NEW YORK – With most flat panel TV vendors expecting to see new growth opportunities blossom from 3-D TV, the likelihood grows that 3-D image/video capturing capabilities will become a nice-to-have feature for digital video camera suppliers in the next several years.
Anticipating the trend, Ambarella, Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip vendor that specializes in low-power, high-definition video compression and image processing solutions, unveiled Monday (Nov. 22nd) a 3-D video pre-processor, called S3D. Designed to work with Ambarella’s camera SoCs such as A5 (enables 1080P30 resolution) or A7 (enables 1080P60 resolution) – announced last month, the combination will enable full HD 1080p 3-D video recording and high-resolution 3-D photography, according to the company.
The goal of the combined S3D with Ambarella’s A5 or A7 camera SoCs is to enable a consumer-friendly 3-D digital video camera – priced at less than $200 – capable of shooting 3-D video “that looks really good on 3-D TV,” said Chris Day, vice president, marketing and business development at Ambarella.
Ambarella’s 3-D camera solution also supports the display of 3D video and still images on the camera’s 3D LCD display.
Ambarella’s 3-D video pre-processor, which connects to two standard CMOS image sensors, will combine two video streams into one. Then, the video stream will be processed by the A5 or A7 camera SoCs.
S3D, consisting of many video logics, contains no CPU of any sort. Instead, the video pre-processor is under the control of the camera SoC, according to Ambarella’s Day.
S3D is designed to perform a lot of “clever scaling,” said Day. Declining to detail what makes S3D superior to others, Day simply noted that quality is the biggest challenge in such a 3-D video pre-processor. “Obviously, when you combine two video streams into one, something has to give. Preserving the video quality was our number one priority.”
Low power consumption is also touted as a hallmark of Amberalla’s digital camera solutions. Combined with S3D vide pre-processor with A5 and DDR3 memory, power consumption is approximately 1W, according to Day. The combination of S3D, A7 and DDR3 memory consumes about 1.5 W, he added.
Thus far, Ambarella’s focus has been on the digital video camera market, rather than digital still cameras (DSC) whose market Zoran dominates. As more digital still cameras add HD video recording capabilities, the boundaries between the two have already begun blurring, creating an opportunity for Ambarella to enter the DSC market. But that said, Zoran is a formidable competitor. Zoran, who claims its camera SoC solutions are installed in hundreds of millions of digital cameras, announced last month that the new COACH 12 family of digital video processors is “powering a host of new HD camcorders under well-known brands, including wireless Internet connected and 3-D video camera models.”
How big a market will 3-D video cameras become?
However, still remaining to be seen is exactly how big a “nice-to-have” feature 3-D video/image capturing might become on the digital video camera market of the future.
Chris Chute, research manager at IDC, estimated that 250,000 digital cameras featuring 3-D (with two lens assemblies for capturing stereoscopic images and video) will have shipped in 2010. That number “will grow to around 6 million units in 2014, or five percent of the digital camera market,” he projected. IDC’s numbers only cover cameras -- not camcorders, according to Chute.
He added, “Right now, Fujifilm is the only vendor supporting this segment, although there are others in the camcorder space.” Those offering 3D-equipped camcorders include Panasonic, Aiptek of Taiwan and Viewsonic, according to Michelle Abraham, principal analyst at In-Stat.
Asked about the most important elements for 3D cameras, IDC’s Chute pointed out “the ability to view content instantly on the device via auto stereoscopic LCD. This feature is an absolute requirement.” He then added, “Also important is the ability to view on other displays.” However, he called it also “an inhibitor,” since 3D TV shipments remain quite small and the requirement to wear glasses is also an inhibitor.
In-Stat’s Abraham, on the other hand, noted that “price will be important as it always is in consumer products.” She added, “Video quality will be as well [important] especially with some consumers saying 3D gives them headaches or nausea. The better the quality the less likely that is to happen.”
Ambarella today has a working chip of S3D, whose volume production starts in the first quarter of 2011.