New Samsung webcam sensor does 720p and more

Seeing that PC users on desktop and laptop are embracing both HD video and built-in webcams, Samsung has decided to put the two together in the obvious form of a HD webcam. Until now, webcams have been pretty much limited to VGA (640×480) resolution, which is fine if you’re playing Wolfenstein 3D, but it is the year 2008, we have flying cars and spinning skyscrapers, why not a nice, high definition webcam?

It seems that sensors small enough to fit in the bezel of a laptop or be otherwise inconspicuous have been incapable of hitting that magic next resolution, 1280×960. But no more! Samsung’s new sensor captures video at that resolution at 30fps, or 640×480 at 60fps (predictably). The improved sensor also means that in low-light situations they can , at the cost of resolution, get a much brighter picture by binning pixels (good explanation here).

Sounds like these things could be the new standard.

Here’s the full PR if you like reading that stuff:

Samsung Offers New PC Camera CMOS Image Sensor

System-on-Chip for Real-time HD Video

Seoul, Korea, Dec. 5, 2008 – Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., the world’s leader in advanced semiconductor solutions, announced today that it has expanded its industry-leading portfolio of CMOS image sensors to include a new high-definition 1/4-inch, 1.2 Megapixel (Mp) system-on-chip (SoC) imager, the S5K4AW, for notebook and desktop computers. Developed with a strong focus on real-time high-definition (HD) video capture, Samsung’s new S5K4AW sensor has immediate applications in areas such as business video conferencing, Internet video sharing, direct to web scanning, biometrics and security.

“The notebook and desktop PC market requires an image sensor solution specifically optimized for video,” said Dr. Yiwan Wong, vice president of marketing for Samsung Electronics’ System LSI Division. “For PC users, the main concern of an embedded camera is video, not still image capturing. We’re addressing this nuance with our new CMOS image sensor SoC that has been completely designed, and performance optimized, with high-definition and VGA video in mind.”

Instead of developing a sensor with 1.3Mp, which is better suited for still image capture, Samsung’s new S5K4AW CMOS image sensor SoC addresses the specific needs of HD video applications. By incorporating a technique called binning in 2×2 pixel groups, the S5K4AW’s 1.2Mp resolution (1280×960 pixel format) also can display standard VGA format without the need for cropping. In doing so, Samsung has eliminated the annoying problem of losing the top or the bottom of a scene while video conferencing or video file sharing on social media networks such as YouTube.

Real-time video capture presents other challenges for sensor designers, including how to deal with low light sensitivity. The same binning technique used by Samsung’s new S5K4AW sensor for video resolution also significantly improves the imager’s sensitivity to low light. The industry’s typical method of binning results in an improved sensitivity of approximately 1.2x. Samsung’s breakthrough in binning shows a sensitivity improvement of nearly 3x. This is critical when the only illumination on the scene might be from the computer screen itself.

“Embedded display cameras are rapidly becoming a standard feature for PCs and notebook computers,” said Bob O’Donnell, program vice president, clients and displays for IDC. “With the move to wide format displays, HD video is coming to the PC, making HD formatted cameras developed specifically for this market standard as well.”

By focusing its image sensor expertise in the PC imaging market, Samsung has designed the new S5K4AW imager as a 1/4-inch SoC that uses a 2.8um pixel size, supports 720p HD video at 30 frames per second, and captures VGA video at up to 60 frames per second.

Samsung is currently sampling its S5K4AW CMOS image sensor SoC to select customers. Mass production is expected in the first half of 2009.

Here we are at the bottom. Did you really read all that?!