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Tiny digicam goes big in integration

Posted: 06 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:digicam teardown? processor? image sensor?

Vivitar's Mini Digital Camera can store up to 243 photos thanks to its 16Mbyte memory.

For a gift to find its way into the stocking, the rules at our house state that the item must: 1) Fit inside the stocking; 2) Not break should the thin, fabric mounting loop fail; and 3) Be priced at or below $10. But finding and electronic gift that a family member would find useful and meets the house rules is no trivial task.

Luckily, Bill Schweber of Planet Analog sent along a device in early December which fit the bill: Vivitar's Mini Digital Camera at a price of $9.99.

The cardboard insert placed inside the clear packaging states that the camera is one of the most compact 3-in-1 (still, video and Web camera) digital cameras, with the ability to store up to 243 photos thanks to its 16Mbyte memory. Included with the keychain camera is a CD-ROM containing camera drivers and ArcSoft's PhotoImpression imaging software, one AAA battery, a USB cable, and a bonus vinyl carrying case with belt loop.

SDRAM drawback
Specifications found within the operation manual reinforce the exterior marketing message of 243 photos stored on 16Mbyte SDRAM, but only by compressing pictures taken on the 176 x 144 low resolution setting.

At the maximum resolution of 352 x 288 (CIF), the camera can store about 20 uncompressed images. Additional specifications in the operation manual indicate: an image sensor optical size of 1/4 inch, utilizing CMOS technology; a frame rate of 12fps and 10hrs of battery life. The camera measures 59mm x 42mm x 15mm. A safety notice at the end of the manual notifying the user to download the pictures before taking the batteries out highlights the drawback of using volatile SDRAM memory to store the images.

Board 1

Once inside the plastic, snap-fit enclosure, the 25mm x 51mm PCB with S4P-HE513 markings indicate the camera is a relative of the Precision HE513 Mini Digital Camera which first appeared in 2003 at a price of $40, indicating a price decline of 24 percent annually since the original launch.

After removing the plastic lens housing, closer examination of the WLCSP PixArt PFS052 image sensor reveals an optical size of 1/6 inch versus the 1/4 inch stated in the operation manual. With a die area of just under 10mm? and 20 I/O pins, the image sensor is one of the smallest and simplest CIF image sensors analyzed by Portelligent.

Image processing is handled by a PixArt image processor with die markings, PEP004-PA001. The WLCSP image processor with a glob-top encapsulant provides an inexpensive method to manufacture and protect the die. Working memory for the image processor and storage for the images is provided by a memory package with markings, CW3664164T-7.

A thorough search on the part number turned up a Chinese customs document indicating the manufacturer is Conwose. The manufacturer identification was reinforced by the CW logo on the package. However, decapping the memory package revealed the die as a Mitsubishi manufactured 64Mbyte SDRAM with die markings, M2V64S20D.

Board 2

Integration, price erosion
With only three ICs consuming less than 57mm? of silicon mounted on a PCB with a board area less than 13cm?, the Mini Digital Camera highlights the integration and reduction in silicon and board area which has enabled Vivitar to bring a toy camera to market at a price point below $10.

When compared to a teardown of a toy camera in 1999, the KB JamCam required sixteen ICs with a die area of 198mm? mounted on a PCB over 49cm?. At a price point of $99, the JamCam would have been relegated to a spot under the tree instead of hanging above the fireplace.

If semiconductor integration and digital camera price erosion continues at the same unabated pace over the next nine years as it has over the previous nine, expect today's $99, 7.2Mpixel digital camera with autofocus, face detection, QVGA movie mode, 22Mbyte memory and flash to end up as tomorrow's $10 blister-packaged stocking stuffer.

Sure those nagging details like CCD versus CMOS and more substantive glass lenses with moving parts may hinder progress a bit, but the concept remains: Yesterday's under-the-tree gadget can often become tomorrow's stocking stuffer.

- Jeff Brown
Principle Analyst, Portelligent

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