Monday, August 31, 2009

Aptina to Launch BSI Products by Fall of 2010

Aptina revealed its BSI plans, but only in Chinese and Japanese versions of Tech-On. We, English readers, seem to be out of luck. Google translation is not particularly interesting, other than saying that BSI will shine at 1.1um pixel pitch and that Aptina plans to launch BSI products by the fall of 2010. (see the full text at the end of this post). However, the figures in the article show the logic behind Aptina BSI plans.

The first figure compares Aptina FSI with competitors BSI at 1.4um node:

Another figure shows Aptina QE simulation of 1.1um pixels. Color crosstalk looks to me on the high side, but Aptina still has a lot of time to improve till the product launch:

Next figure shows a cross-section of 1.75um BSI prototype. The silicon thickness appears to be about 1.5um - thinner than Omnivision and Sony, which probably has some red QE implications. I hope Aptina will improve on this too:

Finally, below is Google translation of Chinese version of Tech-On article, for what it is worth:

"U.S. Aptina Imaging Corp. Is, CMOS high sensitivity sensor technology BSI (back irradiation) announced plans to apply. BSI is a Sony and the U.S. OmniVision Technologies, Inc. Is a technology that uses a series of major manufacturers such as image sensors. CMOS sensor is a leading manufacturer in Aptina plan did not become clear introduction.

The BSI, CMOS can be eliminated and the disadvantage of low sensitivity and only Ieta image sensor (NIKKEI MICRODEVICES posted a feature article in the September 2009 issue). In principle, CCD high sensitivity can be compared to the sensor. The introduction of Sony's digital video and digital cameras already seems to have become popular among users of its quality when shooting at night.

BSI using the technology, the structure can be achieved without decreasing the image sensors capture light. Generally the CMOS sensor, the sensor element at the top of the about three-layer metal wiring layer. Screening the light incident from an angle, especially in this metal wiring layer, reduce the sensitivity was. Therefore, BSI sensor in the bottom of the device (back) has been to adopt a light. From the back of the substrate to form a MEMS sensor devices and processing technology by cutting a thin, light guide.

Aptina is U.S. Micron Technology, Inc. Is independent from the image sensor manufacturers. Micron Technology has its own era, "Light Guide" by, Aptina use of the BSI for the foreseeable future and had no view. Light guide is a technology to guide the light sensor element of the metal wiring layers from top to bottom. Customers can also reach the light sensor element from the diagonal. Using this technology, a pixel pitch of 1.4μm and BSI does not until you do not have to reduce the sensitivity of technology (Figure 1).

However, the 1.1μm pixel pitch will to fully demonstrate their will to prevent the effect of the light guide, BSI technology and need. This will greatly improve the sensitivity and S / N ratio can be improved (Figure 2). From this perspective, Aptina is the pitch 1.1μm CMOS sensor BSI plans to introduce the technology. When production is the prospect that the fall of 2010 years. The company is, BSI technology to 1.75μm and 1.4μm pitch pitch prototype device has been already applied (Figure 3-6).
" (Links to Fig 4, Fig 5 and Fig 6.)

Pixelplus Turns a (Small) Profit

Yahoo: Pixelplus reported its financial results for the quarter ended on June 30, 2009. Net income in the quarter was about US$20K. Not that much, but still better than a net loss of US$0.9M in the previous quarter or loss of US$2.1M in the same quarter a year ago.

The company sold roughly 4.7M image sensors in the quarter with gross margin of 21.0%, compared to 26.5% in the previous quarter. It appears that Pixelplus has drastically shrunk its expenses to show the profit last quarter.

Panavision and Tower Start Production of Fast Linear Sensor

EarthTimes: Panavision and Tower announce production of the linear image sensor they unveiled two months ago. The DLIS-2K sensors were developed using Tower’s Advanced Photo Diode (APD) pixel process and pixel IP with Panavision’s patented imager architecture. The combination of Tower’s 0.18um technology and Panavision architecture enables a 4 X 32 micron pixel with sensitivity exceeding 100 V/Lux.Sec.

