Shakeout on the way for CMOS imager vendors

JUNE 7--According to Cahners In-Stat (Newton, MA), the market for image sensors surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 1999.

JUNE7--According to Cahners In-Stat (Newton, MA), the market for image sensors surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 1999. In that year, CMOS image sensors accounted for 7.2% of all image sensors shipped and 6.2% of revenues. The demand for low-cost, portable cameras over the next five years will drive the market share for CMOS image sensors to 50.8%, accounting for 35.5% of revenues by 2004. This increase will be due to lower cost, less power consumption, and higher on-chip integration for CMOS sensors in comparison to CCD sensors.

However, CCDs offer higher-quality images and will continue to dominate in several high-end applications. "A combination of new products and lower prices will help CCD technology hang on to significant market share. Despite CMOS improvements over the past five years, products that require high resolution will continue to be dominated by CCDs for the next several years," says Brian O'Rourke, industry analyst for In-Stat's Multimedia Service.

At present, more than ten other vendors are competing for a share of the CMOS sensor market. These include Kodak Co. (Rochester, NY), Photobit (Pasadena, CA), Agilent (Palo Alto, CA), and National Semiconductor (Dallas, TX). In developing their CMOS imagers, a number of these companies have focused on producing VGA-resolution-type imagers. This approach has resulted in similar products that cannot be readily differentiated on product specifications alone. The effects of a plethora of me-too products has resulted in semiconductor manufacturers scrambling to differentiate their products.

To attain the goal of a camera-on-a-chip, however, imager and image-processing vendors are expected to combine skills. In some cases, large semiconductor vendors will pool resources within their company to realize such devices. In other cases, established semiconductor vendors are anticipated to purchase CMOS technology.

For more on CMOS image vendors, see the June issue of Vision Systems Design.

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