HiveFlex ISP 2300 scalable SIMD processor, a control processor, and accelerators for filters, scaling, smooth digital zoom, and distortion correction. The hardware configuration yields ultra-high quality still capture at up to 260 Mega Pixels per second, or 16MP at 15 frames per second (fps) 'on the fly,' or capturing and processing HD video streams at 1080p 60fps. Camera input formats such as SMIA-CCP2 and MIPI-CS12 are supported. Robust GPIO connections for camera systems controls such as lens, focus, and flash are included.
  • HiveGo CSS 3012J targets high quality imaging demands of mobile Internet devices (MIDs). The mid product performs still capture at up to 200 Megal Pixels/sec or 12 MP at 15 fps.
  • HiveGo CSS 3108J targets high-volume smart phones, performing still capture at up to 130 Mega Pixels/sec or 8 MP images at 15 fps.

Catching-Up with Tessera News

Yahoo: Advanced Wafer Level Packaging Inc. (AWLP) has licensed the full range of SHELLCASE image sensor packaging technologies from Tessera, including the SHELLCASE MVP solution, which is one of the industry’s first Through Silicon Via (TSV) solutions.

AWLP is an early-stage start-up company based in Seoul, Korea. The new outsource packaging company will be dedicated to providing SHELLCASE packaging services to semiconductor manufacturing companies. AWLP was established in 2007 as a foundry service provider dedicated to Tessera WLCSP technology. AWLP’s facility is now being built in Kwangju City and will begin production by the end of 1Q09.

Yahoo: Fujitsu Microelectronics' Milbeaut chipsets incorporate the FotoNation FaceTracker image enhancement solution from Tessera. The FotoNation FaceTracker solution tracks faces in the camera viewfinder, detecting more than 10 faces in one image in as little as 0.1 seconds. It continues to track them moving throughout the image, even in rotation or profile. The camera uses this “face data” to adjust image capture settings such as exposure and focus, which results in human subjects that are well-lit and well-focused, even when backlit or off-center. The technology also includes face orientation data as a simple solution for auto-rotation without additional hardware.

25M fps Bar Code Reader

PhysOrg: The new imaging technique reported by UCLA postdoctoral fellow Keisuke Goda, graduate researcher Kevin K. Tsia and electrical engineering professor Bahram Jalali uses a phenomenon known as amplified dispersive Fourier transform to read bar codes at a frame rate of 25 MHz — about a 1,000 times faster than current technology.

The new technology, dubbed the CWEETS Scanner (chirped wavelength electronic encoded time domain sampling), first maps the one-dimensional bar code image onto the spectrum of an ultrashort laser pulse and then maps that into an amplitude-modulated waveform that is captured with a single optical-to-electrical converter. This is in stark contrast to typical camera-based bar code readers, which require many optical-to-electrical converters — in other words, an array of pixels — to capture the image. The new imager requires only a single pixel and is free of mechanically moving parts.

To view an animated film illustrating the concept of amplified dispersive Fourier-transform imaging, see (Windows Media).

Now the only remaining thing is to find an application which requires to read barcodes at 25M fps speed.

Toshiba Teli Compares CCD with CMOS

Test & Measurement World: Toshiba Teli, the manufacturer of cameras for machine visions shares its view on CCD and CMOS sensors strengths and weaknesses:

"Today, the major difference in usage between CMOS and CCD cameras for machine vision occurs in situations where light levels are very low. In those cases, you still need CCD sensor technology because it is more sensitive to light: The minimum sensitivity for CCD cameras is 1 lux, but for CMOS it’s 5 to 10 lux.

But if there’s sufficient illumination during inspection, CMOS camera performance is excellent. And that’s the case with the majority of machine-vision applications, since they are usually well lighted. Also, some applications that need a higher near-infrared response, like about 900 to 1000 nm, will require CCD cameras, because those cameras are more sensitive at a higher spectrum.

CMOS sensors are less expensive than their CCD counterparts. So, for some customers, if CMOS technology meets their sensitivity needs, that’s what they will use. But at least as important is the ability of CMOS cameras to increase frame rates by letting users choose a smaller, lower-resolution area within the image.