Magazine article Newsweek

The Film of Tomorrow: Foveon: It's the Technology

Magazine article Newsweek

The Film of Tomorrow: Foveon: It's the Technology

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Levy

Before describing what it's been like to create a company with traditional business values while Silicon Valley was going mad with greed, Foveon chairman and founder Carver Mead insists on giving a slide show showing something that really matters: ground-breaking technology. In the nondescript company headquarters--hidden in the midst of a typical Valley office park, with snooper-proof blackened-glass doors--there's a conference room, ringed with awesomely high-resolution photos, that's perfect for a show-and-tell.

The slides depict the inner workings of Mead's baby: the X3, a chip design that promises to supercharge, and eventually revolutionize, digital photography. The current standard is the "mosaic" method, which takes multiple adjacent pixels to generate a single dot of color, requiring a round of computation to reconstruct the image. Mead hates it: "Information is lost!" he wails, pointing to unwelcome results like the muddy moire patterns on your digital photos. Foveon's newly announced X3 chips have three layers of color sensors, stacked on top of each other like flapjacks, so that each pixel generates full color. The setup also allows X3 chips to grab more light. So detailed and efficient is this scheme, Mead says, that it makes your current digital camera obsolete--and starts the doomsday clock for traditional emulsion film as well. One look at the conference-room wall and the future is clear.

Hype? Consider the source. Carver Mead is a silicon legend, pioneering chip technology way before it was cool. He's part academic superstar (as physics professor, he's a Caltech family jewel), part entreprenuer (Intel employee No. 5) and part sage (straightest talker in the Valley). His new company emerged as a result of those ideas and his connections. A business relationship with National Semiconductor led not only to a strategic investment, but an OK to start Foveon in 1997 with a brilliant National scientist, Dick Merrill. …

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