The DLIS-2K imager is a quad line sensor with 11 bit A/D, high dynamic range, and Correlated Multi-Sampling (CMS) for enhanced sensitivity. The patented technologies in these sensors include: ambient light subtraction, oversampling, non-destructive read mode, binning of different integrations, auto-thresholding and a high resolution mode with an unprecedented 120MHz pixel readout.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Omnivision Quarterly Results

Yahoo: Omnivision reported improved business results last quarter.

Revenues for last quarter were $105.6M, as compared to $89.1M in the previous quarter, and $174.3M a year ago. Based on current trends, the company expects next quarter revenues will be in the range of $155M to $170M.

Gross margin for the first quarter of fiscal 2010 was 22.4% as compared to 17.0% for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009 and 25.2% for the first quarter of fiscal 2009. The sequential increase in gross margin resulted primarily from the shipment of fresh inventory at the completion of the Company's inventory reduction effort, combined with an increase in average selling prices due to a more favorable product mix.

Seeking Alpha published Omnivisions quarterly Earnings Call transcript. Some interesting statements from it:

Bruce Wyer, VP Marketing:

"During the first quarter we extended our technology leadership position by announcing our 1.75 micron Omni BSI product family which offers a 50% improvement in low light sensitivity and double signal to noise ratio's resulting in improved color reproduction and image clarity. We are now shipping five Omni BSI products across our 1.4 micron and 1.75 micron families ranging from two megapixel to eight megapixel resolutions.

... according to TSR we have approximately 60% market share in Notebook PC, over 50% share in security and automotive markets and over 30% share in the games and toys market. We also continue to lead the mobile phone market with over 20% of CMOS image sensor shipments.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Omnivision Wins Next-Gen iPod Orders

Digitimes: OmniVision will be the sole supplier of 3MP sensors for oncoming iPod nano, iPod classic and iPod Touch which will be launched in September, according to Digitimes sources. Omnivision is now supplying 3MP sensors for the iPhone 3GS together with other suppliers and is expected to ship to Apple 18M sensors per quarter.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

ADVIS Reports Measurement Results

There was a 3-year old ADVIS technology discussion in one of DPReview forums that suddenly came back to life with ADVIS' Jake Ignjatovic reporting the measurement results:

"One has to be an expert in the Sigma-delta ADC and signal processing theory to be able to understand the benefits and limitations of this method when applied to the imaging. Yes, the sigma-delta approach can be easily modified to be able to capture low-lights. Also, it can be easily modified to remove reset noise, threshold offsets and any pixel or column-level FPN.

Here are some measurement results:

Input referred read noise at 30fps= 37.8microV (nothing like this has been reported previously). This easily translates into <1e- read noise

Intra-scene linear dynamic range = 91dB
FPN less than 0.5%
Power at 30fps 10 x lower than APS and other digital approaches

Allows real time low power compression (inluding JPEG and JPEG 2000), motion blur correction, white balancing, ....

The only drawback is increased memory size required for the Sigma-delta approach."

As a matter of fact, the previous part DPReview discussion has been deleted from the forums there, but saved as a copy here, here and here.

Update: Another Jake Ignjatovic post in DPReview forum adds more statements:

"To stop further speculations on the Sigma-delta imager:
  • there are only 3 minimum size transistors per pixel - fill factor is as high if not higher than in the APS.
  • the design scales well with the technology since it relays on transistor speed and not the precision - another unique feature.
  • the design is not affected with power supply voltage reduction in more advanced CMOS technologies
  • and finally, yes we can and we will be utilizing PIN diodes.
This should be enough to silence all unbelievers."

At least some of these new statements are questionable. For example, many modern APS with 4T shared pixel have 1.75 transistor per pixel or even 1.5T per pixel. 3T per pixel is not very competitive for small pixels.

Update #2: On the product schedule Jake Ignjatovitc says:

"ADVIS, Inc has plans to release its first commercial HD sensor based on the Sigma-delta technology in Q2 2010."

