A digital photography company has introduced a new chip that it claims will significantly improve the quality of digital images.
Silicon Valley-based Foveon said that its new X3 image sensor chip captures three times the colour resolution of comparable image sensors found in today's digital cameras.
The X3 captures red, green and blue light at each pixel, which results in sharper images and enhanced colour, the company claimed. This is accomplished by stacking the three photo detectors in the silicon at each pixel.
Foveon's first customer is Sigma, which will use the X3 chip in its new SD9 SLR camera due to be introduced later this month.
Foveon chief executive Jim Lau explained that the chip was the most significant breakthrough in digital camera technology since the invention of Charged Coupled Devices (CCDs) over 30 years ago.
CCD and Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) are the standard sensors in digital cameras, a market dominated by industry leaders Sony and ST Microelectronics.
Lau said that the image sensors detect colour in a manner similar to colour film, which registers different colours of light at different layers of photosensitive material, with each layer detecting a specific colour.
According to Lau, today's CCD and CMOS image sensors detect only one of the three required colours at each pixel and must mathematically estimate the remaining two.
"This limits the range and accuracy of the colour captured," he said. "Current image sensor technology has not enabled digital cameras to realise their full potential."
In addition, Foveon said it is developing sensors which are compatible with PDAs, mobile phones, security cameras and fingerprint recognition systems.
The first new sensor is made by National Semiconductor and has about 3.53 million pixels.
National Semiconductor, computer touchpad maker Synaptics and venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates are among Foveon's investors. Carver Mead, a co-founder of Synaptics, founded the company in 1997.
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