We have all seen it in movies or on TV: The cops have some wide angle surveillance video, and the want to zoom in on that guy way back in the corner. Someone types a few things into the computer, and the image blows up to a crystal clear HD image of the suspect.
We all know this is not real. Digital photography is based on pixels, and an HD image has 1920 pixels across stacked in rows 1080 pixels high. If you blow that image up, you just get bigger pixels, and your image looks blocky and crappy right?
Well, not always. Adobe has taken technology used to aid in image enlarging from Photoshop and added it into After Effects. They call it Detail-Preserving Upscale.
Adobe claims that detail-preserving upscale can take SD footage and upscale it to 4k. It can, but the footage doesn’t look great. Don’t get me wrong, it looks better then it would if you just blew it up the old fashioned way, but don��t for a minute think you will get that crystal clear image after blowing something up 700% like they show on your favorite crime scene procedural.
How to Use Detail-Preserving Upscale
If you are using the latest version of Adobe After Effects CC (I am on the 2015.2 release), you need to go to the “effects and presets” section on the right hand side of your screen. Type “detail” into the search box and it should come right up. Drag it on top of your footage, and the controls should pop up in your “Effect Controls” box. From there, you can scale your footage up. There is also a slider “Detail” (which is set at 50%) and for “Reduce Noise”. I left those alone for the examples on this page and in the video below.
The still of the globe with DeFino Productions on it is a 4k blow up from an SD file. The left hand side was scaled up the old fashioned way, while the right hand side used the “Detail-Preserving Upscale. Although neither side looks great, you can see an obvious improvement in the side using the Detail-Preserving Upscale. This clip is enlarged to HD (1920×1080) at the beginning of the video below.
Also in the video below, you will see a segment of myself talking to the camera. This was shot in 1280×720 and, using the Detail-Preserving Upscale, scaled up to 1920×1080.
Also in the video below, you will see some footage of the ocean shot in HD. I then made a SD clip from the HD, and blew that back up to HD using both the old fashioned scaling and the Detail-Preserving Upscale. You can clearly see in that clip the difference in quality between footage originating in HD, and blown up to HD using the two methods discussed. I have added a frame from that composite here for inspection.
So if you have to use some sub par footage on your next project, or if you need to re-crop something and do a bit of blowing up of you footage, try After Effects’s Detail-Preserving Upscale. It looks better then just scaling it up.