 On the possibility to see the results in the paper Jake says:

"The "real" paper is coming out soon. We just have to make sure that certain people interested in slowing down the imaging science progress are not the reviewers."

Update #3: Below is ADVIS sigma-delta pixel noise spectrum that Jake referred in the comments to this post:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Omnivision Announces 1080p HD Sensor

Yahoo: Omnivision announced 1/3-inch OV2710 sensor offering 1920 x 1080 array using a 3um OmniPixel3-HS pixel, delivering low-light performance of 3300 mV/(lux-sec), dark current of 6 mV/sec and a peak dynamic range of 69dB. The sensor operates at 30fps speed at full resolution. This is claimed to allow the OV2710 to operate in low-light situations well below 15 lux.

The sensor is targeted to high-end video conferencing systems, camcorders, notebooks, netbooks, and other mobile applications. The OV2710 will enter into mass production in September 2009.

Samsung Aims to Capture 30% of Notebook Sensor Market in 2010

Digitimes reports that Samsung has set an internal goal of achieving a 20% share on the notebook image sensor market in 2009 and an over 30% share in 2010, according to Taiwan-based IC distributors.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hynix Image Sensors Progress

It came to my attention that Hynix Newsletter regularly updates its readers about the company CIS development progress.

The January 2009 issue reports that 1.4um pixel development schedule has been pulled-in to meet the market demand. Hynix plans to launch 1.4um pixel 2M/3M/5M products in the second half of 2009. The newsletter also presents the updated Hynix CIS roadmap"

The February 2009 issue reports about the development of 1/5-inch 2MP sensor based on 1.75um pixels with improved low-light performance.

April 2009 issue of the newsletter announces new 1/10-inch VGA sensor YACBAC1S optimized for low light and demonstrating better sensitivity than the old one named YACBAA0S.

The May issue reports that 1/10-inch VGA sensor with 2.25um pixels "successfully entered the Taiwan notebook market, targeting NetBook applications". There is also 1.3MP sensor with 2.2um pixels "under scheduling".

The June newsletter announces 3MP 1.75um pixel YACE4A1SBDBS imager with integrated ISP samples available with mass production start in September 2009. Hynix also plans to pass Mediatek validation by Spetember.

The July issue reports of progress with major notebook makers where VGA "products performance and image quality are tested through a strict evaluation process". The development of 1.0MP and 1.3MP products for notebooks is under way.

Hynix also announces "No-Focus Adjustment Module" using "NeoPAC" plate between a sensor and a lens. I'd guess it works by improving the module assembly precision.

Sony 10MP CCD with 2.03um Pixels

Sony Cx-News Vol. 57 announces a new 10MP CCD with improved DR and low-light performance. It appears to be designed for the recently launched Canon G11 camera. The 1/1.7-inch ICX685CQZ CCD has 2.03um pixels and is said to have 2x better sensitivity and 1.7x better saturation signal comparing with ICX665/675 CCDs with 1.68um pixels.

Sony also announces LAMINATE substrate used for its SiP (system in package) devices, including camera phone modules, packages for DSCs, camcorders and other products.

Bart Dierickx' IISW 2009 Papers

The papers from the recent International Image Sensor Workshop continue to trickle out. This time Bart Dierickx put his IISW papers in his publication list - quite impressive list, by the way.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Omnivision Licenses Slovenian Company's IP

EETimes reports that Omnivision has licensed unknown semiconductor IP from Beyond Semiconductor (Ljubljana, Slovenia). Beyond offers a range of 32-bit RISC/DSP processors together with peripherals and operating systems, PDK and drivers. The RISC/DSP cores are claimed to be smaller and more efficient than ARM.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kodak Sensors Today and 10 Years Ago

Kodak Plugged-In blog has a nice article about 10 year old image sensor roadshow and its comparison with the current Kodak sensor lineup. In the retrospect, the change of image sensor generations is slower than one can expect.

