By mimicking the human eye, Rambus claims to be able to massively improve dynamic range on small sensors
If you've ever used your cellphone or a tiny compact to try and capture bright light and deep shadows while outdoors, you know exactly how poor the dynamic range of a small sensor can be. The traditional way around this is either using some sort of HDR technology, or just upping into bigger sensor. But now a company is claiming that it can massively improve the way these small sensors handle dynamic range, through a technique called "binary pixels".
They claim it will be able to significantly improve low light performance, as well as single-shot HDR. It's not immediately clear how this new technology works. Rambus claims to have a proof-of-concept chip, and describes it as:
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.
Which unfortunately doesn't really tell us anything. DPReview seems to have a slightly clearer grasp on the technology, and offers a more cogent explanation:
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 "binary pixel" technology seems to be a combination of chip and architecture, but would be able to be crafted using already set-up manufacturing systems. According to Engadget, there might even be a way to make it work with existing sensors and processors.
As a side note, the company Rambus has an interesting past, and has been involved in a series of patent litigations since the early 90s that have seen the company labeled a "patent troll". Hopefully this new technology isn't just another avenue for them to aggressively go after other companies.