Reader Question: Upscaling DVD Players

Q: New DVD players offer up-conversion of a standard DVD signal. How is this accomplished, and is this feature worthwhile?
John Lee, Hawaii

A: Standard DVDs produce a 480i signal (or 480p if it’s a progressive scan player). The new “upconvert” devices take the roughly 850 by 480 pixel image and scale it up to 720p or 1080p resolution. Now, the brute force way to do this would be to simply make four pixels out of each one in the image, but this would make the image look like a big mosaic or checkboard. Instead, the video processor in the DVD player looks at the image and finds lines and patterns, and then tries to “fill in” the missing data in the expanded image. It can’t create anything that isn’t there in the original image, but if done well, the result appears to have a lot more detail on a big screen than it would if you simply enlarged the DVD image. Apparently, these upscaling players do a good job, and since most movies are standard DVDs, it’s a reasonable way to enhance your movie viewing while we wait for HD movies to appear in reasonable quantity.