The only strange thing is the contemporary Kodak logo on the supposedly 10 year old posters - I would expect to see the older logo.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rumors Galore

The stuff below is unconfirmed rumors and should be treated as such. Although I did some cross-checks to verify them, I can not guarantee they are correct.
  • Toshiba and ST 1.4um FSI pixels show very high QE, approaching 70% in green. That good FSI pixels set too high bar for BSI competition.
  • Sony: In addition to the recently announced 1.4um pixel based camera modules, Sony has another module having a lot of advanced high-speed functions integrated in the camera module form factor. The module has a high speed 5-frame memory and implements a multi-frame low-light image stabilization. The module also has face detection feature integrated.
  • Microsoft "Project Natal" demo and PDKs distributed to the game developers are based on Primesense 3D solution. Aptina design win for the next generation Xbox360 is in fact related to the Primesense device.
  • DxO Labs is up for sale. The company failed to raise money recently and forced to look for a buyer. There are 6 potential buyers doing due diligence at DxO. The rumor is that the acquisition deal is near.

James Carey Won Young Innovator Award

MIT Technology Review awarded Young Innovator Under 35 title to James Carey. James Carey, 32 invented Black Silicon material and co-founded SiOnyx to manufacture black-silicon chips for devices such as inexpensive night-vision equipment and infrared surveillance systems. Other potential applications include better cell-phone cameras and cheaper, more sensitive detectors that could lower the x-ray dose needed for advanced medical imaging.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pixart to Strike Gold With Optical Touch Screens

Taiwan Economic News paper thinks that PixArt is poised to strike gold with its sensors for optical touch screens.

All-in-one PCs call for 3-4 optical touchscreen sensors and one controller IC per each computer. This will grant Pixart and its partner Quanta huge business chances in the future. Besides, popularity of Windows 7 will also help to boost sales of the firm`s optical touchscreen solutions.

Pixart is confident of further improving gross profit rate for its optical touchscreen ICs to about 40%, mainly because the products are generally bundled into modules and development of the production technology has become mature in Taiwan.

Presentations Galore

Suss MicroTec published its "Wafer Level Cameras - Novel Fabrication and Packaging Technologies" presentation from Image Sensor Workshop 2009. There are more publications on wafer level camera and 3D integration technologies.

Meanwhile DALSA too published its three IISW'09 papers at the company's research papers page:

Flexible binning structure for CCD color imagers
Very-low Dark Current in FF-CCDs
A wafer-scale CMOS APS imager for medical X-ray applications

Edoardo Charbon from EPFL/TU Delft published his recent 95-page presentation on "Single-Photon Imaging in CMOSingle-Photon Imaging in CMOS" - very nice presentation.

On the marketing side, Panasonic presents its roadmap of CCD sensors:

The company is planning 18MP consumer CCDs for 2010 and 16MP for 2009 - too incremental steps, if you ask me.

Panasonic also presents UniPhier, which stands for "Universal Platform for High quality Image Enhancement Revolution". UniPhier is ISP HW block to be integrated onto various Panasonic SoCs, from mobile phones to camcorders to home entertainment to car AV to security cameras. Its software library covers everything one can think of - from ancient GSM voice codecs to H.264 video (no JPEG2000, though).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

IISW'09 Impressions in Chipworks Blog

Ray Fontaine from Chipworks published his impressions from IISW 2009: "as a first time attendee to IISW I have to say there is a youthful enthusiasm in the image sensor community and a sense that (from a technological standpoint) much more, and maybe the best, is yet to come."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Brief Introduction to CMOS Pixels and PTC Measurements

Rebecca Coath from Rutherford Lab, UK published a summary of pixel architectures and PTC, probably extracted from Albert Theuwissen's Advanced Imaging Course. A nice 17-slide presentation clearly and compactly describes pixel architectures from 4T to 7T and how to interpret their performance from PTC measurements. There are pdf and ppt versions of the presentation.

