Whether you’re in the market for a new 4K UHD TV or enjoying the latest games on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, the debate between upscaled 4K and native 4K is hard to ignore.
Does it really matter if one term refers to “4K quality” while the other mentions “high resolution”? In reality, native 4K and 4K upscaling both aim to achieve the same result, but there are crucial differences between them.
So, how do they differ exactly? In the following discussion, we’ll outline the primary distinctions between the two approaches, help you decide which one suits your needs, and explore how to enhance video to achieve true 4K quality.
What Is Native 4K?
Native 4K, also known as “true 4K” or “native resolution,” implies that the content you’re viewing was created, recorded, or displayed in 4K resolution from its inception. In simpler terms, every pixel you see on your 4K screen was present in the original content. Native 4K provides the most genuine and breathtakingly detailed images, offering an unparalleled visual experience.
For example, if you’re watching a movie that was filmed using 4K cameras or playing a video game designed with 4K graphics, you’re experiencing native 4K. This content was created with 4K resolution in mind, ensuring every pixel contributes to the overall image quality.
The majority of display device manufacturers have incorporated 4K technology into their most recent models, contributing to the surge in 4K entertainment quality. Affordable 4K TVs are now readily available, making it easier for users who appreciate high-quality displays to acquire one.
To fully enjoy high-quality displays, you need corresponding 4K media. But what occurs when your movie is in HD (1080p) quality?
Recognizing that your TV’s resolution might not always match the quality of your media is the first step. It doesn’t magically become 4K quality when you watch an HD movie on a 4K TV.
4K upscaling refers to the ability of a 4K TV to enhance the lower resolution of incoming media to a “near-4K” quality.
A 4K TV screen boasts a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160, equating to over 8 million pixels. In contrast, an HD-quality video only comprises 2 million pixels.
Without upscaling, your HD video would merely occupy a quarter of the 4K screen, with the TV filling the remaining space with black bars.
Thanks to the upscaling capabilities of 4K TVs, you don’t need to settle for a quarter-display. These TVs analyze non-4K signals and enlarge the image by interpolating the missing details.
Interpolation entails filling the gaps with intermediate pixels to replicate the 4K standard. Upscaled HD content may even appear superior to native HD displays. However, it’s worth noting that 4K upscaling might not achieve the same sharpness as genuine 4K content.
Why 4K Upscaling Is Important
4K upscaling holds immense importance today because there’s frequently a substantial quality gap between display screens and available media.
A striking 50% of TVs shipped worldwide now offer 4K quality. In contrast, most accessible media content remains in Full HD quality. Unless you possess a 4K Blu-ray player or a premium Netflix subscription, chances are you’re still watching HD movies, and they can only truly shine on your 4K screen when upscaled.
4K upscaling takes lower-resolution content and enlarges it to fill the aspect ratio of a 4K TV screen while preserving excellent display quality.
The alternative to 4K upscaling involves manually stretching or zooming in on your image to occupy the entire screen, yet this method is known to introduce significant image distortion.
AI Upscaling Software:
Upscaling technology is built in your TVs, cable boxes, and various display devices. However, there are third-party software solutions available that allow you to edit (upscale) and enhance videos. These software packages employ artificial intelligence in a process referred to as AI Upscaling. Their purpose is to enhance the quality of HD videos, enabling them to fill a 4K screen.
AI-based software analyzes videos and estimates the additional details that would be present if the video had higher quality. Using this estimation, the software generates new pixels to fill the gaps and extends details into these new pixels from the original image. AI upscaling isn’t merely about filling the screen; it also significantly improves image quality, making lower-resolution images closely mimic your TV’s native resolution.
Best 4K Upscaling Software
Topaz Video Enhance AI
Video Enhance AI, created by Topaz Labs, utilizes machine learning to upscale videos. It examines multiple frames and leverages this information to upscale videos with impressive results.
Even issues like blockiness and flickering are addressed, thanks to its ability to study surrounding frames for more realistic outcomes.
It has the capability to enhance standard-definition (480p) videos to high-definition (1080p) quality and elevate HD videos to stunning 4K or 8K resolutions, preserving sharp details while minimizing any noticeable visual distortions or imperfections.
DVDFab Enlarger AI
DVDFab Enlarger AI is specialized in enhancing low-quality videos and aging DVDs. It employs advanced super-resolution technology to upscale content from standard definition (SD) to high definition (HD) and even from HD to 4K. The software achieves this by analyzing individual pixels in an image and enlarging them through the addition of multiple identical pixels, ultimately leading to enhanced clarity and sharper visuals.
Users can choose from four output quality options, including Premium, Ultra, Deblock, and Ultra+Deblock qualities, catering to various preferences.
AVCLabs Video Enhancer AI
AVCLabs Video Enhancer AI excels at upscaling videos to fit higher-resolution screens, covering SD to HD and HD to 4K or 8K without sacrificing details or quality.
