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CMOS image sensors continue march to dominance over CCDs

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Shipments last year of CMOS sensors accounted for 92 percent of all area image sensors—an overwhelming share that translated into some 2.1 billion units, up 31 percent from 1.6 billion in 2010, according to information and analysis provider IHS.With the remaining 8 percent of the market, CCD sensor shipments in 2011 fell to 180.3 million units, down 2 percent from 184.5 million in 2010. In 2010, 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. 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 3 percent.“CMOS sensors long have been associated with cheaper manufacturing costs, greater efficiency and faster data-throughput speeds,” said 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.” Mobile makes up most CMOS shipmentsMobile handsets remain the dominant application for CMOS sensors, representing 79 percent of total CMOS shipments in 2011. 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 markets—the 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 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, for instance, CCD use will shrink from 12 percent in 2011 to just 1 percent by 2014. And because the camera space is weakening as a whole while consumers gravitate toward smartphones, overall CCD consumption will decline further, IHS believes. BSI technology lifts CMOS even higher; use in iPhones is celebratedThe 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, as seen with the iPhone 4 and many Androids on the market today. And even though BSI cost approximately 20 percent more than FSI in 2011, 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 during 2012, BSI sensors will be present in 92 percent of the same class of handsets by 2015 as prices come down. Top sensor playersAmong 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 new next-generation 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 16-megapixel CMOS sensor that will be making its way into smartphones and tablets later this year. The S5K2P1 sensor, Samsung says, 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 believes. 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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