Update: The files have been removed from CERN by Rutherford Lab request, see comments.

Pixart to Ship Optical Touch Panels in Q3

Digitimes reports that Pixart will ship optical-touch solutions in small volumes in Q3 2009, and expects the segment to be its major growth driver in 2010, according to the company. The optical touch panels will initially target large-size panels used in all-in-one PCs, notebooks and netbooks.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sony 1.4um Pixels and More

The recent Sony Cx-News vol. 56 magazine is almost entirely devoted to new image sensor products.

IMX045PQ/IMX046PQ/IMX060PQ family of CMOS sensors is based on new 1.4um pixels and targeted to cellular phones.

IMX045PQ has diagonal of 4.5 mm (Type 1/4) 5.15M effective pixels with frame rate of 22.5fps.
IMX046PQ has a diagonal of 5.76 mm (Type 1/3.2) 8.11M effective pixels with frame rate of 15fps.
IMX060PQ has a diagonal of 7.1 mm (Type 1/2.5) 12.25M effective pixels with 10fps frame rate.

Whole family supports 720p and 1080p HD video with 27-30fps rate and has 2-lane MIPI interface.

The new camera phone modules IU046F and IU060F are based on 8MP and 12MP 1.4um sensors. They feature 4-element/4-group plastic lens with piezoelectric AF actuator:

New series of ICX667/ICX677 CCDs has 1.55um pixels. It is an incremental shrink of the previous generation having 1.68um pixels. The 1/2.3-inch CCDS have 12MP resolution and offer 720p 30fps HD video.

Yet another IMX035LQR 1.39MP 1/3-inch CMOS sensor is intended for high speed industrial applications. It achieves 120fps frame rate at full resolution.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Samsung, Aptina, Omnivision Sensors in Short Supply

Digitimes reports that supply of Samsung and Aptina image sensors remains tight and also recently fallen short from OmniVision, according to the paper's sources. The shortage is attributed to better-than-expected demand from notebook customers.

Some customers had transferred orders to OmniVision due to the shortages at Samsung, the sources indicated. Asustek has chosen OmniVision's 9665 and 9660 products to replace Samsung's 1.3MP 6AA while Compal also turned to use OmniVision's 9665 due to the short supply of Samsung's 6AA.

OmniVision began placing orders with Vanguard International Semiconductor (VIS), an affiliate TSMC, in June, indicated the sources. The sources expect the shortages to ease in the end of Q3 2009 at the earliest.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Samsung Expands Image Sensor Production

Digitimes: Samsung plans to allocate one more 8-inch fab (Line 8) for image sensor production, as it expects CIS demand will grow significantly, according to Digitimes sources.

Samsung is currently producing image sensors at two 8-inch and one 12-inch fabs, with monthly shipments totaling 30M units, the sources said. The company's shipments in 2010 are expected to surpass 400M units after devoting the capacity of Line 8 to CIS production, the sources added.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aptina Announces 1/13" VGA Sensor

Yahoo: Aptina's new MT9V114 incorporates the improved 1.75um pixel architecture and process to enhance low-light sensitivity, resulting in a 1/13” VGA low-end SOC sensor with overall performance comparable with Aptina’s MT9V113 1/11” VGA sensor with a 2.2um pixel.

The new sensor enables ultra-small sub-3mm height camera modules for mobile phone primary camera, video conferencing or notebooks and netbooks. The MT9V114 is sampling in die this quarter, and CSP in Q4. Production is in Q1 2010.

Aptina and Advasense Jointly Develop 1.1um Pixel?

Catching up with old news, 3 weeks ago Digitimes reported that Aptina and Advasense have set up a joint development project on 1.1um pixel. The article was originally published by Digitimes in Chinese on July 17. For those not having Digitimes subscription, it is also reposted in forums. The full translation of the article is below:

July 17, 2009- Zonghan Wu-- Digitimes Taiwan.

