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Death knell for CCD sensors?

Nov 7, 2000 at 04:00 GMT

Y Media certainly hope so, "This company was developed around building a technology that will obsolete CCDs; that's a lofty goal". We've reported on Y Media's 3.17 megapixel CMOS sensor previously, this time there's a new article in Electronic Buyers' News charting some of the companies history, its goals and the technology behind CCD and CMOS sensors.

Click here for our previous report on Y Media's 3.17 megapixel CMOS sensor

Electronic Buyers' News

November 06, 2000, Issue: 1236
Section: Semiconductors

Y Media pushes against CCDs

Crista Souza

Silicon Valley -- The race is heating up to deliver a CMOS image sensor that is inexpensive enough for mass-consumer electronics applications and powerful enough to displace costly charge-coupled devices in high-end digital-imaging systems.

Among the dozens of suppliers angling for position is Y Media Corp., Irvine, Calif. Armed with CMOS-based imaging technology gleaned from a previous incarnation as a military/aerospace supplier, the company is poised to move to the fore. To date, the start-up claims to have design commitments from Japan's top seven consumer-electronics OEMs.

"This company was developed around building a technology that will obsolete CCDs; that's a lofty goal," said Ian Olsen, president and chief executive. "We have 150 designs under our belt, which gives us a huge edge over the competition."

Y Media designed its first device, the 3.17-megapixel YM-3170A, in a 2.5-V, 0.25-micron CMOS process co-developed with foundry partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Hsinchu, Taiwan. The chip was released to Japanese customers in September, with sampling set to begin in November. With a processing range of 30 to 120 frames per second, the chip's performance is on par with CCDs, with CMOS' inherent benefits of higher integration, lower cost, and lower power draw, according to Olsen.

The core of Y Media's image sensors is CMOS Color Capture Device (C3D) technology, which uses a blend of pixel processing in the analog and digital domain to create superior pictures at a lower cost than today's CCDs, the company said. Furthermore, the 3.3-micron pixel size allows more than three times the number of pixels of competing CMOS imagers without increasing the size of the image array or chip, Y Media claims.

CMOS-based imagers have become a popular alternative to CCDs as consumer applications have emerged that are more sensitive to price, size, and power than performance. The devices have primarily found homes in toys, low-end digital cameras, and PC cameras.

In the next three to five years, CMOS image sensors will find higher-volume use in products like cell-phone cameras and PDAs, said Brian O'Rourke, an analyst at In-Stat Group, Scottsdale, Ariz. By 2004, CMOS will represent the majority of image sensors shipped, he said.

However, O'Rourke said the technology has a long way to go to match CCD image quality. "A lot of CMOS manufacturers have promised they can match CCD performance, but to date, nobody's done it," he said. "There's no aspect of Y Media's technology that I know of that leads me to believe they have something better." Rather, O'Rourke said, CMOS performance improvements have been incremental.

Analyst Jay Srivatsa of Dataquest Inc., San Jose, agreed. "I don't see CMOS being able to replace CCDs in megapixel cameras. But if the resolution is very high, it could help the guys making $300 digital cameras bring the price down to $200," he said.

Y Media is targeting its C3D technology at high-end consumer devices. It is eyeing wireless and portable consumer applications, such as camcorders and cell-phone cameras, that need richer audio and graphics content than competing CMOS devices deliver, but can't use CCDs due to size and power constraints, Olsen said. Ultimately, Y Media aims to incorporate the YM-3170A sensor with a camera back-end and speech processor in a single system-on-a-chip.

The company's road map includes bringing up a 0.18-micron process technology, though Y Media claims its 0.25-micron device is two generations ahead of the rest of the industry. The company also hopes to enable pixels to be tuned to the end application on a frame-by-frame basis. The capability exists on the chip today, according to Olsen, but it's up to OEMs to develop a software interface that makes it intuitive to the end user.

The YM-3170A is offered as a discrete chip drawing between 25 and 100 mW in full operation, or for lower-power applications, is offered as an embedded core. Pricing was not disclosed. Volume production is anticipated for early 2001.