Friday, December 30, 2005

Analyst is skeptical about Cypress image sensor business

American Technology Research analyst Doug Friedman gave a thumbs-up to Cypress for its solar power unit Sun Power, but was skeptical about the company’s image sensor business, even though camera phone market continues to thrive (EETimes).

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Magnachip focus and goals for 2006

MagnaChip aims to grab 40% share of the CMOS image sensor market and 10% of small to medium size panel LCD driver IC market in 2006. The company stated that its 2.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor has start shipping to US-based first-tier handset vendors. The company also stated that it is in talks with Taiwan and China customers (DigiTimes)
In a related note MagnaChip sells its 8-bit and 32-bit microcontroller, SmartCard controller, microperipheral IC and linear IC product lines to GreenChips. Youm Huh, president and CEO of MagnaChip, said: "After this deal, we plan to focus further on our three core businesses -- display solutions, imaging solutions and our semiconductor manufacturing services,” (EETimes).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tessera completes aquisition of Shellcase assets

Tessera completes $33M acquisition of certain assets of Shellcase Ltd. Tessera has hired a majority of Shellcase's employees and created a Wafer-Level Packaging Center of Excellence working on CSP image sensor packages (link).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

PixelPlus files IPO of $36M

Another image sensor company becomes public (link). Now we get indications about image sensor market from PixelPlus quarterly reports under sticker PXPL. Half of the company would be publicly traded which puts the company valuation at $72M.

Pixelplus released a list of their customers here:

BYD Co., Ltd.,
China TechFaith Wireless Communication Technology Ltd., or China TechFaith,
DART Express Incorporated,
DK Semicon,
Ningbo Bird Co., Ltd.,
Pantech Co., Ltd.,
ROHM Co., Ltd.,
Seiko Precision Inc.,
Sharp Corporation

Quite an impressive list. Sharp is by far the major PXPL's customer:
"In 2004, we shipped approximately 10.8 million CMOS image sensors worldwide, of which 7.7 million CMOS image sensors were sold through DongbuAnam Semiconductor Inc., or DongbuAnam, to Sharp under our services arrangements with DongbuAnam, and during the first nine months of 2005, we shipped approximately 14.8 million CMOS image sensors and camera modules worldwide, of which 5.6 million CMOS image sensors were sold through DongbuAnam to Sharp."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Jed Hurwitz left ST to found Gigle Semiconductor

Jed Hurwitz used to be the leading ST Imaging system and sensor architect. He's one of creators of ST-Nokia SMIA standard. About half a year ago he left ST and founded Gigle Semiconductor, a startup and a consultancy in photo-sensing, imaging and semiconductors. Recently he was also involved in microdisplay works.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Interview with Micron's VP of Imaging

Interview with Bob Gove, Micron's VP of Imaging is published here.
A few quotes:
"That's one reason why Micron has concentrated on delivering very high quality image sensors that can readily operate in the great variety of situations where the amateur's going to want to capture an image without having to think about it. This is particularly acute in low-light environments, and we do have a saying that if your cameraphone still works under a table, then it's a Micron image sensor! We put a lot of effort into ensuring that things like colour sensitivity and accuracy get taken for granted by the end user, without them having to negotiate complex image processing software to get a decent, fit-for-purpose picture or video."

"From almost a standing start three years ago, 20 per cent of our revenues now come from imaging and supporting specialist memory – a proportion certain to increase in coming years as users move from transmitting just their voices and thoughts to include images of the world around them."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Magnachip announced 3.2MP sensor for camera-phones

Magnachip came with it later than its main competitors (link). Also, its pixel size of 2.57um is much bigger than 2.2-2.25um of Omnivision, Samsung and Micron. Too late, too big - not a good sign for Magnachip.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Avago 1.3MP Sensor Customers

The latest ADCC-3000 1.3MP sensor is designed in Corvallis, OR design center (link). It's used in cellular phones by Motorola, Siemens and Sony-Ericsson.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cypress sensors are outsourced to Grace

In an interesting twist of its strategy Cypress outsources image sensors manufacturing to Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (Shanghai, China). (Business Wire, more information about Grace is in EETimes). It is not clear if all image sensor products are outsourced, or only legacy ones from Fillfactory and Smalcamera.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Cheap Image Sensor Testing Solutions

There are not that many cheap image sensor testing sets are commercially available.
Here are some:

Image Sensor Lab by WireWorks West - Quite a good PC add-on, but lacks few important tests, such as photon transfer curve, readout noise, color cross-talk, color noise.

Pulse Instruments offers a set of instruments, but it looks like more effort is needed to make it work, write all the standard test sets, etc.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

mSilicon provides ISP ASIC Design Services

Korean IP design house mSilicon supplies ISP design to Mtekvision (EETimes, BusinessWire).