"The largest two CIS companies are competing on next-generation technology. Following the TSMC and OmniVision in 2008 to develop the back illumination BSI (Backside Illumination) technology, the source from market said Aptina dismissed the prejudice with its competitor, Advasense, an Israeli IC design company, to jointly develop next-generation 1.1um pixel CIS. They have signed a contract for at least 2 years to co-develop this technology. However, we are not sure which foundries the Advasense will choose in future, TSMC or Aptina.

OmniVison in 2008 with the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing co-developed BSI process. In order to get more orders from customers, TSMC has not only put this process into a standard foundry business, and also transfer this technology to VIS.

Currently, OmniVision has been used 0.11-micron TSMC process to volume produce 2M, 5M, 8M sensors, most pixel pitch are 1.4um or 1.75um. In addition, TSMC is developing 1.1um-pixel BSI process. They will be mass-produced at TSMC's 12-inch fab.

In order to catch up with OmniVision, the source from market said Aptina and Adavasense have signed a 2 years contract to jointly develop 1.1um pixel pitch, 8M pixels CIS. In stage 1 they will use 90 nm process. In stage 2, 65nm and 45nm process will be used. In stage 2, it is possible to use Micron's 12'' fab to do some experiments.

It is said this time Aptina chose Adavasense as their partner, the main reason is most other CIS companies scales pixel size to get lower price. However, Advansense not only use this process method but also use their talented chip architecture to achieve the same goal.

It is interesting to note Advasense is originally expected to mass produce their sensors at TSMC at 2009Q4. If they co-develop 1.1um pixel sensor with Aptina, will they produce their CIS at TSMC any longer? Or they will choose Aptina's fab? Let's see what will happen."

Another Digitimes article from July 21 on the same matter says that Advasense is in talks with several foundries, including Aptina, for future cooperation for the development of CMOS image sensor (CIS) technology. Advasense aims to reduce CIS size via not only the manufacturing process but also the design structure, and it is likely to develop 8-megapixel CIS products or above with a 1.1-micron pixel pitch on 90nm process initially, followed by 65nm and 45nm processes, according to Digitimes sources.

CMOSIS Raises 3M Euros

CMOS image sensor start-up CMOSIS has successfully concluded a round of private equity financing from several Belgian high-tech investment firms totalling 3M euros. Lead investor is ING Corporate Investments of Brussels, Belgium, acting as strategic financial partner. The new round of capitalization for CMOSIS is geared towards the ongoing development of innovative CMOS image sensor technologies and further business expansion.

The CMOSIS technology portfolio contains crucial IP related to various advanced aspects of image sensors - among them high pixel counts at a high fill factor, high-speed functionality, large bit-depth of column ADCs, high dynamic range, TDI (time-delay and integration) implementation in CMOS and novel rad-hard pixel concepts.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Fujifilm SuperCCD-EXR Technology

6Sight Blog: Announced almost 3 weeks ago, Fujifilm new F70EXR and S200EXR cameras employ new SuperCCD-EXR technology. The EXR is essentially a switchable sensor, changing its electronic behavior to suit the subject from three modes:
  • High Resolution deploys all the pixels to capture fine detail when lighting is full and even.
  • Wide Dynamic Range captures two exposures each with half the pixels, which are combined for detail in highlights that would otherwise be lost.
  • High Sensitivity and Low Noise combines two adjacent photodiodes to simulate a larger pixel that is “big enough to absorb light in the darkest of conditions,” and so capture low-light shots.
The new cameras also use two multi frame modes to improve image quality:
  • For a ‘wide aperture’ look, the Pro Focus mode combines two or three burst shots, and a “crisp shot of the subject is synthesized against a defocused background and foreground.” The feature “provides satisfying professional results at the touch of a button,” Fuji says.
  • Pro Low-light mode takes four high sensitivity images using Fuji’s “pixel fusion” system that are overlapped “to create one image with extremely low noise.”

