8-Megapixels On Your Camera Phone?

OmniVision's new image sensor wants to increase the number of pixels on your cell phone without increasing its profile.
OmniVision Technologies on Tuesday introduced a new image sensor technology that they claim will pack more pixels in camera phones while retaining a sleek and skinny form factor.

Conventional CMOS image sensors utilize front side illumination technology, but the company's new OmniBSI architecture utilizes backside illumination. This allows manufacturers to deliver more pixels in a smaller package and deliver a higher resolution image in low-lighting settings, executives said.

Backside illumination technology isn't new -- it has been utilized in aerospace and military applications for years, but often in larger devices. But OmniVision credits its partnership with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation with making this technology manufacturable in high volumes.

"Although backside illumination concepts have been studied for over 20 years, up until now nobody has been able to successfully develop the process for commercial, high-volume CMOS sensor manufacturing," said Dr. Ken Chen, senior director, mainstream technology marketing, at TSMC.

While a megapixel race can be exciting, it can be a moot point if the image quality and resolution aren't up to snuff. OmniVision's new architecture will provide sharper images and more vibrant colors, particularly in situations with low lights, said Michael Hepp, product marketing manager, camera technologies group at OmniVision.

"In the public's mind, viewpoint quality has been equal to the number of pixels," said Hepp. "But with the next wave of products I believe you're going to see a larger emphasis on the camera's sensitivity."

OmniVision's client list includes all the major handset makers, but the company cannot disclose specific customers. While most phones currently have 3-megapixels or less, OmniVision is demonstrating an 8-megapixel OmniBSI CameraChip sensor and expects to start sampling the first products before the end of June.