Getting Started Doing Image Acquisition Programmatically


This section illustrates the basic steps required to create an image acquisition application by implementing a simple motion detection application. The application detects movement in a scene by performing a pixel-to-pixel comparison in pairs of incoming image frames. If nothing moves in the scene, pixel values remain the same in each frame. When something moves in the image, the application displays the pixels that have changed values.

The example highlights how you can use the Image Acquisition Toolbox™ software to create a working image acquisition application with only a few lines of code.

    Note   To run the sample code in this example, you must have an image acquisition device connected to your system. The device can be a professional grade image acquisition device, such as a frame grabber, or a generic Microsoft® Windows® image acquisition device, such as a webcam. The code can be used with various types of devices with only minor changes.

    Note:   With previous versions of the Image Acquisition Toolbox, the files for all of the adaptors were included in your installation. Starting with version R2014a, each adaptor is available separately through the Support Package Installer. In order to use the Image Acquisition Toolbox, you must install the adaptor that your camera uses. See Image Acquisition Support Packages for Hardware Adaptors for information about installing the adaptors.

To use the Image Acquisition Toolbox software to acquire image data, you must perform the following basic steps.



Step 1:

Install and configure your image acquisition device

Step 2:

Retrieve information that uniquely identifies your image acquisition device to the Image Acquisition Toolbox software

Step 3:

Create a video input object

Step 4:

Preview the video stream (Optional)

Step 5:

Configure image acquisition object properties (Optional)

Step 6:

Acquire image data

Step 7:

Clean up

The Image Processing Toolbox™ Software Required to Use the Image Acquisition Toolbox Software

The Image Acquisition Toolbox product, including the Image Acquisition Tool, requires you to have a license for the Image Processing Toolbox product starting in R2008b.

If you already have the Image Processing Toolbox™ product, you do not need to do anything.

If you do not have the Image Processing Toolbox product, the Image Acquisition Toolbox™ software R2008a and earlier will continue to work. If you want to use R2008b or future releases, and you have a current active license for the Image Acquisition Toolbox software, you can download the Image Processing Toolbox product for free. New customers will need to purchase both products to use the Image Acquisition Toolbox product.

If you have any questions, please contact MathWorks customer service.

Step 1: Install Your Image Acquisition Device

Follow the setup instructions that come with your image acquisition device. Setup typically involves:

  • Installing the frame grabber board in your computer.

  • Installing any software drivers required by the device. These are supplied by the device vendor.

  • Connecting a camera to a connector on the frame grabber board.

  • Verifying that the camera is working properly by running the application software that came with the camera and viewing a live video stream.

Generic Windows image acquisition devices, such as webcams and digital video camcorders, typically do not require the installation of a frame grabber board. You connect these devices directly to your computer via a USB or FireWire port.

After installing and configuring your image acquisition hardware, start MATLAB® on your computer by double-clicking the icon on your desktop. You do not need to perform any special configuration of MATLAB to perform image acquisition.

Step 2: Retrieve Hardware Information

In this step, you get several pieces of information that the toolbox needs to uniquely identify the image acquisition device you want to access. You use this information when you create an image acquisition object, described in Step 3: Create a Video Input Object.

The following table lists this information. You use the imaqhwinfo function to retrieve each item.

Device Information


Adaptor name

An adaptor is the software that the toolbox uses to communicate with an image acquisition device via its device driver. The toolbox includes adaptors for certain vendors of image acquisition equipment and for particular classes of image acquisition devices. See Determining the Adaptor Name for more information.

Device ID

The device ID is a number that the adaptor assigns to uniquely identify each image acquisition device with which it can communicate. See Determining the Device ID for more information.

    Note:   Specifying the device ID is optional; the toolbox uses the first available device ID as the default.

Video format

The video format specifies the image resolution (width and height) and other aspects of the video stream. Image acquisition devices typically support multiple video formats. See Determining the Supported Video Formats for more information.

    Note:   Specifying the video format is optional; the toolbox uses one of the supported formats as the default.

Determining the Adaptor Name

To determine the name of the adaptor, enter the imaqhwinfo function at the MATLAB prompt without any arguments.

ans = 

    InstalledAdaptors: {'dcam'  'winvideo'}
        MATLABVersion: '7.4 (R2007a)'
          ToolboxName: 'Image Acquisition Toolbox'
       ToolboxVersion: '2.1 (R2007a)'

In the data returned by imaqhwinfo, the InstalledAdaptors field lists the adaptors that are available on your computer. In this example, imaqhwinfo found two adaptors available on the computer: 'dcam' and 'winvideo'. The listing on your computer might contain only one adaptor name. Select the adaptor name that provides access to your image acquisition device. For more information, see Determining the Device Adaptor Name.

