Upscaling or Upsizing Video?

October 7, 2013

by Michele Yamazaki, Toolfarm

If you ever need to work with old video footage that’s in standard format, here are several options and tools to make the job smoother and get better results.

Upscaling video


When I started my career in video post-production, standard definition was the standard. Now there are so many resolutions. A friend of mine who is a cinematographer has some really great spots that he worked on in the 1990s and would like them to be upscaled HD for YouTube and Vimeo. This article is for you, Peter!

I’m focusing on turning 720×480 (480i) into 1920×1080 (1080p) footage in this article. I’ll discuss scaling the video in After Effects, Photoshop, and using a plug-in with upscaling technology.

Upscaling video is a pretty easy task however making it look good is a big problem. Older SD formats don’t have the quality of more modern larger formats, as many are captured from tape. A lot of older footage has also been compressed into legacy video formats or use old codecs, which can create problems. You may not even have access to the source footage anymore. Old video is likely to be interlaced, which may just be another step to deal with but not affect the footage.

After going through all of these options available for upscaling, I can ultimately surmise that there is really no method that will magically turn your SD footage to amazing looking HD. Not a single one looked great. This is not a review of products, but more of a guide to the options available I’ll focus on how to minimize problems and tools for the job. Here are the main problems you’ll likely encounter after upscaling from SD to HD, such as:

  • Softening video
  • Bad color artifacts
  • Jaggy video edges, especially after sharpening
  • Noise

You will have much better results converting 720p to 1080p with any method. I chose to do a larger upscale amount because this is what Peter was asking about.

Interlaced Video

No matter which method you use to upscale your footage, make sure that you removing interlacing first!!

not deinterlaced!

This is what your fields will look like if you don’t remove interlacing before scaling. It’s not pretty.

The information below is an excerpt from my book Plug-in to After Effects: Third Party Plug-in Mastery, and is pulled from Chapter 15, Reference and Workflow.

Interlaced video is comprised of two separate fields that make a single frame of video. These fields are alternating lines of image that create each frame, or each field makes up half the resolution of the frame. Fields were introduced to smooth out motion and reduce flicker that was introduced by the slow rate of the broadcast signal, because early televisions didn’t handle content with a lot of movement too well. The frame rate in NTSC television is 30 frames per second (29.97, actually), making the field rate 60 interlaced fields per second (technically 59.94).

What do the p and i stand for?

If you see the term 1080i or 1080p, it means HDTV that is interlaced (with interlaced fields) or progressive (no interlaced fields). The i stands for interlaced and p is for progressive.

In After Effects, the process of removing interlacing is known as separating fields. Newer cameras and software will embed information into the video and After Effects will automatically separate fields for you. Most of the time, After Effects built-in Interpolation Rules do a good job of auto detecting fields by referencing at the frame size and sometimes codec.

To separate fields manually in After Effects, select your footage in the Project panel. Click the Interpret Footage button at the bottom left of the Project panel or go to File > Interpret Footage > Main. Under Fields and Pulldown, select Lower Field First in the Separate pop-up if you’re using for NTSC D1. To improve the look of the video, check Preserve Edges, which by default is unchecked.


RE:Vision Effects FieldsKit

RE:Vision Effects FieldsKit’s Effect Controls set at the defaults.

RE:Vision Effects FieldsKit provides many more field separation and pulldown options than After Effects built-in effects. FieldsKit comes with three plug-ins: Deinterlacer, Reinterlacer and Pulldown. Using proprietary field reconstruction and adaptive motion techniques, FieldsKit Deinterlacer can construct nicer looking frames and better edges by using surrounding pixel information. FieldsKit Deinterlacer used in combination with RE:Vision Effects Twixtor, can mimicking the look of 24fps film with video footage.

Red Giant Magic Bullet Frames

Red Giant Magic Bullet Frames Effect Controls panel.

Another way to give your interlaced footage the look of 24 fps progressive film is Red Giant Magic Bullet Frames. Magic Bullet Frames is a fast de-interlacing filter that uses a motion-adaptive algorithm to smooth video. This 24p conversion includes a feature to make sure that clips stay the same duration when they are converted from 29.97i frames to 24 frames during the pull-down process, so no clip trimming is required. Magic Bullet Frames includes six plug-ins: Broadcast Spec, Deartifacter, Frames, Frames Plus, Letterboxer and Opticals. The Deartifacter plug-in can remove compression from DV footage.

More Information

Pixel Aspect Ratio

Back in the day, when I worked at Postworks, I was always making graphics for Avid Media Composer or Symphony and I was always converting square pixels to rectangular D1/DV. I had a system down. If you’ve dug up older footage, there’s a good chance that it is set to D1/DV, so if you are looking at it without Pixel Aspect Ratio (PAR) Correction turned on, your footage will likely look squished. If PAR Correction is ON, you may not realize it’s squished so just be aware of this issue.

Pixel Aspect Ratio resources

Examples and Video Comparison

Here are a couple of examples of upscaling video in After Effects by using scale, Boris Continuum Complete BCC UpRez and Red Giant Magic Bullet Instant HD, and even some Photoshop.

Artbeats footage

I used some older SD footage that I had on hand from Artbeats Royalty Free Stock Footage. Their footage is fantastic and I was glad I had these old clips to use. Artbeats is now focused HD footage, RED footage, etc.

Upscaling in Adobe Premiere Pro

(click here for more on Upscaling using software you use…)

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