Image Sensors on IEDM 2005

IEEE IEDM is taking place these days in Washington, DC.
Quite a few interesting image sensors papers are presented on Session 33:

"33.1 A High-Performance and Low-Noise CMOS Image Sensor with an Expanding Photodiode Under the Isolation Oxide, K. Itonaga, H. Abe, I. Yoshihara, T. Hirayama, Sony Corporation, Kanagawa, Japan

We realized 2.5-um pitch pixel with high Qs and sensitivity without shard-transistor pixel for the first time. We propose a novel isolation structure for CIS, which realizes the low dark current as well as triple Qs value of the conventional STI, by expanding the buried photodiode under the isolation oxide."

Probably Qs should be QE - Quantum Efficiency.

"33.2 The Features and Characteristics of 1/3 5M CMOS Image Sensor with 1.9x1.9_m2 Pixels, C.-R. Moon, J. Jung, D. Kwon, S.-H. Lee, J.-S. Roh, K.-H. Paik, D.-C. Park, H. Kim, H. Jeong, J.-H. Sim, H. Noh, K. Lee, D. Lee, K. Kim, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Gyeonggi-Do, Korea

CMOS image sensor (CIS) with 1.9um-pitch pixels using a tailed 130nm logic process has been implemented, and its design and some key process features are introduced. It is shown that several sophisticated processes improve the sensitivity and noise-related characteristics such as random temporal noise and dark current. With this technology, full 5-mega density CIS chips were successfully fabricated."

First 1.7um pixel announcement from Micron in May, now 1.9um pixels from Samsung - the race to zero size pixel is at full speed. What about the image quality then?

"33.3 The Hole Role (Invited), A. Theuwissen, J. Bosiers, E. Roks, DALSA, Eindhoven, Netherlands

The presence of holes in today's imaging products can not be overestimated ! The success of CCDs and CMOS imagers was really boosted once the positive effect of holes was discovered. The most important example of a device that uses holes to improve the quality of the images obtained, is pinned-photo diode. The paper will review various imaging structures that rely on the presence of holes."

This one looks like yet another great lecture from ex-Philips team.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Omnivision 0.18um chips will come from PCS?

"Sources indicate that TSMC plans to give orders for OmniVision 0.18-micron made CMOS image sensor orders to PSC's foundry service (8-inch fab)." (from EMSNow)
Does this mean that TSMC is having capacity problems in 0.18um image sensor process? Or TSMC is under price pressure to do this?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Avago spun-off from Agilent

EETimes: "Agilent Technologies Inc.’s former semiconductor products group became a standalone company Thursday (Dec. 1), under the name Avago Technologies Inc."

Thus Agilent does not produce image sensors anymore. Avago takes on from now on.
The image sensor companies list at the beginning of this blog was updated to reflect this change.

Metal as Microlens in Agilent Sensors

An interesting idea is exploited by Agilent guys in their camera-phone sensor (EETAsia).

"According to Agilent product line manager Sanjeev Chandrashekher, the story began in a series of research experiments. Agilent researchers had observed that in 1Mpixel sensors small enough to be embedded in a handset camera module, the individual pixels were so small that the optical aperture above each pixel was approaching an untenable threshold. Designers throw up their hands when the aperture gets below about 25m.
The research team created a series of pixel architectures based on a trapezoidal well shape in which they moved the metal lines around to measure the effect of the interconnect metal lines obscuring the edges of the aperture. To their surprise, they found that when the metal lines covered up a certain portion of the edges of the well, the charge generation in the well increased. Further work determined that the metal lines manipulated the electric field in the optical path, i.e. they behaved as a tertiary lens, gathering in light that would have fallen outside the well and focusing it toward the phototransistor. The researchers learned that the effect could be optimized to improve the sensitivity of the CMOS sensor pixel.
That unexpected result was combined with engineering projects that were exploring new geometries for the dopant well and the array layout. Those resulted in lower dark current, lower temporal noise and the ability to flush the charge more quickly from the well, thus reducing the image lag effects that harm image quality during high-repetition-rate image capture, such as in video applications."

I eager to see how this new Agilent sensor performs in the real world.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


The new 1MP E2V CCD promises less than 1e noise (link).
It has 13um pixels and intended for scientific and industrial applications.
Its electron multiplication technology works very well in low light, much worse in good light and requires cooling for low noise. All good things have some restrictions, unfortunately.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Image Sensors at ISSCC 2006

ISSCC just published its 2006 program. Session 27 has quite a good collection of image sensor papers.

The most interesting one is Samsung half-inch 7.2MP sensor. The pixel size 2.25um with 57% fill factor (geometrical? effective?) due to 4-pixel shared architecture. The full well is 14Ke while noise level is 8e - a very nice result for such a small pixel. They use 0.13um Cu process.

