Generalized cystic resolution: a metric for assessing the fundamental limits on beamformer performance.
Existing methods for characterizing the imaging performance of ultrasound systems do not clearly quantify the impact of contrast, spatial resolution, and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). Although the beamplot, contrast resolution metrics, SNR measurements, ideal observer methods, and contrast-detail analysis provide useful information, it remains difficult to discern how changes in system parameters affect these metrics and clinical imaging performance. In this paper, we present a rigorous methodology for characterizing the pulse-echo imaging performance of arbitrary ultrasound systems. Our metric incorporates the 4-D spatio-temporal system response, which is defined as a function of the individual beamformer channel weights. The metric also incorporates the individual beamformer channel electronic SNR. Whereas earlier performance measures dealt solely with contrast resolution or echo signal-to-noise ratio, our metric combines them so that tradeoffs between these parameters are easily distinguishable. The new metric quantifies an arbitrary system's contrast resolution and SNR performance as a function of cyst size, beamformer channel weights, and beamformer channel SNR. We present a theoretical derivation of the unified performance metric and provide simulation and experimental results highlighting the metric's utility. We compare the fundamental performance limits of 2 beamforming strategies: the dynamic focus finite impulse response (FIR) filter beamformer and the spatial matched filter (SMF) beamformer to the performance of the conventional delay-and-sum (DAS) beamformer. Results from this study show that the SMF beamformer and the FIR beamformer offer significant gains in beamformer SNR and contrast resolution compared with the DAS beamformer, respectively. The metric clearly distinguishes the performance of the SMF beamformer, which enhances system sensitivity, from the FIR beamformer, which optimizes system contrast resolution. Finally, the metric provides one quantitative goal for optimizing a broadband beamformer?s contrast resolution performance.
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