Rambus unveils ‘Binary Pixel’ sensor tech for expanded dynamic range


US technology company Rambus has unveiled ‘Binary Pixel’ sensor technology, promising greatly expanded dynamic range for the small sensors used in devices such as smartphones. Current image sensors are unable to record light above a specific saturation point, which results in clipped highlights. Binary Pixel technology gets around this by recording when a pixel has received a certain amount of light, then resetting it and in effect restarting the exposure. The result is significantly expanded dynamic range from a single-shot exposure. The company has demonstrated the technology using a low resolution (128 x 128 pixel) sensor, and says it can easily be incorporated into CMOS sensors using current manufacturing methods.

Aside from the ‘temporal oversampling’ described above, Binary Pixel techology employs a couple of further innovations. It uses Binary Operation, sensing photons using discrete thresholds which the company says is similar to the human eye for better sensitivity across gamut of dark to bright. It also employs Spatial Oversampling, meaning the individual pixels are sub-divided to capture more data and improve dynamic range. The technology isn’t restricted to phone sensors, and in principle should work equally well for all sensor sizes.

Rambus lists the key advantages of Binary Pixel sensors as follows:

Ultra-High Dynamic Range
• Optimized at the pixel level for DSLR-quality dynamic range in mobile and consumer cameras 

Single-Shot HDR Photos & Videos
• Operates in a single exposure period to capture HDR images real-time with no post processing

Improved Low-Light Sensitivity
• Spatial and temporal oversampling reduces noise and graininess

Works with Current Mobile Platform
• Designed to integrate with current SoCs, be manufactured using current CMOS technology, and fit in a comparable form-factor, cost and power envelope

Press release:

Rambus Unveils Binary Pixel Technology For Dramatically Improved Image Quality in Mobile Devices

 Image comparison illustrating the theoretical benefits of the Binary Pixel Imager 

Breakthrough technology Provides Single-Shot High Dynamic Range and Improved Low-Light Sensitivity in a Single Explosure

SUNNYVALE, CALIFORNIA AND BARCELONA, SPAIN – February 25, 2013 – Rambus Inc. (NASDAQ: RMBS), the innovative technology solutions company that brings invention to market, today unveiled breakthrough binary pixel technology that dramatically improves the quality of photos taken from mobile devices. The Rambus Binary Pixel technlogy includes image sensor and image processing architectures with single-shot high dynamic range (HDR) and improved low-light sensitivity for better videos and photos in any lighting condition.

“Today’s compact mainstream sensors are only able to capture a fraction of what the human eye can see,” said Dr. Martin Scott, chief technology officer at Rambus. “Our breakthrough binary pixel technology enables a tremendous performance improvement for compact imagers capable of ultra high-quality photos and videos from mobile devices.”

As improvements are made in resolution and responsiveness, more and more consumers are using the camera functionality on their smart phone as the primary method for taking photos and capturing memories. However, high contrast scenes typical in daily life, such as bright landscapes, sunset portraits, and scenes with both sunlight and shadow, are difficult to capture with today’s compact mobile sensors – the range of bright and dark details in these scenes simply exceeds the limited dynamic range of mainstream CMOS imagers.

This binary pixel technology is optimized at the pixel level to sense light similar to the human eye while maintaining comparable form factor, cost and power of today’s mobile and consumer imagers. The results are professional-quality images and videos from mobile devices that capture the full gamut of details in dark and bright intensities.

Benefits of binary pixel technology:

  • Improved image quality optimized at the pixel level
  • Single-shot HDR photo and video capture operates at high-speed frame-rates
  • Improved signal-to-noise performance in low-light conditions
  • Silicon-proven technology for mobile form factors
  • Easily integratable into existing SoC architectures
  • Compatible with current CMOS image sensor process technology

The Rambus binary pixel has been demonstrated in a proof-of-concept test-chip and the technology is currently available for integration into future mobile and consumer image sensors. For additional information visit www.rambus.com/binarypixel



So it sounds like they finally found a way to do ‘native’ HDR blending/variable pixel exposure on the sensor. I’ve often wondered what types of challenges there was to that, hopefully someone will explain.


Wow this is going to be fantastic and I hope all sensors go this route.

Steen Bay

Increasing the saturation capasity by resetting the pixels is in practice the same as lowering the sensors base ISO. A 1/2.3″ sensor could have the same IQ at ISO 3 as a FF camera has at ISO 100, but the downside is that shooting at ISO 3 most often will require a rather long/slow shutterspeed, so it’ll only work with static scenes/subjects.


Great idea! HDR with one shot! The naysayers have already gathered and are posting at full speed… 😉



“Low-Light Sensitivity in a Single Explosure”… this thing will be da bomb when it comes out… sorry couldn’t help myself.


