CMOS and CCD Image Sensors Get a Performance Boost

By Ashok Bindra

Contributed By Hearst Electronic Products


As consumers’ appetite for higher-performance digital cameras, smartphones, and other mobile gadgets keeps growing, the suppliers continue to push the performance of CMOS and CCD imaging sensors to new heights. In fact, today technological advances are blurring the line between digital cameras and smartphones, while computer monitors are playing the role of televisions.

One such manufacturer pushing forward this convergence is OmniVision Technologies, Inc. with the release of its 10-Mpixel CMOS image sensor OV10810.

Built on the company’s optimized 1.4-micron OmniBSI pixel architecture, the 1/2.5-inch OV10810 offers complete convergence between high-resolution still photography and full high-definition (HD) video. To achieve that, it combines 10-Mpixel burst photography at 30 frames per second (fps) with full 1080p HD video in a native 16:9 aspect ratio. This makes the OV10810 suitable for digital still and video camera (DSC/DVC) hybrids and high-end smart phones. In fact, according to the supplier, the OV10810 is a true native HD DSC/DVC convergence.

“Allowing users to take pictures even while they are recording video is a key feature that bridges the gap between DSC and DVC, giving users the ultimate camera experience,” said Devang Patel, senior product marketing manager at OmniVision. “Additionally, the sensor’s 16:9 aspect ratio reflects the increasing popularity of HDTV by capturing photos and video that aligns with the widescreen displays used in most of today’s TVs, notebooks, and smart phones, further enhancing the user experience.”

Optimized to meet the performance specifications of next generation DSC/DVC applications, the OV10810 is outfitted with improved pixel and system architectures. The enhanced 1.4-µm OmniBSI pixel features significantly improved low-light sensitivity and full well capacity, as well as higher dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio, making it the highest-performing pixel in its class.

As a RAW sensor, the OV10810’s integrated programmable scaler enables either 1080p or 720 p HD video capture at 30 fps while maintaining full field of view (FOV). At 2.6-Mpixel resolution, the sensor operates at 60 fps with pixel binning, maintaining full FOV while offering significantly improved low-light sensitivity. Likewise, at 5.3-Mpixel resolution with cropping, the OV10810 runs at 60 fps.

According to OmniVision, high frame rates enable a number of key benefits, which include slow motion photography, no image lag for shutter-less designs, continuous shooting, minimized rolling shutter effect, and real-time still image and video capture without changing resolutions.

To further improve low-light sensitivity, OV10810 features a 2 x 2 binning functionality. In addition, to deliver clean, crisp color images, it offers a post-binning re-sampling filter that minimizes spatial artifacts and removes image artifacts around edges. It supports up to 8-lane low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) or mobile industry processor interface (MIPI) for high data transfer rates, and is compatible with a wide range of custom and merchant image sensor processors (ISPs). The OV10810 comes in a CSP3 or RW package and is currently available for sampling.

Boosting Production

To almost double the production of its CMOS image sensors, Japan’s Sony Corp. will invest 100 billion yen or US $1.2 billion in a newly acquired fab. With this production capacity boost, the company plans to meet the brisk demand for image sensors in the exploding markets of digital cameras, smartphones, and other such consumer devices. In doing so, it plans to strengthen its position as a leading global supplier of CCD and CMOS image sensors.

In fact, to increase the capacity, Sony has bought back a semiconductor production line that it sold to Toshiba Corporation in 2008. As per industry estimates, Sony has paid 50 billion yen or US $600 million to repossess this fab. In addition, it plans to convert part of the plant in Nagasaki, southern Japan, for the production of CMOS sensors. As part of this expansion strategy, Sony will install new wafer processing equipment for CMOS image sensors.

These investments will bring its total production capacity for image sensors, including CCD and CMOS, to 50,000 units a month by March 2012. According to Sony, the investments will further expand Sony's production capacity for Exmor and Exmor R CMOS image sensors that are being used in gadgets like smartphones and digital still cameras. In essence, the capacity is expected to increase from the present level of about 25,000 wafers per month to approximately 50,000 wafers per month by the March 2012.

Meanwhile, to further streamline its digital imaging and MEMS technologies, instrumentation and engineering focused Teledyne LeCroy has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Waterloo, Canada based Dalsa Corp. for approximately Canadian $341 (or U.S. $339) million. This deal is expected to close in February.

While the two are key players in digital imaging, their product lines and customer bases are complementary. For example, Dalsa produces most advanced visible-light CMOS and CCD imaging sensors and cameras for commercial applications, while Teledyne manufactures extreme resolution infrared (IR) sensors and subsystems primarily for government applications. According to Teledyne, the combined strengths of Teledyne and Dalsa will allow the company to develop new IR and visible-light products that serves the respective markets and customers of the two companies.

Furthermore, Teledyne said that Dalsa’s custom MEMS capabilities will be augmented by having access to Teledyne’s extensive MEMS research activities and advanced process technologies.

In reality, said Patrick Myles, Dalsa’s vice president of business development and communications, “It will enable convergence of visible and non-visible imaging technologies, resulting in many new products to serve existing and new areas.” As a result, he added, “Dalsa’s competitive position will improve.”

“Being part of the Teledyne team will provide many opportunities for accelerated growth for DALSA,” said Brian Doody, Chief Executive Officer of DALSA. He added, “As envisioned in the agreement with Teledyne, our principal operations will continue to function in their existing locations. Moreover, Teledyne expects to continue to invest in our technology and business.”

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