Sony Acquires Pixim

By John Honovich, Published Sep 12, 2012, 08:00pm EDT

Sony, one of the world's largest manufacturers of image sensors and cameras, including surveillance, has acquired Pixim [link no longer available], one of the most well known brands in surveillance imaging. In this note, we examine the acquisition, including the outcome for Pixim and the potential for future developments.

Acquisition Overview

Pixim provided this statement:

"Sony Electronics Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of Sony Corporation, has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Pixim Inc. a Silicon Valley-based company which has expertise in designing chipsets for security cameras. Sony aims to utilize their Image Sensor technologies and engineering design expertise to further strengthen its global design and support functions. Upon the conclusion of the acquisition, Pixim Inc. will play an important role for our image sensor semiconductor business as a subsidiary of Sony Electronics."

In addition, Pixim noted that, "The merger is a positive outcome for Pixim's main constituencies: employees, investors, and customers. Pixim company and product brands (Seawolf, Nightwolf, etc) remain unchanged. Sales, customer support, and technical support contacts remain unchanged."

Background

Pixim is historically well regarded for their image processing [link no longer available] especially as it relates to handling wide dynamic range scenes. Specifically, Pixim's technology focused on an advanced and uncommon technique to adjusting exposure for individual pixels. Additionally, in 2011, Pixim acquired Advasense including their well regarded engineering team, including the author of a respected image sensing blog.

Pixim's Motivation to Sell

Since starting in 1999, the company has raised well over $100 million in funding, including $5 million last year (see filings). Despite this, in the past few years, Pixim has increasingly struggled with the market's shift to megapixel. While the company was a long term leader in WDR enabled SD cameras, Pixim has never offered a MP version. Though Pixim has recently released enhancements to their SD WDR lines (such as the IR optimized Nightwolf), the lack of MP restrained Pixim from participating in the big growth segment of the market. Sources indicate a likely barrier was funding constraints for the expensive transition to MP sensors / imaging.

Given Pixim's current position and constraints, being acquired by Sony and becoming a part of their organization is likely a very good outcome.

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Pixim's Valuation / Return

While the acquisition price was not disclosed, given Pixim's modest market position, the price is likely much less than $100+ million funding.

Given how rare chip startups are within surveillance, this does not have any strong comparables. However, this likely does reinforce how hard it is to build a successful new entrant in such a fragmented market like surveillance, even with a fairly well-developed brand.

How This Might Help Sony

One of the most interesting and confusing elements of this deal is that Sony is quite strong itself in WDR surveillance and routinely scores in the top-tier of our WDR shootouts. By contrast, since Pixim is SD only while Sony has WDR MP, Sony's overall quality in our testing was superior.

Moreover, while Pixim has multiple chip lines, the revenue itself from existing ones is fairly inconsequential to a company of Sony's huge size.

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