VHS videos - more than just the tape

Ok, you've digitally transferred your old tapes onto USB or Hard drive. They look great on your computer screen. You plug the drive into your big beautiful 55" Smart TV with 4K resolution, sit back with your corn chips and are ready to enjoy a night in of memories....

You select the file and press play.

Wow.

The picture is nothing like you remembered of VHS tapes. Sure its SD, but the picture is really down on sharpness and detail.

Why?

I see this problem a lot. Many times I take finished work to people's homes and plug into their brand new, fully upgraded, latest version, fully tanked up Netflix, Google Play, Amazon ready smart TVs - and their videos look terrible through the screen.

Is it the TV? Yes... and No.

To get the crux of the matter, you have to understand 'resolution'

Resolution is the quantity of pixels on the screen of a TV/Monitor or Camera. All of the following is the vertical pixel numbers for 16:9 formats:

  • 240p = 352 x 240

  • 360 p = 480 x 360

  • 480p = 858 x 480 — also known as SD

  • 720p = 1280 x 720 — the old TVs of this resolution were marked HDready

  • 1080p = 1920 x 1080 — FullHD

  • 2160p = 3860 x 2160 —Ultra-HD, also known as 4K (that’s a marketing trick)

The old VHS tapes were recorded in the Standard Definition format (SD). This was 480p resolution. In effect - 411,840 pixels of information that comprised a frame from the video.

A 4K tv is 2160p resolution - or 8,337,600 pixels that make up a frame of video.

Here is the problem watching a SD signal on a 4K tv:

For each pixel from the original SD (or VHS) signal, over 20 pixels from the 4K screen are used to show that one original pixel.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many 4K monitors purchased are over 55" ... and people don't stand the full required distance from the tv to view the material. Compound this with viewing a source material originally recorded in standard definition(480p) and the problem gets worse.

Here is a screen shot of comparisons of different resolutions of the same image.

As you can see the image of the car at the top left corner in 480p is as clear as the 8K image. The obvious difference? The size of the image. The 8 K uses 80 times more pixels to make the sharp image of that size. The reason why it is sharp is due to the original recording format of the image. The 8K image has the exact amount of pixels on the screen to display the image correctly. If the original 480p image was stretched to fill the corners of the raster, you would see an incredibly pixelated image, because 80 pixels of the monitor would be used for each pixel of the original image! This is why the 'pixel' effect is prevalent today due to the lack of 8K source material.

Solution?

The best advice is to view old SD material on a small monitor, say 40" or less. Pixelation is still aparent but not as obvious. A computer screen up to 27" would be ideal, and again remember to view at a fair distance away approximately 3 feet away. Computer monitors also are able to have their resolutions operator adjusted, but with image size being compromised to achieve this.

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