Determining the Device ID

To find the device ID of a particular image acquisition device, enter the imaqhwinfo function at the MATLAB prompt, specifying the name of the adaptor as the only argument. (You found the adaptor name in the first call to imaqhwinfo, described in Determining the Adaptor Name.) In the data returned, the DeviceIDs field is a cell array containing the device IDs of all the devices accessible through the specified adaptor.

    Note   This example uses the DCAM adaptor. You should substitute the name of the adaptor you would like to use.

info = imaqhwinfo('dcam')
info = 

       AdaptorDllName: [1x77 char]
    AdaptorDllVersion: '2.1 (R2007a)'
          AdaptorName: 'dcam'
            DeviceIDs: {[1]}
           DeviceInfo: [1x1 struct]

Determining the Supported Video Formats

To determine which video formats an image acquisition device supports, look in the DeviceInfo field of the data returned by imaqhwinfo. The DeviceInfo field is a structure array where each structure provides information about a particular device. To view the device information for a particular device, you can use the device ID as a reference into the structure array. Alternatively, you can view the information for a particular device by calling the imaqhwinfo function, specifying the adaptor name and device ID as arguments.

To get the list of the video formats supported by a device, look at SupportedFormats field in the device information structure. The SupportedFormats field is a cell array of strings where each string is the name of a video format supported by the device. For more information, see Determining Supported Video Formats.

dev_info = imaqhwinfo('dcam',1)

dev_info = 

          DefaultFormat: 'F7_Y8_1024x768'
    DeviceFileSupported: 0
             DeviceName: 'XCD-X700  1.05'
               DeviceID: 1
  VideoInputConstructor: 'videoinput('dcam', 1)'
 VideoDeviceConstructor: 'imaq.VideoDevice('dcam', 1)'
       SupportedFormats: {'F7_Y8_1024x768'  'Y8_1024x768'}

Step 3: Create a Video Input Object

In this step you create the video input object that the toolbox uses to represent the connection between MATLAB and an image acquisition device. Using the properties of a video input object, you can control many aspects of the image acquisition process. For more information about image acquisition objects, see Creating Image Acquisition Objects.

To create a video input object, use the videoinput function at the MATLAB prompt. The DeviceInfo structure returned by the imaqhwinfo function contains the default videoinput function syntax for a device in the VideoInputConstructor field. For more information the device information structure, see Determining the Supported Video Formats.

The following example creates a video input object for the DCAM adaptor. Substitute the adaptor name of the image acquisition device available on your system.

vid = videoinput('dcam',1,'Y8_1024x768')

The videoinput function accepts three arguments: the adaptor name, device ID, and video format. You retrieved this information in step 2. The adaptor name is the only required argument; the videoinput function can use defaults for the device ID and video format. To determine the default video format, look at the DefaultFormat field in the device information structure. See Determining the Supported Video Formats for more information.

Instead of specifying the video format, you can optionally specify the name of a device configuration file, also known as a camera file. Device configuration files are typically supplied by frame grabber vendors. These files contain all the required configuration settings to use a particular camera with the device. See Using Device Configuration Files (Camera Files) for more information.

Viewing the Video Input Object Summary

To view a summary of the video input object you just created, enter the variable name vid at the MATLAB command prompt. The summary information displayed shows many of the characteristics of the object, such as the number of frames that will be captured with each trigger, the trigger type, and the current state of the object. You can use video input object properties to control many of these characteristics. See Step 5: Configure Object Properties (Optional) for more information.


Summary of Video Input Object Using 'XCD-X700  1.05'.

    Acquisition Source(s):  input1 is available. 

   Acquisition Parameters:  'input1' is the current selected source.
                            10 frames per trigger using the selected source.
                            'Y8_1024x768' video data to be logged upon START. 
                            Grabbing first of every 1 frame(s). 
                            Log data to 'memory' on trigger.

Trigger Parameters:  1 'immediate' trigger(s) on START.
            Status:  Waiting for START. 
                     0 frames acquired since starting.
                     0 frames available for GETDATA.

Step 4: Preview the Video Stream (Optional)

After you create the video input object, MATLAB is able to access the image acquisition device and is ready to acquire data. However, before you begin, you might want to see a preview of the video stream to make sure that the image is satisfactory. For example, you might want to change the position of the camera, change the lighting, correct the focus, or make some other change to your image acquisition setup.