Friday, August 07, 2009

Pixart to Enter Touch Screen Market

Pixart continues to explore niche but still big markets. Its next product appears to be the sensor for multitouch computer monitors. The company has licensed the technology and related know-how from Canadian SMART Technology two months ago. SMART idea is based on CMOS image sensor, rather than more conventional resistive and capacitive touch panels.

In July Pixart privately placed two million shares, with the major subscribers including Quanta Computer and KYE Systems, Chicony Electronics and Smart Technology. Quanta executives pointed out the company would introduce multipoint touch-panel PCs some time this quarter, making it dependent on PixArt`s CMOS image sensors. Industry executives expect PixArt to snatch up 65% of the market of image sensors for touch-panel PCs in 2011, at which time touch-panel PC is estimated to constitute 20% of the world PC market.

The rumor is that Pixart is planning a second private placement now, with Nintendo being the major subscriber since the two companies have been working on Wii machines for a while. PixArt executives have refused to comment on the reports.

It's interesting to see Nintendo is still committed to remote-based solution while Sony and Microsoft are preparing to gesture recognition in their future gaming consoles. To me gesture recognition might be a great idea for general purpose interface but it might be too slow for many fast-paced games. In that sense Nintendo Wiimote with Pixart sensors complemented by rapidly sampled gyros and accelerometers might be a faster solution than a pure optical gesture recognition limited by the sensor frame rate.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sony Releases BSI Sensors for DSC

DPReview: Sony announced that it has developed BSI sensor for DSC and two cameras based on the new sensor. The 1/2.4-inch 10.1MP sensor utilizes 1.75um pixels, same size as the previously announced BSI-based camcorders. As a matter of fact, there are three such camcorders announced, one of them being on sale for about half a year. The camcorders use 6.6MP BSI sensors with pixels arranged in 45-deg rotated fashion with green-dominated color filter, together called "Clear-Vid technology".

The new sensors are said to deliver "unprecedented advances in low-light performance with approximately twice the sensitivity of cameras with traditional image sensors".

To further extend low-light shooting performance, the new cameras incorporate the hand-held twilight and anti-motion blur multi-shot modes. Using the sensor’s high speed, these modes capture six separate images in less than a second and combine the shots into a single image to compensate camera shake blur and achieve low noise. The cameras are capable of shooting at 10fps speed in burst mode.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tessera Earnings Call

Seeking Alpha publishes Tessera Q2'2009 Earnings Call having some information on Dblur assets acquisition. It starts from the analyst's question:

Raj Seth – Cowen and Company

You mentioned a $9 million purchase of some IP during in the quarter. Could you comment on what it is you are buying...

Mike Anthofer - Tessera EVP and CFO

Yes. So Raj, the acquisitions we made in the quarter were primarily around patents, additional patents. We have the Dblur Asset acquisition in addition to acquiring some patents and we had the balance of an earn-out on a previous acquisition. So in total, on aggregate, that was approximately $9 million.

Then there was a talk on EDOF adoption by Nokia:

Kevin Vassily – Pacific Crest Securities

I think on your last earnings call you mentioned that Nokia was shipping one or two handsets that incorporated enhanced depth of field technology. Do you have an update on that number right now? Is that going up from what you guys can tell?

Hank Nothhaft - Tessera CEO

Yes, it has. It's our – keeping score at our end, we believe seven handsets at the moment including the two that I mentioned on the previous call.
We are trying to come up with a better name than extended depth of field because it has so many other capabilities besides just providing a focusing capability.

So for example, in manufacturing it increases the yield of the sensors in a manufacturing application. It's the basis of an ultrafast lens for low lighting situations, provides a lower F-stop and the like. Just as we decided to incorporate it as a feature or a capability and the wafer-level 3 megapixel program that we are – we announced or talked about in today's script. So it's a pretty exciting capability and it's being well received by the market. And in summary, yes, we do expect many additional handset models to be in the market using that technology by year-end.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Strategies Unlimited Predicts Start of the New Era

Strategies Unlimited predicts decline of image sensor market to $6.4 billion in 2009, a drop of 11% from 2008 and the first decline since the company began tracking the market in 1997. Growth is expected to return in 2010, but the average growth rate will be in the single-digits in coming years, following over a decade of 22% compound annual growth, as on the chart below:

Other predictions:

A new, more cyclic phase. The current global economic cycle is driving a temporary decline, but cycles will have a stronger effect going forward, now that the perfect convergence of forces leading to rapid growth in image sensor revenues for cameraphones is maturing. There will still be growth in unit sales in coming years for image sensors overall, but short-term fluctuations in demand, periods of oversupply and shortage, and severe price pressure will make it more challenging to stay competitive than before.

