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New image sensor from Cypress aims for digital camera quality

Posted: 08 Jul 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:cypress semiconductor? image sensor? cmos image sensor? sensor? three-transistor pixel technology?

Cypress Semiconductor Corp. has developed its first image sensor targeting mobile devices with the introduction of its low-cost 3.0-megapixel CMOS image sensor with a 1/3-inch optical format, analog binning and a 12bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC). Upshot: The new sensor delivers almost digital still camera quality on a 1/3-inch optical format for camera phones.

Although the company says it fair to state that its closing the gap in image quality, there are a lot of other factors to consider independent of the sensors, in particular, the lens.

The new device leverages Cypress' three-transistor (3T) pixel technology to significantly improve low light sensitivity without increasing pixel transistor count or sacrificing image quality. It also incorporates patented Autobrite technology, which provides excellent dynamic range so both bright and dark areas within the same image appear clearly.

The new CYIWOSC3000A camera phone imager is a 1/3-inch optical format sensor with an active pixel array format of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels. The Autobrite adaptive wide dynamic range allows the sensor to operate up to 72dB, enabling it to capture all details within a scene. The device is capable of 30fps at full resolution, and 83fps at 640 x 480. It also offers an electronic rolling shutter and an onboard, 12bit ADC.

Three key features of the new 3.0-Megapixel (MP) sensor are the 1/3-inch optical format for faster time to market, on-chip analog binning for improved quality, and the 12bit ADC for better image quality, said Donato Montanari, director of product engineering for Cypress Semiconductor's Image Sensor Business Unit.

The company said the new sensor delivers high-resolution images using the 1/3-inch optical format that is popular for lower resolution devices, allowing manufacturers to upgrade their product offerings without the cost of incorporating new optical lenses.

The 1/3-inch optical format is the same format that is used for 2.0MP and 1.3MP form factors, which means that customers are familiar with it and have the tooling and expertise to handle the technology, Montanari said. This makes upgrades to 3.0-megapixel very easy for designers, and translates into a quick time to market for the customer since they don't have to redesign or relearn everything they learned with the 1.3MP or 2.0MP format, he added.

Montanari believes that the device's on-chip analog binning will become a big differentiator for the company, particularly as video clip usage becomes widespread in the cell phone market. "By definition video offers a much smaller resolution, but with analog binning we merge the pixels [in the horizontal and vertical dimensions] together so they become much bigger and the image quality improves," he said.

What analog binning does is to increase the low-light signal-to-noise ratio by combining the pixels together.

Another key feature of the new CMOS image sensor for camera cell phones is the 12bit ADC, which improves image quality. "The big differences between a point-and-shoot digital still camera versus a cell phone camera are the lens, imager and processing. There is also a big difference in the analog digital converter. With a digital still camera you typically use a 12bit ADC but with cell phones you're limited to a 10bit device, which is one of the reasons why the image quality of a digital still camera is better than cell phones," Montanari said.

"We are one of the first to offer a 12bit ADC cell phone product, and the implication is that we're trying to shoot for an image quality that is very close to what digital still cameras can do today," he added.

The sensor also offers on-chip programmable controls including frame size, frame rate, gain, exposure, electronic panning, binning of rows and columns, linear and non-linear image, black offset correction, flip and mirroring.

The company also offers a cell phone demo kit that is designed to shorten time to market for the customer. "It's the same basic system that a customer would use in a cell phone. The customer only has to connect the camera to the laptop via USB or Firewire and start debugging the sensor," Montanari said.

Samples will be available in fourth quarter 2005, followed by production volume in first quarter 2006. Pricing for the 3.0MP image sensor will be less than $10 in high volume.

Cypress will follow-up this introduction with a 1.3MP imager and then populate the family up to 5MP and down to VGA over the next two to three quarters.

- Gina Roos


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