Coming soon to a smartphone near you: high-def video without the compromises


posted Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 4:41 PM EDT

Aptina's logo. Click here to visit the Aptina website!There's an elephant in the room, and it's high time we talked about it. Smartphone imaging has certainly come along in leaps and bounds in the last few years, and chances are that your phone can now capture high-definition video. Unfortunately, it's also likely that it does so in a way that degrades the video quality, or perhaps makes it challenging to get a decent wide-angle view. A new image sensor from Aptina Imaging bucks the trend, promising artifact-free video using the entire width of the image sensor.

The Aptina AR0833 sensor was first announced a year ago, and is now available to manufacturers in sample quantities, allowing them to work on integration into their future products. Mass production is expected from the second quarter of 2012, and the first products based on Aptina's new chip should begin arriving shortly thereafter. (This seems to have slipped from the original schedule, which called for sampling to start in the middle of last year.)

The AR0833's not an unusual chip in most respects. Resolution is eight megapixels, from a 1/3.2-inch (5.71mm) sensor, and the pixel size is said to be 1.4μm. The design uses what's known as backside illumination, which places circuitry beneath the imaging layer to increase the area devoted to light-gathering. Where the AR0833 differs from most CMOS image sensors is in how data is processed and offloaded, however.

Typically, a smartphone's CMOS sensor will use one of several tricks to offload data, or perhaps some combination of trickery. These techniques all bring significant drawbacks. Subsampling involves reading out only some of the pixels across the surface of the image sensor, and discarding data from the remaining pixels. Pixel binning, meanwhile, is a bit similar, but involves combining the charge from adjacent pixels to create a single 'superpixel'. Both of these techniques can allow you to to read off enough data from across the surface of a sensor to assemble a high-definition video feed, but they can introduce artifacts. These show up as jaggies, color fringing, and other demosaicing artifacts. Windowing, meanwhile, is much as it sounds. You read out a small contiguous chunk of pixels from one portion of the image sensor, and discard everything around them. This leads to an increase in the effective focal length crop, making wide-angle video harder to achieve.

Aptina's AR0833 sensor is said not to rely on any of these techniques. Instead, it can apparently read out the full eight megapixel resolution of the sensor at 30 frames per second. This is then cropped to the 16:9 aspect ratio of high-def video, and downsampled to the final output resolution, which can be anything up to 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. The net result is an increase in video quality, since you're not throwing away information before the video encoding process. It also means you can capture the same field of view as you would in still imaging with the same lens, since the whole width of the sensor is used. An added bonus is the ability to capture full-resolution eight megapixel stills during video capture, without interruption to the video feed.

And that, for you, translates to a more enjoyable video-capture experience. Look for the Aptina AR0833 sensor to appear in smartphones and tablets this summer... (And if you're technically-minded, read the data sheet here.)

Press Release

Aptina A-PixHS™ High-Speed BSI Technology Enables a New Class of High Performance Smartphone Cameras

Breakthrough 8MP image sensor brings HD Video and Digital Still Camera image quality to smartphones

SAN JOSE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Aptina, a leading provider of CMOS image sensor solutions to Tier 1 mobile device manufacturers and OEMs, announced today the launch of the 8-megapixel (MP) AR0833 image sensor with Aptina™ A-PixHS™ technology. The new 1/3.2” optical format 1.4-micron pixel sensor has the speed to capture the full 8 MP sensor resolution at a rapid 30 frames per second. Aptina’s new A-PixHS™ technology brings together Aptina’s backside illuminated (BSI) pixel technology and an advanced high speed sensor architecture to enable a number of innovative features. It is designed to enable low z-height camera modules to meet OEM and mobile device manufacturers' needs. The excellent performance of the AR0833 delivers enhanced image capture capabilities to a variety of mobile devices, including the expanding smartphone market, which according to Techno Systems Research Co, Ltd. is expected to grow 33% in 2012 and account for 65% of all cell phone shipments by 2015.

The powerful combination of BSI and high-speed architecture enable a new class of ultra-responsive cameras with excellent low light performance and uncompromised bright light performance to capture images with zero shutter lag and suppressed rolling shutter artifacts. Zero shutter lag eliminates the annoying delay between when the camera shutter button is depressed and the image is actually captured.

“The AR0833 sensor is at the forefront of a new class of smartphone cameras providing an enhanced end user experience distinctly focused on high performance and rapid frame rates for still image and video capture,” said Farshid Sabet, VP and GM of Aptina’s mobile business. “This new sensor is built on A-PixHS™ technology which combines high sensitivity second generation BSI technology and innovative, high-speed sensor technology for a complete solution that provides fast, vivid video and image capture.”

The sensor’s high operating speed enables new advanced image capture options such as HD video with simultaneous still capturing and rapid context switching. Simultaneous capture allows for 8 MP image captures while recording camcorder quality, full field-of-view 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second. Video performance is also enhanced by eliminating the need for cropping the scene or using common “binning” techniques that create image artifacts. The sensor’s rapid contexts switching feature also removes shutter lag when the sensor switches between a low-power preview mode and a full resolution still image. Additionally, the AR0833 is HDR ready for still and video applications capturing difficult high range scenes when coupled with an HDR processor.

The AR0833 is currently sampling and will be available in mass production CY Q2 2012. Available as a stand-alone sensor for OEMs and manufacturers who have their own ISP, it is also available with Aptina’s imaging co-processor for a fully tuned, complete camera solution enabling quick integration and delivery of new designs to market.

Aptina™ A-PixHS™
A-PixHS™ technology brings together Aptina’s backside illuminated (BSI) pixel technology and an advanced high speed sensor architecture to enable a new class of high performance cameras. The BSI pixel maximizes the efficiency with which the light is captured by inverting the sensor to put the photo sensitive region closer to the lens and by implementing advanced engineering techniques found in AptinaTM A-PixTM technology. The advanced high-speed sensor architecture leverages the speed and sensitivity of the BSI pixel to enable fast, vivid video and image capture.

About Aptina
Aptina is a global provider of CMOS imaging solutions that enable Imaging Everywhere™. Using performance enhancing technologies like Aptina A-Pix™, DR-Pix™ and award winning MobileHDR™, Aptina has created a market-leading portfolio of image sensor products found in leading consumer electronics like smartphones, tablets, laptops, digital and video cameras, as well as applications in surveillance, automotive, medical, video conferencing, and gaming. Aptina drives innovation in the market with industry recognized products like the AR0331 surveillance image sensor and the 16MP APS-C DSLR sensor. Privately held, Aptina’s investors include Riverwood Capital, TPG Capital and Micron Technology. For additional information on Aptina visit or subscribe to the latest news from Aptina by copying the Aptina RSS feed into your favorite RSS reader.

©2012 Aptina Imaging Corporation. All rights reserved. Information is subject to change without notice. Aptina, A-Pix, A-PixHS, the Aptina logo, and Imaging Everywhere are trademarks of Aptina Imaging Corporation. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.