Video Upscaling - The Basics

4K Resolution vs 1080p and 720p
Video Resolution Comparison. Image in the Public Domain via

What Video Upscaling Is

Upscaling is a process that mathematically matches the pixel count of the output of a standard or non-hi-def signal (such as standard DVD) to the physical pixel count on an HDTV or video projector, which is typically 1280x720 (720p) or 1920x1080 (1080i or 1080p), and in a more recent development (for many TVs and video projectors going forward from 2012), 3840x2160 or 4096x2160 (referred to as either 2160p or 4K).

Overview Of High Definition Video Resolutions

720p represents 1,280 pixels displayed across the screen horizontally and 720 pixels down the screen vertically. This arrangement yields 720 horizontal lines on the screen, which are, in turn, displayed progressively, or each line displayed following another.

1080i represents 1,920 pixels displayed across a screen horizontally and 1,080 pixels down a screen vertically. This arrangement yields 1,080 horizontal lines, which are, in turn, displayed in two successive fields of 540 lines (interlaced scan).

1080p represents 1,920 pixels displayed across a screen horizontally and 1,080 pixels down a screen vertically. This arrangement yields 1,080 horizontal lines, which are, in turn, displayed progressively.

2160p or 4K represents 3840 or 4096 pixels displayed across a screen horizontally and 2,160 pixels displayed across a screen vertically. The entire frame is displayed progressively.

What Upscaling Does Not Do

However, it is important to note that the upscaling process does not magically convert a lower resolution to a higher resolution. In other words, an image that is upscaled to a higher resolution will not not look the same as an image that is native to that higher resolution in the first place.

How Upscaling Is Executed In Home Theater

Upscaling can actually performed by several type of components. For example, DVD players that have HDMI outputs have built-in upscaling so that DVDs will look better on an HD or 4K Ultra HD TV or video projector. It is also important to point out that all Blu-ray Disc players have built-in video upscaling for providing better quality playback of standard DVDs.

Also, many midrange and high-end home theater receivers, in addition to performing their role as a source switcher, audio processing, and amplifier, may also provide built-in video upscaling, and, in some case, provide image quality adjustment settings similar to what you may find on a TV or video projector.

In addition, HD and Ultra HD TVs and video projector themselves have their own built-in video processors that can perform video upscaling functions.

However, one thing to in mind in terms of video upscalers, is that they are not all created equal. For instance, although your TV may provide video upscaling, your DVD or Blu-ray Disc player may be able to perform the task better. By the same token, your TV might do a better job of video upscaling than your home theater receiver.

In all cases, except for TVs and video projectors, whose upscalers are also on, the video upscaling functions in a DVD, Blu-ray Disc Player or home theater receiver can be turned off, allowing the native resolution signals coming through each source to be untouched until they reach the TV.

However, if you leave the upscaling function your source devices, or home theater receiver turn-on, they will supercede the video upscaling in the TV or video projector. For example, if you have a 1080p TV and the signals coming are either native 1080p or previously upscaled to 1080p - the TV becomes neutral.

This also applies to 4K Ultra HD TVs - if the incoming signal is native 4K or already upscaling to 4K - that is what you will see on the screen.

Of course there are some exceptions to the rule as some higher end 1080p or 4K Ultra HD TVs may provide some additional color or other image processing no matter what the incoming signal resolution is.

What all this means to the consumer is the when you have a step-up that includes a 1080p or 4K Ultra HD TV or video projector and you have source components or a home theater receiver that can also perform upscaling functions, you have to decide which does the better job (in other words what looks best to you) can set the video output resolution of your source components accordingly.

For a more details on how upscaling is implemented, refer to my articles: Video Upscaling and Upscaling DVD Players vs Upscaling TVs

Also, for more details on 4K resolution and upscaling issues, refer to my articles: 4K Resolution - Overview and Perspective and What You Need to See 4K Resolution On A 4K Ultra HD TV .

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