    Note   This step is optional at this point in the procedure because you can preview a video stream at any time after you create a video input object.

To preview the video stream in this example, enter the preview function at the MATLAB prompt, specifying the video input object created in step 3 as an argument.


The preview function opens a Video Preview figure window on your screen containing the live video stream. To stop the stream of live video, you can call the stoppreview function. To restart the preview stream, call preview again on the same video input object.

While a preview window is open, the video input object sets the value of the Previewing property to 'on'. If you change characteristics of the image by setting image acquisition object properties, the image displayed in the preview window reflects the change.

The following figure shows the Video Preview window for the example.

Video Preview Window

To close the Video Preview window, click the Close button in the title bar or use the closepreview function, specifying the video input object as an argument.


Calling closepreview without any arguments closes all open Video Preview windows.

Step 5: Configure Object Properties (Optional)

After creating the video input object and previewing the video stream, you might want to modify characteristics of the image or other aspects of the acquisition process. You accomplish this by setting the values of image acquisition object properties. This section

Types of Image Acquisition Objects

The toolbox uses two types of objects to represent the connection with an image acquisition device:

  • Video input objects

  • Video source objects

A video input object represents the connection between MATLAB and a video acquisition device at a high level. The properties supported by the video input object are the same for every type of device. You created a video input object using the videoinput function in step 3.

When you create a video input object, the toolbox automatically creates one or more video source objects associated with the video input object. Each video source object represents a collection of one or more physical data sources that are treated as a single entity. The number of video source objects the toolbox creates depends on the device and the video format you specify. At any one time, only one of the video source objects, called the selected source, can be active. This is the source used for acquisition. For more information about these image acquisition objects, see Creating Image Acquisition Objects.

Viewing Object Properties

To view a complete list of all the properties supported by a video input object or a video source object, use the get function. To list the properties of the video input object created in step 3, enter this code at the MATLAB prompt.


The get function lists all the properties of the object with their current values.

General Settings:
    DeviceID = 1
    DiskLogger = []
    DiskLoggerFrameCount = 0
    EventLog = [1x0 struct]
    FrameGrabInterval = 1
    FramesAcquired = 0
    FramesAvailable = 0
    FramesPerTrigger = 10
    Logging = off
    LoggingMode = memory
    Name = Y8_1024x768-dcam-1
    NumberOfBands = 1
    Previewing = on
    ReturnedColorSpace = grayscale
    ROIPosition = [0 0 1024 768]
    Running = off
    Tag = 
    Timeout = 10
    Type = videoinput
    UserData = []
    VideoFormat = Y8_1024x768
    VideoResolution = [1024 768]

To view the properties of the currently selected video source object associated with this video input object, use the getselectedsource function in conjunction with the get function. The getselectedsource function returns the currently active video source. To list the properties of the currently selected video source object associated with the video input object created in step 3, enter this code at the MATLAB prompt.


The get function lists all the properties of the object with their current values.

    Note   Video source object properties are device specific. The list of properties supported by the device connected to your system might differ from the list shown in this example.

General Settings:
    Parent = [1x1 videoinput]
    Selected = on
    SourceName = input1
    Tag = 
    Type = videosource

  Device Specific Properties:
    FrameRate = 15
    Gain = 2048
    Shutter = 2715

Setting Object Properties

To set the value of a video input object property or a video source object property, you reference the object property as you would a field in a structure, using dot notation.

Some properties are read only; you cannot set their values. These properties typically provide information about the state of the object. Other properties become read only when the object is running. To view a list of all the properties you can set, use the set function, specifying the object as the only argument.

To implement continuous image acquisition, the example sets the TriggerRepeat property to Inf. To set this property, enter this code at the MATLAB prompt.

vid.TriggerRepeat = Inf;

To help the application keep up with the incoming video stream while processing data, the example sets the FrameGrabInterval property to 5. This specifies that the object acquire every fifth frame in the video stream. (You might need to experiment with the value of the FrameGrabInterval property to find a value that provides the best response with your image acquisition setup.) This example shows how you can set the value of an object property by referencing the property as you would reference a field in a MATLAB structure.

vid.FrameGrabInterval = 5; 

To set the value of a video source object property, you must first use the getselectedsource function to retrieve the object. (You can also get the selected source by searching the video input object Source property for the video source object that has the Selected property set to 'on'.)

