Pulse-modulation imaging - Review and performance analysis

Denis Guangyin Chen, Daniel Matolin, Amine Bermak, Christoph Posch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Citations (Scopus)


In time-domain or pulse-modulation (PM) imaging, the incident light intensity is not encoded in amounts of charge, voltage, or current as it is in conventional image sensors. Instead, the image data are represented by the timing of pulses or pulse edges. This method of visual information encoding optimizes the phototransduction individually for each pixel by abstaining from imposing a fixed integration time for the entire array. Exceptionally high dynamic range (DR) and improved signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) are immediate benefits of this approach. In particular, DR is no longer limited by the power-supply rails as in conventional complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) complementary metal-oxide semiconductor active pixel sensors, thus providing relative immunity to the supply-voltage scaling of modern CMOS technologies. In addition, PM imaging naturally supports pixel-parallel analog-to-digital conversion, thereby enabling high temporal resolution/frame rates or an asynchronous event-based array readout. The applications of PM imaging in emerging areas, such as sensor network, wireless endoscopy, retinal prosthesis, polarization imaging, and energy harvesting are surveyed to demonstrate the effectiveness of PM imaging in low-power, high-performance machine vision, and biomedical applications of the future. The evolving design innovations made in PM imaging, such as high-speed arbitration circuits and ultra-compact processing elements, are expected to have even wider impacts in disciplines beyond CMOS image sensors. This paper thoroughly reviews and classifies all common PM image sensor architectures. Analytical models and a universal figure of merit - image quality and dynamic range to energy complexity factor are proposed to quantitatively assess different PM imagers across the entire spectrum of PM architectures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5701724
Pages (from-to)64-82
Number of pages19
JournalIEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2011



  • Energy harvesting
  • PFM
  • image processing
  • pulse-modulation image sensor
  • pulsewidth modulation (PWM)
  • retinal prosthesis
  • sensor network
  • time-domain image sensor
  • video compression
  • wide-dynamic-range imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering

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