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Scaling artifacts and resolution

A crash course in sampling theory

Whenever an image is rescaled or resampled, it will suffer from one or more of the following artifacts:

  1. Aliasing / moire
  2. Loss of frequency response / blurriness
  3. Ringing / halos
Original Resized 2X smaller using Photoshop's Nearest Neighbour algorithm

The original test pattern consists of a zone plate (the image with the concentric circles) and sample text. When resized using the Nearest Neighbour algorithm, aliasing can be seen as the spurious bands that appear in the zone plate test pattern.

One way to remove aliasing is to use a blurry filter upon resampling (i.e. a filter with poor frequency response). Of course, the problem with this approach is that it makes the image blurry! This can be seen below:

Gaussian blur applied before resizing.

There are other resampling approaches that can create sharp images with low aliasing. However, these filters will introduce ringing artifacts, which can be seen as the halos around the edges of the text as shown below. On highly saturated objects, these 'halos' will be of the opposite color of the text.

Resized 2X smaller using Photoshop's Bicubic Sharper algorithm.
Image on the left zoomed 200% larger.

No matter what resampling algorithm is used, there is always a tradeoff. This dilemma can be visualized as picking a point inside the following triangle. Improving one aspect (i.e. moving away from one corner) will make the other artifacts worse.

In a broadcast monitor, resampling should be avoided where possible! Some manufacturers sell LCDs panels that do not have at least 1920 x 1080 pixels. If you need to monitor a 1920 x 1080 HD image, the image must be resampled to fit the whole image onto the display. Not only will it be incapable of displaying full HD resolution, there will be scaling artifacts on top of that resolution loss. For critical monitoring, it is highly undesirable for the monitor to introduce artifacts which do not exist in the image. Considering that there are many affordable 1920 x 1080 monitoring solutions, there is little reason to buy a reference display that cannot do this. The one exception would be if you only needed to monitor 720p footage and the display in question has sufficient pixels. However, most people need to work with multiple formats including 1920x1080 formats (e.g. 1080i59.97, 1080i50, 1080psf24, and the next-generation 1080p50/59.97 HD formats).

When monitoring scaled signals on a LCD monitor (e.g. upconverted 720p or SD), you should be aware that the monitor may introduce subtle scaling artifacts not in the footage. This can be avoided for 720p footage by setting the monitor to do a 1:1 pixel mapping to avoid scaling. For SD footage, all footage must be scaled since SD uses non-square pixels (the pixels must be scaled into square pixels to match the square pixels of the display). A 1:1 mapping mixing square and non-square pixels would cause the aspect ratio to be wrong.


CRT monitors are not limited to a fixed pixel structure and therefore do not have to resample the image like LCDs. They can display the various HD and SD formats (both anamorphic and 4:3) without scaling artifacts. They can also display the non-square pixels of SD formats correctly without resampling, unlike LCDs and other display technologies with a fixed pixel structure.

However, CRTs tend to have a luminance drop for very fine vertical detail due to the left-to-right scanning of the electron beam. This can be seen in the dark vertical band where the red arrows are. (The photo has some aliasing artifacts due to the way the picture was taken and resized. Please ignore them.)

This site is maintained and run by Glenn Chan.