January 5, 2017 at 11:20AM

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Creative Ways to Upres VHS Tapes

I'm working on a documentary in which the most important footage I have is on a VHS. The footage was originally shot on film in the 30s and at some point made its way to a VHS. I'm not sure how many other formats it went through first, and the original film is lost. I want to upres this footage to 1080p, but I don't want to do it digitally because I don't want it to have artifacts. I'm okay with the footage being blurry from the upres, just not pixelated. I know that if the information isn't there, it isn't there, but is there some creative workaround where I can get a usable HD image from this VHS? Some ideas were to play the VHS on an old SD TV and film the screen with an HD or 4k camera. Similarly, could I convert the VHS to a digital SD file, play it back on my computer and use a screen capturing device with a higher resolution? What would happen if I printed an SD digital file to film, and then had the film converted to HD video?

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The concept I'm thinking of here is how you can take a fairly small printed photo, scan it at a high DPI, and end up with a useable larger image. However, if you were to take the same small photo file (with a low resolution) and try to upscale it digitally, you would probably end up with pixelated trash. So is there a way to use the same concept to "scan" low res VHS footage at the video equivalent of a high DPI?

January 5, 2017 at 11:36AM

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Hannah Bowman
Editor
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Hannah, the easiest solution is actually the best. If you don't mind the artifacts of interlaced video, then just play the VHS tape into a video capture card to create a digital SD file, then upres it. If you don't like interlacing, look at either a high-quality hardware-based de-interlacer (such as Blackmagic Design's Teranex box) or study the various software versions that come bundled with your favorite NLE. (Higher-end digital post houses can probably offer you the service of de-interlacing and digitizing at much less than the cost of buying the hardware and doing it yourself).

You absolutely don't want to play the VHS through some device and then try to capture the output of that device. That will look terrible in more ways than I can list in a short post.

Modern NLEs upscale video without pixelating. Some NLEs may have some mistaken or misguided nostalgia for the early days when programmers did not actually understand the first thing about digital signal processing, and they proudly offer a never-should-have-been-implemented-in-the-first-place legacy mode as their default, but I doubt it. That would be like a school cafeteria that still offers children a milky-white lead-based solution as a substitute for milk because that's how they did it in 1933 when they couldn't afford to buy the real thing. Nobody does that (I hope!).

The upscaled video will look fuzzy compared with HD or proper film scans, but honestly it will look as good as you can make it look. Proper upscaling applies a filter to the pixels so that after upscaling they are fuzzy, not pixelated. End of story.

January 5, 2017 at 2:11PM

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The best way is process VHS is:

1. Get a good VHS player preferably with TBC
2. Digitize it interlaced with any VHS sharpening and noise reduction set to the minimum.
3. Make sure your level settings are correct (to prevent avoidable blown out highlights)
4. Capture it with a high quality codec.
5. Line double it to 50/60p
6. Remove any remaining deinterlacing artifacts
7. Apply light noise reduction (if applicable)
8. Apply slight color correction as the colors are likely a bit faded.

And that's all you can do!

Avoid:

Sharpening, VHS is already oversharpened.

You can upres. the results but it will not improve the quality.

Avisynth and Vapoursynth are great tools to accomplish all this.

January 5, 2017 at 4:37PM, Edited January 5, 4:41PM

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Cary Knoop
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Thanks for responses! I'm trying some of these techniques right now.

January 8, 2017 at 11:32AM

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Hannah Bowman
Editor
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Back before Netflix, I bought a couple of DVDs from this one guy....

He'd worked at a TV studio or some such place. This was in the 90s. They used a special - and pretty expensive - VCR. It actually upconverted the VHS tapes to a higher resolution. I think they used it for news footage. When the studio no longer had a use for the machine, they sold it to this guy and he used it to transfer VHS footage of punk bands and the occasional obscure movie to DVD, yielding a better picture than if he'd simply transfered the 240x360 footage as is. I never actually saw any of his VHS transfers; I just bought a couple of Laser Disc transfers. But he did seem to be very serious about his work.

He's been out of business for quite some time now. But maybe the type of VCR he used is now available on eBay. I'm sorry; I cannot remember what it was called. But it did exist.

-Clay

January 11, 2017 at 4:15AM

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Clay Smith
Wannabe screenwriter, film editor, director
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