Micron, the imaging and memory chip maker, has announced a breakthrough in enabling high-definition video and pictures on smaller, faster chips.

The technology being used is CMOS - complementary metal-oxide semiconductor - which has been long associated with relatively low quality images compared to those of charge-coupled devices or CCDs preferred in digital cameras and camcorders.

But Micron said it had produced the world’s smallest 8-megapixel image sensor, capable of taking 10 pictures a second at that resolution and 30 pictures at a 2 megapixel resolution.

“Micron has done really really well in the mobile phone market with CMOS, but then you have the digital still cameras dominated 90 per cent by Japanese CCDs,” said Chris Chute digital imaging analyst with the IDC research firm.

“In the middle, you have the camcorder market, which is lower volume and higher selling price. There is a lot of interest in adding new features and I see [the new chip] playing there in the short term.”

The image sensor market was worth $5.9bn in 2005 - the first year that CMOS image sensors overtook CCD image sensors in terms of revenue, according to the Gartner research firm.

The market for CMOS image sensors has been driven by strong growth in the camera phone market and Gartner expects that it will grow from $3.1bn in 2005 to $6.1bn in 2010.

“The digital still camera market and the digital video camera market are really the last strongholds for CCD image sensors,” said Jon Erensen, semiconductor analyst with Gartner

“Micron’s announcement signifies their intention to challenge CCD image sensors for dominance in the mainstream point-and-shoot and prosumer digital still camera market,” he said.

The high-end of this market should be at 8 megapixels next year. Micron is planning to go into production in the first quarter of 2007.

Mr Erensen said Micron had made the important breakthrough of reducing the pixel size to squeeze 8 megapixels onto the popular form factor for mainstream digital cameras. CMOS also represented a lower-cost option than CCD as it needed fewer associated components.

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