(NEW YORK) I must admit to harboring a bit of bias when it comes to CMOS image sensors. As someone who used to write camcorder reviews back in the 1980s, I knew their history first-hand, and as CMOS image sensors came to dominate the low-end digital cameras and cell phone cameras in more recent times, I had no reason for this opinion to change. Then, about a month ago, while attending the big broadcasters' NAB convention in Las Vegas, I spotted something I had never seen before: Fancy Ikegami high definition TV cameras -- designed for broadcast television -- using CMOS image sensors. The Ikegami HD camcorder models, which sell for tens of thousands of dollars, include the HDK-79EC, and the HDN-X10. Each utilizes three 2/3-inch 2.1 Mega-pixel CMOS sensors ("specified" by Ikegami, whose spokesperson wouldn't reveal their maker.)
Last week, the other shoe dropped, with Sony's announcement of a new CMOS-equipped HD consumer camcorder (see
Sony's Tiny New High-Def Camcorder, Under $2,000, Uses CMOS Sensor). Now, not only are CMOS image sensors being used for high-end pro-gear, but for high-end consumer video camcorders as well.
The rise of CMOS image sensors is a trend that's been documented previously -- see CMOS challenges CCD for image-sensing lead.
But with Ikegami now using CMOS for pro cameras and Sony using 'em for consumer gear, they've been officially blessed by the "gods" of video.
Of course, low-end applications for CMOS image sensors continue unabated -- a recent report from S2 Data, "CMOS Image Sensor and Module Pricing," predicts that 70% of all cell phones will have camera functions next year, and by 2009 it will be 90%. Though most current units are VGA resolution, 1.3-megapixel and 2-megapixel sensors are gaining ground.
CMOS has numerous advantages over traditional CCD image sensors, including lower power consumption and the ability to build processing logic right onto the same chip ("smart" image sensors.) They can also be made quite dense, allowing camera makers to provide ever better resolution for still images (and bigger "windows" for image stabilizer compensation) without using bigger lenses. Micron recently announced new CMOS image sensors that they claim have the world's smallest pixel size (see Micron CMOS image sensor has smallest pixel size, facilitating a new generation of inexpensive 8-megapixel cameras.
But of all the advantages of CMOS image sensors, the one that's most ripe for future development is built-in image processing. Ikegami's literature for their HDN-X10 broadcast cameras hints at this, saying, "The sensors include significant circuitry, resulting in interlace or progressive operation (multi-format) with digital output all in a very small device with low power consumption. For these reasons, CMOS sensors are essential." (The HDN-X10 can record 1080/60i, 1080/50i, 1080/24p, 720/60p, or 720/50p, all as native format.)
There's a lot more to come, including security applications, image correction and enhancement. Now that CMOS has crossed the picture quality threshold, this is just the beginning.