In fact, it goes a step further by enhancing video quality, improving color, and removing blurs on a frame-by-frame basis, caused by issues like incorrect focus or poor lighting. AVCLabs AI learns and adapts from multiple videos, developing algorithms to retrieve information and determine the best enhancement strategies.
Difference Between 4K Upscaling and Native 4K
The TV does not upscale the resolution of full HD (1080p) content when you view it on a 4K TV. The full HD image that you view on your 4K screen is exactly the same as it appears on the source device. The main difference is that HD images can expand and cover the screen with 4K upscaling without being distorted or losing quality.
In contrast, with native 4K content, the images displayed on your 4K TV are genuinely of 4K resolution quality. These images neither undergo upscaling nor stretching. A native 4K display occurs when you transmit 4K media from your source device to your 4K TV screen.
When directly compared, a 4K upscale and native 4K resolution may appear similar at first glance, but they have significant differences.
- True Resolution: Native 4K resolution is inherently 4K, maintaining its high-quality resolution throughout. In contrast, a 4K upscale falls short in terms of the original resolution. It essentially provides a resolution equivalent to 1080p HD, which becomes evident when using the “2160p” label to describe 4K. This highlights the vast superiority of native 4K over its predecessor, 1080p (also known as 2K).
- Number of Pixels: 4K televisions boast four times as many pixels as HD TVs. A 4K upscale contains only about two million original pixels, while a native 4K image boasts a whopping eight million pixels. This substantial increase amounts to nearly six million additional pixels.
- Interpolated Pixels: It’s essential to note that a 4K upscale relies on more interpolated pixels compared to a raw 4K image. To look good on a 4K TV, the former requires around six million interpolated pixels, whereas the latter needs none since it was created at a 4K resolution from the outset.
Which One is Better: Native 4K vs Upscaled 4K
When comparing native 4K to upscaled 4K, both may share the 3840 by 2160 resolution, but native 4K stands superior, much like how optical zoom in a camera surpasses digital zoom.
Upscaled 4K: Upscaled 4K relies on methods like picture interpolation or the introduction of false pixels. Upscaling from 1080p to 4K can be achieved using techniques such as nearest neighbor, bicubic, or bilinear interpolation.
Among these, the nearest-neighbor interpolation, also known as point sampling, is the simplest and most commonly used method for achieving 4K resolution. It involves overlaying a white grid onto an image and using mathematical estimates based on the colors of the surrounding four pixels to determine the colors for the blank pixels.
Native 4K: Native 4K represents the original quality of the video file, which means no enhancement methods are necessary. With the appropriate equipment, you can play a video file in clear and unaltered quality.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How Beneficial Is 4K Upscaling?
Upscaling may seem similar to stretching or zooming out an HD image to fill a 4K screen, but in reality, they are distinct processes. You might be wondering, “Is 4K Upscaling genuinely worth the hype?” The answer is a resounding yes, especially when you want to watch a low-resolution video on a 4K screen.
Stretching or zooming an image typically results in pixelation, blurriness, and a significant loss in image quality. In contrast, upscaling utilizes interpolation techniques to enlarge the image, filling the screen while preserving the original image’s quality and crispness.
2. Does 4K TV upscale automatically?
Most 4K TVs come equipped with a dedicated upscaling chip designed to scan and enhance non-4K content to fit the screen. For the majority of 4K TVs, upscaling is automatic and cannot be disabled. However, a few brands may require you to manually enable Auto Upscale through the TV’s settings.
It’s essential to note that not all 4K TVs offer the same level of upscaling quality. Some brands and models excel in this area more than others.
3. What TVs Offer the Best Upscaling to 4K?
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, it’s logical to assume that newer and more expensive TVs generally feature better upscaling technology. Additionally, TVs from major, well-known brands tend to offer better upscaling compared to those from less recognized brands. Leading brands typically invest more in picture processing technology to maintain their reputations.
Sony and LG are renowned brands recognized for their outstanding TV upscaling technology. Sony’s Master Series employs the powerful X1 Ultimate processor and X Reality for their standard 4K TVs, delivering impressive upscaling capabilities. On the other hand, LG’s OLED TVs utilize the Alpha 9 processor, known for its high-quality upscaling performance.
Another notable mention is Samsung, with its Q-series TV models like the Q60, Q75, and Q90 featuring advanced AI upscaling technology.
4K upscaling is a vital technology in modern entertainment, and the great news is that your 4K devices are equipped with built-in upscaling capabilities. This technology efficiently enlarges lower-resolution images, such as 720p and HD, to match the 4K resolution screen. It does this intelligently by adding pixels to enhance, and sometimes even enhance, the sharpness and overall image quality of the content.
Additionally, there are software packages for AI upscaling designed for your personal computer, offering a wide range of video editing and enhancement features. You have the flexibility to pick from the three exceptional choices detailed earlier to improve and enrich your overall viewing experience.