Let us give it to them.OK folks.Let us have some small sensor cameras in our hands and ‘see it ‘ for ourselves.Whenever that be.Sooner the better Rambus.


Another great idea in theory…..


I won’t criticize it since I don’t understand the details. However, I do have some superficial hypothetical opinions regarding the idea.

1, From the short description it seems as if it actually choses to overexpose and takes care of the overexposed pixels via their resetting mechanism.

2, It sounds as a smarter version of Fujifilm EXR mechanism. Similarly as in the case of EXR sensor, one group of the pixels is used for capturing the shadows, the other group is used for capturing the highlights. But in the case of the EXR, membership of a pixel to either group is predetermined (the well known EXR pixel layout), while in case of the Rambus’ BinaryPixel technology the membership is decided based on the actual exposure process taking place.

3, Practice has shown that EXR approach works in expanding the DR, but some sensor area is actually wasted. The Rambus technology essentially means you’ll get the benefits of EXR without the infamous EXR drop in resolution.


Looks promising even if the name of the company that created it sounds like a porn site.


Rambus is a company that started out designing memory chips.. they were adopted by Intel for the very first Pentium 4s. They were expense, hard to make and had tech licensing costs that were way too high. The rest of the industry shunned Rambus memory and the company nearly went broke…


More specifically they were makers of extremely fast bandwidth memory that yes was expensive. It was used on high end systems that required bandwidth from cached processes vs low latency ram. The PS2 and PS3 used rambus technology. GDDR is based on the theory of high bandwidth memory used in high end graphics cards.


ehm, 180px width preview images? srsly?


Me like. But is this the same Rambus that came up with RDRAM?? These guys are known patent trolls. It’s possible that nothing substantial may come of this.


Unfortunately this is the same Rambus … one of the few companies I would never work for.


Ding ding ding, we have a winner. Even if they do try and license it, the cost will be huge, just like the RDRAM debacle.

Kim Letkeman

A brilliant idea … ultimately far more promising than, say, Fuji’s EXR technology because it enables much better exposures in hyper contrasty situations (expose for the shadows could become the norm.) Further, it does not use kinky-weird demosaicing algorithms and thus promises much cleaner images than specialized filter patterns etc. A great first step.


This is a very promising first step that leads to new frontiers.
I have a time to wait for further developments

AV Janus

That picture looks familiar…
is that just a simulation or did they actually take that shot?


Well, it says “Image comparison illustrating the theoretical benefits of the Binary Pixel Imager “. So I think it’s just a simulation.


It’s just rough a mock up for people who don’t know what dynamic range is. A point missed by at least a third of the comments here.


Besides cost and megapixels availability, the main point is whether or not usual low dynamic images people are used to get when using a phone are possible. If the answer is yes this should help to solve the “flash is not powerful enough” problem.


And since this sensor is not actually in any cell phone cameras, the cell phone/smart phone camera makers could improve the images from existing gear by allowing the capture of raw data. (No new unperfected sensor needed, just a software update for the phone.)


Hey critics, they’ve said their prototype sensor is 128 x 128. The sample above is bigger than that and is described as a theoretical comparison.

So that ain’t even it!


Of course the colors are muted, notice the deep shadows they are in.

Everyday I deal with people sticking their cell phones trying to get my shot.

This tecnology will make matters worse, for me. But should enable those cell phone users to get much better shots than they are getting now.

For me Light is what keeps me ahead of the cell phone users.
Now they will edge closer in results.

Instagram and other sites better gear up for a large increase in uploads.

More exchanged photos can only help this world of ours.


This looks horrendous… of course, the “Current” imager example looks horrendous too but on the opposite extreme. This is worthy of publishing in DPReview? Gimme a break!


lots of things look horrendous when starting.


maybe, those current mobile imager, actualy the REAL result of our imager. remember, after our sensor capture the image, our phone process the RAW file before they show final result which we see it as JPEG files.

so that CURRENT MOBILE IMAGER sample are un-processed raw image.



Um, well current cell phone cameras toss out a lot of raw data, if that’s what you mean by “process”.

I’d prefer to process my own data. (True for any digital camera, yes including the Fuji XTrans sensored cameras.)

Now with this still proof of concept sensor, we don’t have access to the raw data so we can’t really draw conclusions about what’s in the raw files from this demonstration unit.


If you read the article you’ll have noticed that the images posted are an “illustration” not the actual result (the prototype is only 128×128 pixels).

Jan Privat

We have now come to the point, where cellphone camera innovations push digital photography. LOL. But okay, lezz go!


It’s simply because smartphone cameras are more popular than ‘regular’ P&S. Afterall, all the new tech we know (or at least most of them) are tested before on small sensored cameras and then go to a more advanced level.


