Technical Reference

Improving Results for Low Resolution Output

Originally I wrote this specifically with output for VHS in mind. With the increasing use of low resolution streaming video, most of the people who need this advice are shooting for video podcasts or other similar formats.

The problem is that, like Peter Parker unwittingly demonstrates above, bad things happen when you give up image information. Nevertheless this is exactly what we are doing every time we decide to compress our video so that someone can watch it on their iPod.

Compressed video and VHS both produce very poor quality images. If you have been editing in a format with DV or better quality, then when you go to create such low resolution output you will see the results as very poor. It used to be said that the worst thing you can do to BetaSP or DV video is to dub it down to VHS. I’d like to have seen the face of whoever said that the first time they found out their work was being distributed on an iPod.

There are no magic tricks that will make your VHS tapes or podcast look like a DVD or other high quality images. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

This is why we are all migrating away from VHS to DVD, but the truth is that some of us still have to output to VHS, and every day more of us have to output to the Internet.

So, what can you do to get the most out of what you have ? Actually quite a bit.

  1. Plan for your output when shooting your material
    Old video formats and streaming video have lower resolution and lower Signal to Noise Ratio than many formats. If your image composition has a lot of detailed features, like faces, make sure it is big enough on screen to show the important details. Remember that DV, SVHS, Beta and Hi8 cameras all capture more information and detail than VHS or streaming formats can show. Get close to your subjects. It is also worth considering additional takes just for such uses.
  2. Make sure to choose an editing format that exceeds your output formats resolution.
    Check this Format Comparison Table for some likely choices. This is important because even though you will lose detail when you output to VHS or a stream, you want to have a "safety margin" if you will. Even if your original footage is in a low resolution format, like VHS, "bumping up" to a better format will still allow you to preserve more of your image quality.
  3. Use a Time Base Corrector
    A time base corrector corrects signal synchronization and can help make sure that your recorded images work well on the most VHS machines. It can eliminate some ghosting effects and the possibility of your video losing vertical hold, or "rolling", on the vast number of TV's, some rather old, that your video may be played on.
  4. Use a color corrector
    VHS in particular seems to suffer from high color saturation, particularly in red areas. It also reacts poorly to high contrast, such as a white player name on a red uniform. Reducing contrast and saturation settings can have a good effect on your video.