May 17, 2006 9:00 PM PDT
Thirty photos a second with a compact digicam?
The Boise, Idaho-based chipmaker has come up with an 8-megapixel silicon imager for compact cameras that will allow cameras to shoot 10 8-megapixel pictures a second or 30 2-megapixel shots a second. If camera makers adopt the chip, consumers will be able to capture those '60s-style photo montages made famous in "A Hard Day's Night."
The chip will also be capable of capturing video in the 720p format, which is the entry-level version of high definition.
Many current compact and even single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras do not provide this capability. Most cameras can take two to four shots a second at maximum resolution or 10 shots at lower resolution. Most also capture video at the 480-by-640 pixel resolution.
Over the past two years, however, digital cameras have been undergoing a quiet internal revolution. Traditionally, camera makers produced their own chips. The expense and time involved in developing these chips, however, has prompted them to turn to outfits like Texas Instruments, NuCore and Micron to produce the imagers for their still cameras.
Another company, Ambarella, meanwhile, is producing relatively inexpensive imagers for video cameras that will let consumer electronics giants sell HD video cameras for about $800 (they go for around $2,000 now).
Digital cameras have also switched from relying on charge coupled devices, or CCDs, for imagers to imagers made on standard silicon (CMOS) processes. While initially used to produce imagers for cheap cameras and cell phones, silicon imagers have steadily improved.
With CMOS, designers have found ways to shrink the pixels in imagers, which means that camera designers can increase the resolution of their cameras without increasing the lens size.
The Micron imager sports pixels measuring 1.75 microns across. This is smaller than standard pixels: The reduction is possible because the pixels share electronic components. Micron has also developed a chip with pixels measuring 1.4 microns.
The 8-megapixel chip, however, won't be seen in cameras for a while and competing chips will likely appear. Micron will start shipping samples to customers in the fall and kick off mass production in the first half of 2007. Typically, it can take electronics manufacturers three to nine months after semiconductor mass production begins to get finished products on shelves.
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