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Panasonic upgrades camera phones

New chip will give camera phones 3-megapixel resolution, autofocus and image stabilization.

Electronics giant Panasonic announced Thursday that it has developed new camera components for cell phones, including one with 3-megapixel resolution and advanced video capabilities.

The new Maicovicon module includes an image sensor chip, a digital signal processor (DSP), camera lens and infrared focusing sensor, all in a package one-third of an inch thick.

Satoru Masuda, director of engineering for Panasonic's SC Device Solutions division, said the package will allow phone makers to boost camera functions without adding bulk. "This new camera module successfully combines quality imaging with compact design," he said in a statement.

Introduced a few years ago, camera phones have quickly evolved from novelty gadgets capable of capturing small, blurry images at best into multifunction devices that can take pictures with an image quality similar to standalone cameras. Research firm InfoTrends estimated that one in 10 cell phones currently have embedded cameras, and those devices will capture 29 billion photos and videos this year.

Samsung recently introduced a camera phone that can capture images with a million pixels (1 megapixel) and store them on a 1.5GB hard drive.

The Panasonic package would allow for some of the first phones capable of capturing images at 3 megapixels, the average for point-and-shoot digital cameras. The module will include image stabilization capabilities, making it more useful for capturing video clips, the company said. Panasonic also will make 2-megapixel and 1.3-megapixel versions of the package.

The company said it expects to begin volume production of the 3-megapixel and 2-megapixel versions in March.