If it gets to be user-adjustable and visible in setting up the shot (e.g., not effective only during exposure), from 0 to the level shown in the samples above, I think it may have a significal potential. The way it was presented, it would require the same amount of PP as all other high-contrasting images…


Guys stop trying to imaging what this will do to your DSLR photography. This is aimed at cellphone cameras. It’s for teenagers taking shots of their buddies LOLing and wanting to capture some of the background too. The colors being muted, or badly tonemapped is irrelevant here.


It doesn’t really look HDR-ish to me, indeed you get the shadows but it looks kinda washed out in the example shown here.
But in principle, it’s promising…


And what exactly is the difference to Fujis EXR technology?


Have you actually read the article? (And the source?)


EXR wont introduce weird motion artifacts, but is limited in how far the DR can be extended. This approach can potentially yield unlimited DR if the pixels can be reset many times.


exr is about different (e.g. half of sensor) pixels having different exposure times, e.g. half of them having 15sec and rest half 1/60sec, which results in capturing bright as well as dark objects, but obviously introducing synching problems, especially of relatively fast moving objects,


I don’t see this working when exposure needs to build up over time and may have motion present (i.e. long exposure landscape shots at bay).


Remember, all pixels will be gathering light during the same exposure period. You won’t have some shutting off before or after others, so there shouldn’t be any temporal effects.


That is really cool if you don’t mind the HDR look. If they can tone it down a little and get it closer to the Dynamic Range our eye sees that would be good.

This could be really cool for video as well.


I described this technology in various forum and blog posts a long time ago. It is a straightforward way to improve current sensors. Esp. if one wants to sell memory …

In particular, I described a way to improve the current column-parallel DAC technology incorprated in Sony sensors. Rather than recording the clipping and resetting it (which induces tonal errors), I proposed to do continous DAC operation and add-up results digitally in pixel registers to be read out digitally over a memory interface. This adds a lot of memory to a sensor chip.

So, Rambus just described the obvious. A 128^2 px prototype is not relevant. Sony doing a sensor with embedded pixel registers would be.


That could be a way of stopping the MP race for good: I reckon a 36MP sensor would need a humongus amount of memory.
I think the hardware will quite easily reach the point where large-scale production becomes no longer feasible/practical/marketable at the moment, thus effectively blocking the production (at least for the time being) of cameras sporting that (hypothetical) technology you’re talking about (not the one in the article) with higher-than-practical-MP sensors.
Is that correct?


continuous DAC operation and what Rambus (hypothetically) does, looks the same to me, with the most difficult part being the electronics requirement and the noise they propably introduce, hence touted as “high DR” and not “great low light”… anyway, I am saying hypothetically, since Rambus has a record of chasing patents, and the demonstration presented here makes me think that they have nothing in hand but rather a paper launch


I don’t really see tonal errors (I assume you mean discontinuities) being introduced unless the clip detection/reset time becomes an appreciable fraction of the exposure time. Presumably this will be somewhere in the microsecond range at the most, so not a problem for anything but the most high-speed exposures.

The RAMBUS scheme will still need pixel registers whose width (ie, # of guard bits) equals the number of full stops of overexposure you want to accomodate.


Add RAW capture to a device with this sensor and i think it could be pretty awesome.


At the technology site Slashdot a running gag used to be “does it run Linux?”, asked of everything that had the slightest hint of a processor inside it.

I suppose the equivalent over here is “does it capture RAW?”.

New camera bag released: does it capture RAW?

Paul Guba

This is pretty amazing tech. Not sure it will be something most on this forum will appreciate as the skill level is somewhat higher than the average smart phone photographer. For that lowest common denominator photographer I think it will be great. It will allow them to capture more images with less difficulty. That is a formula for success that goes back to George Eastman,


Interesting. This looks like an easy and low cost way of improving dynamic range in small sensors.

Hopefully RAMBUS will be more successful than when they provided the proprietary and expensive RDRAM technology for the first Intel Pentium 4 motherboards.


the colour kind of muted..


at shadow..


Yeah, a little washed out.
Potentially interesting, though.
One thing is for sure, even with the economic downturn the research in mobile photo technology is flourishing as never before.
That is an exciting thing per se.


If you read the article you’ll have noticed that the images posted are an “illustration” not the actual result (the prototype is only 128×128 pixels).


HDR images will be flat in order to fit all the tones into a narrow gamut display. Two things HDR users do to add the snap back is to oversaturate the image (we have all seen that done to death), and the other is to actually labor over the image to select those tones that create the impression of snap by selectively losing certain tones.

Source Article from http://www.dpreview.com/news/2013/02/27/rambus-shows-binaryt-pixel-sensor-technology-for-expanded-dynamic-range