To illustrate, the example assigns a value to the Tag property.

vid_src = getselectedsource(vid);

vid_src.Tag = 'motion detection setup';

Step 6: Acquire Image Data

After you create the video input object and configure its properties, you can acquire data. This is typically the core of any image acquisition application, and it involves these steps:

  • Starting the video input object — You start an object by calling the start function. Starting an object prepares the object for data acquisition. For example, starting an object locks the values of certain object properties (they become read only). Starting an object does not initiate the acquiring of image frames, however. The initiation of data logging depends on the execution of a trigger.

    The following example calls the start function to start the video input object. Objects stop when they have acquired the requested number of frames. Because the example specifies a continuous acquisition, you must call the stop function to stop the object.

  • Triggering the acquisition — To acquire data, a video input object must execute a trigger. Triggers can occur in several ways, depending on how the TriggerType property is configured. For example, if you specify an immediate trigger, the object executes a trigger automatically, immediately after it starts. If you specify a manual trigger, the object waits for a call to the trigger function before it initiates data acquisition. For more information, see Acquiring Image Data.

    In the example, because the TriggerType property is set to 'immediate' (the default) and the TriggerRepeat property is set to Inf, the object automatically begins executing triggers and acquiring frames of data, continuously.

  • Bringing data into the MATLAB workspace — The toolbox stores acquired data in a memory buffer, a disk file, or both, depending on the value of the video input object LoggingMode property. To work with this data, you must bring it into the MATLAB workspace. To bring multiple frames into the workspace, use the getdata function. Once the data is in the MATLAB workspace, you can manipulate it as you would any other data. For more information, see Working with Image Data in MATLAB Workspace.

    Note   The toolbox provides a convenient way to acquire a single frame of image data that doesn't require starting or triggering the object. See Bringing a Single Frame into the Workspace for more information.

Running the Example

To run the example, enter the following code at the MATLAB prompt. The example loops until a specified number of frames have been acquired. In each loop iteration, the example calls getdata to bring the two most recent frames into the MATLAB workspace. To detect motion, the example subtracts one frame from the other, creating a difference image, and then displays it. Pixels that have changed values in the acquired frames will have nonzero values in the difference image.

The getdata function removes frames from the memory buffer when it brings them into the MATLAB workspace. It is important to move frames from the memory buffer into the MATLAB workspace in a timely manner. If you do not move the acquired frames from memory, you can quickly exhaust all the memory available on your system.

    Note   The example uses functions in the Image Processing Toolbox software.

% Create video input object. 
vid = videoinput('dcam',1,'Y8_1024x768')

% Set video input object properties for this application.
vid.TriggerRepeat = 100;
vid.FrameGrabInterval = 5;

% Set value of a video source object property.
vid_src = getselectedsource(vid);
vid_src.Tag = 'motion detection setup';

% Create a figure window.

% Start acquiring frames.

% Calculate difference image and display it.
while(vid.FramesAvailable >= 2)
    data = getdata(vid,2); 
    diff_im = imabsdiff(data(:,:,:,1),data(:,:,:,2));
    drawnow     % update figure window


Note that a drawnow is used after the call to imshow in order to ensure that the figure window is updated. This is good practice when updating a GUI or figure inside a loop.

The following figure shows how the example displays detected motion. In the figure, areas representing movement are displayed.

Figure Window Displayed by Example

Image Data in the MATLAB Workspace

In the example, the getdata function returns the image frames in the variable data as a 480-by-640-by-1-by-10 array of 8-bit data (uint8).

  Name           Size                   Bytes  Class

  data           4-D                  3072000  uint8 array
  dev_info       1x1                     1601  struct array
  info           1x1                     2467  struct array
  vid            1x1                     1138  videoinput object
  vid_src        1x1                      726  videosource object

The height and width of the array are primarily determined by the video resolution of the video format. However, you can use the ROIPosition property to specify values that supersede the video resolution. Devices typically express video resolution as column-by-row; MATLAB expresses matrix dimensions as row-by-column.

The third dimension represents the number of color bands in the image. Because the example data is a grayscale image, the third dimension is 1. For RGB formats, image frames have three bands: red is the first, green is the second, and blue is the third. The fourth dimension represents the number of frames that have been acquired from the video stream.

Step 7: Clean Up

When you finish using your image acquisition objects, you can remove them from memory and clear the MATLAB workspace of the variables associated with these objects.


For more information, see Deleting Image Acquisition Objects.

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