CMOS image sensors keep pushing CCDs out of the picture

February 13, 2012 — Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors in 2011 continued to push charge coupled device (CCD) sensors into a smaller, isolated section of the market. CMOS image sensors are growing on use in mobile electronics and emerging applications, shows analyst firm IHS.

2011 CMOS sensor shipments accounted for 92% of all area image sensors, equaling 2.1 billion units, up 31% from 1.6 billion units in 2010, according to an IHS iSuppli Consumer Platforms topical report. CCD sensor shipments, the remaining 8% of the market, hit 180.3 million units shipped in 2011, dropping 2 percentage points from 2010.

By 2015, CMOS shipments will amount to 3.6 billion units or 97% market share, leaving just 95.2 million CCD shipments to make up the remaining 3% of the market (figure). The move to CMOS image sensors is prompted by cheaper manufacturing costs, greater efficiency, and faster data-throughput speeds, said Pamela Tufegdzic, analyst for consumer electronics at IHS.

Figure. Worldwide image sensor market share forecast. SOURCE: IHS.

Mobile handsets remain the dominant application for CMOS sensors, representing 79% of total CMOS shipments in 2011. Video conferencing is the second-biggest application market by shipments, due to the inclusion of cameras in notebook computers. CMOS sensors also found increasing use in the growing sectors of security through network video surveillance systems and automotive through the use of back-up cameras and lane-departure warnings, blind-spot detection, and infrared night vision.

Also read: CMOS image sensors see growth beyond cellphones

CCDs still find acceptance in the industrial markets and in digital still cameras. However, among high-end digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, CCD use will shrink from 12% in 2011 to just 1% by 2014, and there are other areas of decline as well. With still camera purchases waning, and smartphone adoption growing, overall CCD use will decline further.

The introduction of backside illumination (BSI) technology was the break in camera technology that gave CMOS the edge over CCD, IHS asserts. 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.

The higher cost of BSI technology (approximately 20% more than FSI in 2011) makes it comfortable in higher-end products, such as Apple’s iPhone 4 and many Android phones. BSI is projected to be in 56% of smartphones and higher-end feature handset camera phones during 2012, and in 92% of the same class of handsets by 2015. Controlling the cost of BSI is critical to mass adoption.

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’s next-generation BSI sensor in a stacked structure could pave the way for faster speeds and lower power consumption. Read about the technology: Sony stacks CMOS image sensor pixel structures and chips

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.

Access iSuppli’s report, BSI Success Drives the CMOS Image Sensor Segment, at http://www.isuppli.com/Home-and-Consumer-Electronics/Pages/BSI-Success-Drives-the-CMOS-Image-Sensor-Segment.aspx?PRX

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