Turmoil in Japan. Japan used to dominate world image sensor production, and still manufactures over 90% of the world’s CCDs. CCDs continue to dominate in digital still cameras and security cameras. Even so, Fujifilm stopped production of image sensors for its line of cameras in 2007. Sony is thinking of stopping its production of CMOS arrays for cameraphones, and Panasonic has already done so.

Koreans make huge strides. Meanwhile, Korean and Taiwanese suppliers are gaining market share, especially for cameraphones. Samsung grew 61% from 2006 to 2008, placing it among the top suppliers. Strategies Unlimited is also seeing increased competition from other Korean and Taiwanese companies, such as SETi, SiliconFile Technologies, and PixArt Imaging. Hynix reentered the image sensor business in the second half of 2008. These companies are focusing on the China handset market.

Tower and Medigus Make Tiny 0.7mm-sized Sensor

Yahoo: Medigus, a developer of endoscopic and visualization medical devices, and Tower announced successful sampling of a new CMOS imager that will serve in Medigus' line of disposable miniature cameras and its new medical devices camera. The imager is said to be the smallest of its kind in the world, measuring only 700 x 700 microns. No word on sensor resolution is said, but assuming that Tower's smallest pixel size is 2.2um, the resolution should be less than CIF.

The imager was developed using Tower's advanced sensor design and production technologies, while the camera was developed using Medigus' electronic, optic and integration platform technologies. The miniature camera's outer diameter size, which includes a special housing, is only 1.2 mm x 5 mm long. In addition, it is completely disposable, eliminating the costly sterilization process commonly associated with endoscopic procedures.

First product samples have been shipped to end customers and mass production of the camera is expected to commence in mid-2010. The sensor will be manufactured in Tower's Fab2 using its 0.18um CIS process.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Teradyne Reports Low Demand for Image Sensor Testers

Seeking Alpha published Teradyne Earnings call transcript where the company still declares overcapacity and low demand in image sensors. Talking about the third quarter forecast, Teradyne projects "a little resuscitation in sectors like image sensors".

sCMOS Group Emphasizes High DR, Again

PRWeb, Yahoo: sCMOS group released quite a technical PR explaining what is DR and how it's increased:

"The dynamic range of an image sensor is defined as the ratio of the maximum to minimum signal that can be measured. In practice, this is determined by the ratio of pixel full well capacity to the readout noise. Therefore, large pixel full well and small readout noise are both necessary for optimal dynamic range. In order to utilize the full well of a CMOS pixel, the amplifier gain must be kept low. For example, given a 1.5V swing on the output of the amplifier, a 30,000 electron signal will require a gain of 1.5V/30,000e- = 50uV/e-. This will allow measurement of the full well signal but will not allow for the lowest possible read noise. In order to get a very low readout noise and the resulting superior sensitivity, a value of 1500uV/e- would be ideal but this would mean that the largest signal would be limited to 1000e- maximum which is only 1/30th of the total well size. This leaves a quandary of whether to choose maximal sensitivity or high dynamic range imaging.

PCO, Andor and Fairchild together have taken a novel design approach in sCMOS technology by implementing both approaches simultaneously. sCMOS technology has a high-gain amplifier to get the lowest possible noise on one output and a low-gain amplifier to get the largest possible signal on another output. These two amplifiers are simultaneously read out and converted into digital values allowing both signals to be combined for a higher dynamic range image.