NEW YORK – You might have just received the latest, dazzling digital camera as a holiday gift. I don’t want to spoil your fun, but predicting the “new, improved” -- and much cheaper -- version that’s almost certain to come down the pike in the next six to 12 months (a cycle of obsolescence that defines the consumer electronics business) is what this reporter is paid to do.
Recent conversations with digital camera experts offers helpful insight into what OEMs and chip vendors are jockeying to establish as the battleground for the digital still camera (DSC) market in 2011.
Five things to watch for in the new DSCs next year are:
1. Full HD video capture (already common in 2010)
2. 3-D video (the jury is still out but it may be inevitable)
3. A new-generation video codec (enabling a substantially smaller file size in a memory card)
4. Compact camera body with abilities to switch lenses (offering Single Lens Reflex camera-like performance)
5. Delivery of smooth, steady video under all conditions (i.e. bad lighting, CMOS rolling shutter effects)
The DSC market will become an even more cutthroat in 2011, with some camera manufacturers fighting literally for survival.
Market research companies are already predicting the decline of the DSC market in just a few years. “The point-and-shoot digital still camera—once a red-hot consumer item and a best-selling retail mainstay—has about three good years left before its shipments begin to decline, supplanted by newer technologies and the omnipresent camera in cell phones,” stated iSuppli market researchers in their recent press release.
With the quality of cell phone cameras growing dramatically better, iSuppli’s prediction is not so surprising. But for now, DSC manufacturers’ job is still to pick a spot, find a growth opportunity, flesh it out and define it a new fault line.
DSCs in 2010 have overwhelmingly gone video – or with a “hybrid” of still and video. In fact, 100 percent of DSCs sold today offer video shooting capabilities, according to Senya Pertsel, senior director of marketing at Zoran Corp.’s mobile division. But each DSC’s video recording capability, in quality and performance, substantially varies.
The biggest push DSC vendors are planning in 2011 is “Full HD” video recording. Hybrid cameras – integrating HD video recording and still-camera capability into a single device – will become more popular and affordable, according to iSuppli, “especially as advancements are made in silicon processing capability and as prices for flash storage decline.”
The market research firm predicts shipments of hybrid cameras to grow from “8.3 million units in 2009—representing about 7.6 percent of total camera units shipped—to 120 million units in 2014—accounting for about 89 percent of total cameras shipped.” With hybrid camera models already available from Eastman Kodak, Canon, Nikon, Samsung and Sony, etc., iSuppli said that “hybrid cameras at the $150-$200 price point represent the next big growth opportunity in the industry.”
Meanwhile, Ambarella (Santa Clara, Calif.) is hanging its hat on 3-D as its growth opportunity in DSCs.
The chip vendor last month (November, 2010) announced a new 3-D video pre-processor called S3D, designed to work with Ambarella’s camera SoCs, by pitching that the combination will enable full HD 1080p 3-D video recording and high-resolution 3-D photography. The goal 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.