The analysis methodology and corresponding analytical tools for the design of optimized, low-noise, hard target return CO2 differential absorption lidar (DIAL) receiver systems implementing both single element detectors and multi-pixel imaging arrays for passive/active, remote-sensing applications are presented. System parameters and components composing the receiver include: aperture, focal length, field of view, cold shield requirements, image plane dimensions, pixel dimensions, pixel pitch and fill factor, detection quantum efficiency, optical filter requirements, amplifier and temporal sampling parameters. The performance analysis is accomplished by calculating the system's CO2 laser range response, total noise, optical geometric form factor and optical resolution. The noise components include speckle, photon noise due to signal, scene and atmospheric background, cold shield, and electronic noise. System resolution is simulated through cascaded optical transfer functions and incudes effects due to atmosphere, optics, image sampling, and system motion. Experimental results of a developmental single-element detector receiver designed to detect 100 ns wide laser pulses (10 - 100 kHz pulse repetition rates) backscattered from hard- targets at nominal ranges of 10 km are presented. The receiver sensitivity is near-background noise limited, given an 8.5 - 11.5 micrometer radiant optical bandwidth, with the total noise floor spectrally white for maximum pulse averaging efficiency.