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CMOS sensors expand lead against CCDs

Posted: 15 Feb 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:CMOS sensor? CCD? shipment? backside illumination?

According to IHS Inc., the complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensor market is leading the area image sensor market, accounting for 92 percent of market share. This translates into about 2.1 billion units, up 31 percent from 1.6 billion in 2010. Driven by its use in mobile handsets and emerging product segments, CMOS sensors have continually widened its lead against CCD sensors.

The remaining eight percent of the market belongs to CCD sensors, in which shipments last year fell to 180.3 million units, down two percent from 184.5 million in 2010. In the same year, the CMOS share of the sensor market was 90 percent vs. 10 percent for CCD.

The pattern of CMOS dominance will continue through the years in the face of CCD's irreversible decline, stated IHS. By 2015, CMOS shipments will amount to 3.6 billion units or 97 percent market share, compared to CCD shipments of just 95.2 million, or three percent.

CMOS vs. CCD shipment

Worldwide sensor market share forecast (Percentage of all unit shipments)

"CMOS sensors long have been associated with cheaper manufacturing costs, greater efficiency and faster data-throughput speeds," noted Pamela Tufegdzic, analyst for consumer electronics at IHS. "For those reasons, CMOS sensor use has kept expanding in an ever-growing number of devices and applications, while the use of higher-cost CCDs has shrunk steadily."

CMOS shipments gain from mobile devices
Mobile handsets remain the dominant application for CMOS sensors, representing 79 percent of total CMOS shipments last year. Videoconferencing is the second-biggest application market in terms of CMOS shipments, due to the inclusion of cameras in notebook computers. CMOS sensors also found increasing use in two growing marketsthe security space through network video surveillance systems and in automotive systems through the use of back-up cameras and in such applications as lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection and infrared night vision.

In comparison, CCDs are finding acceptance in the industrial markets and in digital still cameras. But even here, CCD use is declining. Among high-end DSLR cameras, for instance, CCD use will shrink from 12 percent last year to just one percent by 2014, IHS predicted. And because the camera space is weakening as a whole while consumers gravitate toward smartphones, overall CCD consumption will decline further, the market research firm continued.

BSI technology boosts CMOS market
The introduction of backside illumination (BSI) technology was the break in camera technology that gave CMOS the edge over CCD. Found in high-end compact cameras as well as the iPhone 4S from Apple Inc. and various Android phones, BSI helps to eliminate noise issues found in earlier frontside illumination (FSI) CMOS sensors, and also enables better picture quality in low-light conditions.

BSI technology is finding demand in higher-end products in which paying a premium for the image sensor is less of a concern. And even though BSI costs about 20 percent more than FSI last year, the superior BSI sensor will continue to make inroads into phones. Projected to be in 56 percent of smartphones and higher-end feature handset camera phones this year, BSI sensors will be present in 92 percent of the same class of handsets by 2015 as prices come down.

Among companies competing in the space, Sony Corp. was the top player for overall image sensors during the fourth quarter, followed by OmniVision Technologies, Aptina Imaging Corp., Sharp Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. Sony announced it has developed a BSI sensor in a stacked structure that would pave the way for faster speeds and lower power consumption, with samples to start shipping in March.

For its part, Samsung announced a 16MP CMOS sensor that will be making its way into smartphones and tablets later this year. The S5K2P1 sensor, Samsung said, will be good enough for use even in dedicated digital still cameras and camcorders where superior image quality is a prime consideration, due to the sensor's excellent sensitivity and low-noise performance.

Going forward, image sensor companies are expected to continue work on reinforcing their CMOS business models, even as they keep exploring ways on how to be first to market with leading-edge solutions, IHS noted. It also is imperative for the industry to bring down the price of BSI technology, which will be critical in securing its place in the CMOS market.

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