Sony presents 6.4MP sensor with their masterpiece 2.5um zig-zag pixels. The fill factor is 38% - quite good assuming they use 0.18um 1P3M process. Readout noise is 7e.

Another Sony presentation is 2MP sensor with ~4um pixel. It looks like the bigger pixel buys them much lower readout noise - just 5.2e. Another achievement is 0.5e FPN - by far the best in the industry.

Another interesting paper came from Cypress - probably by ex-SmalCamera guys. They use a feedback noise reduction idea to bring the 3T pixel readout noise down to 13e. This looks similar to what Altasens is doing. However, Altasens noise is lower - just 8e. But both numbers are quite good to an old-fashion 3T pixel.

As a side note, the session chair Boyd Fowler is CTO and VP of Technology of Fairchild Imaging. He used to be with Agilent for some time. It's interesting to see him re-united with Pixel Devices assets that Fairchild Imaging aquired almost two years ago.

Alex Crymski founded Alexima

Alex Crymski, the leading Photobit-Micron sensors designer, left Micron to found Alexima a "CMOS sensor company with the focus on high speed Megapixel CMOS sensor products".
The new company "performs custom CMOS sensor design for niche applications and the design of its own high speed Megapixel products".
The list of image sensor companies at the beginning of this blog was updated accordingly.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Johnson Electric Invented NanoLens

Johnson Electric offers an improved AF lens for camera-phones (link). It's supposed to be faster, more accurate and noise-free.

"NanoLens™ was created by a team of experts at Johnson Electric’s Value Innovation Center in Shenzhen, China. Development team members included micro component tool designers from Johnson Electric’s Nihon Mini Motor Inc, in Japan, leading piezo motion systems designers from Johnson Electric’s Nanomotion Ltd., in Israel and production experts from Johnson Electric in China.

The team members all converged in the Value Innovation Center where components were prototyped overnight for engineering testing. Prototype systems were fabricated in Shenzhen, and sent to Israel for engineering qualification tests, while molds and tools were crafted in Japan and dispatched to China for production use. The end product leapfrogs competition from Japan, USA and Europe."

NanoLens is demonstated in Transchip booth at 3G World Congress, suggesting that Transchip is the first customer (NanoLens flyer).

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Siimpel and Eric Fossum

Eric Fossum of JPL and Photobit fame has joined Siimpel as CEO.
Siimpel used to be an optical communication company, formerly known as SiWave. It looks like it is reinventing itself to become a mobile imaging player.
I eager to see how it applies its MEMS knowledge to address what it calls "the increased performance and functionality expectations of imaging systems in phone handsets, laptops, PDA’s and micro-cameras".

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Electronic Still Image Stabilization in a Camera-Phone

NTT DoCoMo launches a 2MP camera phone that corrects camera shake blur (source: Tech-On). What's unique in it is that it does this with no moving parts at all. The camera shoots 4 frames in a fast succession, then detects the movement shift between them, shifts them back and adds. The end result is supposed to be shake-free. This new FOMA N902i phone is manufactured by NEC.
So far the electronic still image stabilizer has been used only by Sony in $5000 Qualia. It is also 2MP camera and also four frames are added.
While Sony and NEC might have developed it in-house, the stabilizer implementation looks very similar to one by Morpho, Inc.
Let's see if digital camera and camera-phone makers can move it into the mainstream.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Image Sensor Companies List

To start with, here is the list of image sensor companies, as of November, 2005. These are only silicon-based vendors, no exotic materials here.

Ball Aerospace and Technologies
Brookman Technology
Candela Microsystems
CMOS Sensor
CMOS Vision
Emerging Memory & Logic Solution, Inc. (EMLSI)
EM Microelectronic - Marin SA
Fairchild Imaging
Forza Silicon
Harvest Imaging
Himax Imaging
IMS Vision (JV of Omron and IMS)
Intevac Imaging
Intrigue Technologies
Kedah Wafer Emas - KWE (UniqueICs subsidiary)
Lumiense Photonics
Mesa Imaging
New Imaging Technologies
Newport Media
NoblePeak Vision
Optrima, Optrima-Softkinetic JV
Panavision SVI
Rad-icon Imaging
Rui-Xin, Brigates
Semiconductor Technology Associates
Sensata Technologies
SensL Technologies
Signal Sciences
Silicon Optronics (JV of Omnivision and Powerchip)
ST Microelectronics
Tangent Technologies
Teledyne Imaging Sensors
Vision Integration Technology - ViTi

In total: 93 companies

Change log:

Updated on Nov 28, 2005: Alexima and Awaiba are added.
Updated on Dec 1, 2005: added Silicon Optronics (Taiwan), Galaxycore (China), Beijing Superpix Micro Technology. Agilent changed to Avago.
Updated on Dec 8, 2005, SensL Technologies (Cork, Irland) added.
Updated on Dec 31, 2005, Fujifilm added.
Update Jan. 30, 2006: SuperPix (China) added.
Update Feb. 20, 2006: Forza Silicon added (CIS design services).
Update Apr. 1, 2006: ADVIS (Rochester, NY) added.
Update May 14, 2006: Shimadzu (Japan) added.
Update May 18, 2006: Anafocus (Spain) added.
Update June 6, 2006: Candela Microsystems (Singapore) added.
Update July 9, 2006: Rohm added.
Update Aug 7, 2006: Atmel sold its image sensor business to e2v, thus removed.
Update Nov 7, 2006: Truesight seems to be defunct for some time, thus deleted. TrueImaging added.
Update Jan 9, 2007: Bejung Superpix Micro Tech removed as Superpix duplicate. Banpil added.
Update Jan 10, 2007: Emerging Memory & Logic Solution, Inc. (EMLSI) added.
Update Mar. 1, 2007: Sensata Technologies added.
Update Apr. 12, 2007: CSEM and 3DV Systems added
Update July 14, 2007: CMOX has been shut down, deleted from the list
Update July 20, 2007: ADVIS apparently changed its name to Signal Sciences
Update July 27, 2007: Biomorphic ceased operation, deleted from the list
Update Aug. 25, 2007: California-based CCD maker Semiconductor Technology Associates and Bart Dierickx's startup Caeleste added
Update Aug. 27, 2007: Taiwan-based e-Phocus and Hi-Max Imaging added
Update Sept. 13, 2007: SiGe sensor maker NoblePeak Vision from Boston area added
Update Oct. 16, 2007: C.I. Sensor is defunct now. Its web site is dead. The rumor is that some time ago it has changed its name to SITI, or something like that, and was acquired by Dongbu soon after that.
Update Oct. 17,2007: Taiwan-based Vision Integration Technology (ViTi), a manufacturer of security and surveillance sensors, was added
Transchip was acquired by Samsung, thus deleted from the list
Update July 17, 2008: CMOSIS added
Rosnes added - a mysterous Japanese startup promising CCD-quality CMOS sensors. NTT Finance invested in it.
Newport Imaging added, even though it's struggling for survival now. Founded by Ian Olsen of YMedia fame.
Update Sep 14, 2008: Rockwell Scientific was acquired by Teledyne in Sep. 2006. In Feb. 2008 Teledyne acquired Teledyne acquired IR sensor vendor Judson Technology. They were merged into Teledyne Imaging Sensors.
Update Sep 17, 2008: Designer of custom CMOS sensors Lumiense Photonics added.
Intevac Imaging, a night vision CMOS sensors and systems manufacturer, added.
Update Oct. 31, 2008: Magnachip closed its CIS business, is deleted from the list.
SiOnyx, the Black Silicon startup is added.
BYD is added.
Trueimaging seems to be defunct, deleted.
Update Nov. 7, 2008: ZMD is out of image sensor business, deleted.
Update Nov. 8, 2008: Mesa Imaging added.
Update Dec 24, 2008: ESS removed, a long overdue
Clairpixel, Korea, the spin-off of Mtekvision, added
Update Dec 27, 2008: Foveon switched to Sigma as a result of the acquisition
Update Feb. 22, 2009: Rui-Xin-Brigates added.
Update Oct. 1, 2009: Micron is changed to Aptina
Update Oct. 6, 2009: New Imaging Technologies - a French startup comapany added.
Update Nov. 3, 2009: 3DV Ssytems removed, as it was acquired by Microsoft in mid-2009
Brookman Technology added - a Japan-based custom sensor design company
Update Nov 17, 2009: Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. (Boulder, CO) added.
Update Nov 18, 2009: Brainvision added - a Japan-based company developing TOF imager for Stanley Electric. Operates since 1998, 8 employees.
Update Dec 6, 2009: Optrima added - a Belgian 3D ToF startup, founded in April 2009, based on Vrejie University of Brussels technology. Formed JV with Softkinetic - another Belgium-based startup developing software for gesture recognition.
Update Dec 30, 2009: ImagerLabs added - an LA-area, California-based low noise CCD supplier. Founded in 2001.
ENG added - Fukuoka, Japan based HDR sensor vendor and custom design house.
Update June 23, 2010: Harvest Imaging and Tangent Technologies added.
Update June 27, 2010: AMI-Peripheral Imaging seems to exit image sensor business. At least their new mother company ON Semi does not have image sensors in its current product list.

Welcome to Image Sensors World!

Image sensor is the most critical element of any digital camera.
However, there is no single web site devoted to consumer grade image sensor technology, news and market trends. Image Sensor World blog is supposed to fill this deficiency.
Here you can find news and comments about image sensors and related things.