Advances deliver high-resolution images and low-power consumption

Heather Hamilton, contributing writer


The OmniVision
OS08A20 image sensor targets surveillance systems and body cams. Image courtesy of

Image sensors work in much the same way as
film, allowing light to enter and exposing the image to the sensor. These
devices are available in two flavors – CMOS image sensors or charge-coupled
devices (CCDs). While CCDs have traditionally held the upper hand because of
light sensitivity and higher resolution, developments in CMOS image sensors are
changing the game. Combined with their cheaper price, they also offer faster
processing, lower power usage, and integrated camera functions. 

A new report released by IC Insights predicts
record high growth for digital camera applications in vehicles, machine vision,
camera phones, as well as human recognition and security systems, leading to
another record-setting year in image sensor sales growth – as much as 10
percent. The growth also marks a decline in sales for CCDs and the continued
expansion of embedded digital imaging capabilities. 

CMOS image sensors accounted for 89 percent of
total image sensor sales in 2017, thanks to improvements in performance in
varying light, high speed imaging capabilities, higher resolution, and added
functionality across a wide variety of specific applications. Camera phones
represent 62 percent of 2017 CMOS sensor sales as smartphone manufacturers add
dual lens functionality for bigger, better camera capabilities. 

A year ago, designers were calling for smaller
pixel technologies with increased light performance in a smaller package and
their demands have been answered. 

OmniVision Technologies, a developer of
advanced digital imaging solutions, for example, recently announced the rollout
of the OS08A20, an image sensor with Nyxel near-infrared (NIR) technology. The
company said it is the first sensor with 8 megapixels that comes with both
Nyxel and PureCel pixel architecture, allowing it to capture high-resolution
video and images in a variety of lighting conditions. In a press release, the company noted that this
makes the new device well-suited for surveillance and even body cameras for law

The ability to perform in low light (and thus
decreasing the need for additional external lighting sources) also lowers power
usage, while still offering the capability to capture colored images during
daylight. The sensor is expected to begin volume production in the second
quarter of 2018. 

In April, ON Semiconductor joined the game,
too, introducing its first CMOS image sensors with NIR technology. Like
OmniVision’s, the 5.1-megapixel AR0522 is designed to work in low light and is
expected to be used in surveillance camera systems. The AR0522 delivers twice
the sensitivity in the near infra-red wavelength compared to the previous
ARO521 device. 

The AR0431 is
a 1/3.2-inch 4-megapixel sensor that offers low-power modes and a frame rate of
up to 120 fps. ON Semi said it is useful for security cameras
that operate on batteries because of their low-power requirements, as well as
action/sports cameras and in-car DVRs. The image sensor is well-suited for
applications that require slow-motion video. 

The ARO522 (12 mm x 12 mm mPLCC) is available
in volume production. Mass production will start in July 2018 for the ARO431
(10 mm x 10 mm mPLCC). 

Other major players in the marketplace include
Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, Canon, SK Hynix, STMicroelectronics, Pixart Imaging,
PixelPlus, Hamamatsu, ams, Hiax, Teledyne, and Sharp.