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Video camera chip maker Ambarella files to go public

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Ambarella, a maker of chips that power the coolest video cameras, filed its registration papers to go public today.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company filed its S-1 document for an IPO with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The number of shares to be offered and the price range have yet to be determined. The filing shows that the hot stock market continues to attract tech companies that want to take advantage of the IPO window, which is open wider than it has been for tech companies in years. If companies such as Ambarella, which isn’t well known, can go out on the IPO market, then the support for tech IPOs is indeed pretty strong.

Ambarella joins a number of other technology companies that have filed for IPOs, including Groupon, Pandora, and others. The tech companies that have already gone public include Yandex, LinkedIn and Fusion-io. Zynga is rumored to be preparing a filing as well.

Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank Securities are the joint book-running managers for the offering. Co-managers include Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., and Needham & Co.

Back in December
, the company is announced a new generation of iOne camera chips that will become the brains of cool cameras and video recorders. And thanks to the triple-core processors that Ambarella is cooking up for Android devices, those new gadgets will have the ability to wirelessly transfer videos and photos to photo-sharing sites on the internet. By making imagery easier to share, Ambarella could make those photos and videos far more useful to people.

The iOne is a system-on-a-chip (SoC), or a master chip that integrates all sorts of functions. It is aimed at being the best image processor available, able to process and record high-quality still images as well as 1080p high-resolution video. The SoC also includes other functions such as built-in 3D graphics, connections to separate wireless radio chips, and 3D TV imagery.

Ambarella has been making camera chips for five generations, using the expertise of co-founder Les Kohn and Didier LeGall, both of whom where instrumental chip architects at video processing pioneer C-Cube Microsystems. (LeGall, executive vice president, is pictured, left, next to marketing chief Chris Day, right). The company is headed by CEO Fermi Wang.

LeGall said in an interview back in December that the designs have advanced so far that a single chip can serve as the brains of a hybrid camera that can produce both outstanding still images and great video. It can also operate on low power and transfer data wirelessly. Usually there is some kind of trade-off between these various functions.

The iOne has three ARM processor cores, including a dual-core 1-gigahertz ARM Cortex A9 processor that has the horsepower to run Android applications. A third 533-megahertz ARM 11 processor handles real-time camera tasks and allows the camera to turn on in less than a second. It also has a 3D graphics core from Imagination Technologies.

The chip can process still images up to 32 megapixels and can capture 5 megapixel images at a rate of 30 frames per second, or as fast as a movie. The cameras with Ambarella chips will also work great in low light and have minimal motion blur. With dual-stream encoding, the chips will be able to record HD video and upload a second stream at the same time over Wi-Fi. And the chips are also very good at image stabilization, or keeping the image steady and clear while the photographer is moving.

Samples of the chips are ready now, but cameras with the chips will likely appear in the second half of 2011. Back in December, Ambarella had 350 employees. Current Ambarella chips are used in devices such as the Sony Bloggie video camera and a host of others.

Rivals include camera makers who create their own chips, such as Canon or Nikon, as well as other makers of image processors.