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How to Upscale Videos from 1080p to 4K?

Viewing movies at a high resolution is a sure way of enhancing the watching experience. Lately, movies come out ready for 4K viewing, and even TV channels offer 4K resolutions at a fee. However, 4K content production is not yet widespread, thus the need to upscale movies and shows to 4K, which is better.

There are a few ways of upscaling 1080p content to be in 4K. One way is to use a 4K screen or a Blu-ray player with upscaling capabilities. Most can automatically improve lower resolutions to 4K. Unfortunately, not everyone has a 4K display with excellent upscaling or wants to use a Blu-ray for upscaling videos. Fortunately, you can still upscale videos using artificial intelligence or non-AI software.

What Are 1080p and 4K Resolutions?

Digital displays show image signals in terms of pixels. Pixels are the smallest element in a picture, and each pixel contains a sample of the original picture.

Therefore, the more pixels a picture has, the more details the image contains. The number of pixels on a digital display is what determines the resolution. 

Resolution count is generally done by counting the number of pixels on display horizontally and vertically.

1080p is a display resolution with 1080 pixels vertically and 1920 horizontal pixels. A 1080p resolution is also known as High Definition (HD) or full HD. 

a full HD 1080 screen on a phone

The “P” in 1080p stands for progressive scan, a method of transmitting, displaying, and storing digital images in a video. The progressive scan helps make pictures in a film more realistic on HD resolutions by sequentially showing pixels from top to bottom.

 A 4K resolution, on the other hand, refers to a display of approximately 4000 horizontal pixels. Standard cinema 4K displays have 4096 x 2160 pixels, and general consumer displays like TVs have 3840 × 2160 pixels.

A 4K resolution has an aspect ratio of 16:9 and is also known as Ultra High definition (UHD). It is important to note that 4K and UHD do not mean the same thing when looking into the details, but manufacturers use the terms interchangeably. 

a 4K Ultra HD TV

The “K” in 4K stands for “kilo, ” a measuring unit in terms of thousands.

More importantly, the size of a screen does not necessarily determine its resolution. 

A 4K resolution has the same number of pixels on display regardless of screen size.

However, the screen size affects the distribution of these pixels. The phenomenon is known as Pixel per Inch (PPI) or pixel density

Therefore, smaller 4K screens display sharper images than bigger 4K screens. However, it is impossible to discern the difference in real-life use.

What Is “Upscaling” on a TV?

Directly put, upscaling increases the incoming video resolution so that it correctly renders on a higher resolution TV. 4K upscaling involves increasing lower resolutions such as 720p or 1080p to display 4K resolutions. Upscaling is also known as upconverting or resolution enhancement.

a blurry picture of puppy on the left and an enhanced version on the right

Rendering 1080p content on a 4K TV without upscaling would result in a picture that fills only a part of the screen with a black border surrounding the image.

All modern TVs have upscaling capabilities; however, the quality of the final picture dramatically differs depending on the upscaling software’s sophistication. 

How Does It Work?

Upscaling works using a mesh of algorithms that creates new frames between the frames on display. The process of creating new frames is known as interpolation or motion smoothing.

The algorithms add pixels to an existing picture through interpolation to increase its resolution. Upscaling requires more pixels and needs the pixels to blend into each other naturally.

Remember that a 1080p display has 2,073,600 pixels, and a 4K display has about 8,294,400 pixels. Therefore, upscaling ensures the pixels from a 1080p display adequately fit on a 4K display.

A 1080p picture can fit on a 4K display, although it requires 6 million extra pixels. In other words, a 4K resolution has four times the total number of pixels on a 1080p resolution.

However, for a more pleasing final picture upscaling hardware on a TV has to employ other methods like nearest-neighbor interpolation, bicubic interpolation, and bilinear interpolation

Let us briefly look at the three processes and figure out their role in upscaling resolutions to 4K.

  • Nearest neighbor interpolation is how the new pixels on display get the most suitable color. The blank new pixels get a color value depending on the colors of the four surrounding pixels. If, for instance, red pixels are surrounding a blank pixel, the blank pixel will also turn red. The downside is the final image appears rugged and is blurry with a lot of digital artifacts, which in other words, is an unintended alteration of the picture.
  • Bicubic interpolation involves determining a blank pixel’s color by inferring the colors of 16 neighboring pixels. It is responsible for making upscaled video look smoother.
  • Bilinear interpolation involves determining a blank pixel’s color by inferring the average color of its four neighboring pixels. The process is essential for instances where it is impossible to decide on a blank pixel’s color by matching it to adjacent pixels. The result of bilinear interpolation is a sharper picture.

Together the three processes result in a natural video with minimal loss to visual quality. 

To briefly recap, Nearest neighbor interpolation increases the pixel count, in other words, physical resolution. The resulting image has more pixels, but they need bilinear and bicubic interpolation to fill the new pixels with the appropriate colors. 

Therefore, bilinear and bicubic interpolations improve a picture’s optical resolution.

How to Upscale 1080p to 4K?

Some Blu-ray players can upscale 1080p resolutions to 4K. Although to enjoy the 4K resolution, you need a 4K TV. Since all TVs can upscale automatically, there is no need for Blu-ray upscaling.

Blu-ray DVD players with quality upscaling include the Panasonic Streaming 4K Blu-ray Player  or the Sony UBP - X700M Blu-ray Player .

Sony UBP- X700M 4K Ultra HD Home Theater Streaming Blu-ray™ Player
Click image for more info

You can also upscale the video resolution by tinkering with the settings on YouTube. To upscale, click on the settings widget and change the video quality. However, there is no observable resolution change, especially if you use a 1080p display.

Alternatively, input the 1080p signal into the TV, and it will automatically upscale the resolution to 4K using inbuilt hardware and algorithms. 

The SAMSUNG 50-Inch Class QLED Q60A Series  and the Sony X80J 50 Inch TV  have the most effective upscaling.

Sony X80J 50 Inch TV: 4K Ultra HD LED Smart Google TV
Click image for more info

You can also use upscaling software to convert 1080p to 4K. First, download the program and run it on your computer. Next, upload the 1080p video and allow the software to convert your video.

Upscaling software is suitable for converting CDs and DVDs that you wish to view in 4K. The upscaling software can only upscale content according to the size and quality of incoming data. Therefore, the 4K output will not be as impressive if the incoming signal is low quality.

Best Upscaling Software for Videos?

The various upscaling software has multiple capabilities. Most of them offer a free trial period or limit the number of videos you can convert.

Therefore, you need to pay to explore the full range of their capabilities. Below are among the best upgrading software available.

  • Topaz video enhancing AI is a software application that allows video enhancing up to 4K. One advantage is that you can get a lifetime subscription at a fee. It is available for both Windows and Mac operating systems.
  • Pixop is an online upscaling service. It is easy to use as it only requires you to have an account, and you are good to go. The service does not charge a subscription fee but charges per the service they offer, such as processing, storage, and downloads.
  • AVCLabs Video Enhancer AI is a subscription-based AI available for Windows operating systems. It analyzes the available pixels and converts up to 8K resolutions.

Why Do I Need Upscaling Software?

Software upscaling is more efficient than real-time upscaling on televisions and DVD players. Therefore, it is a preferable choice if you want the best video output that you can have.

Upscaling software is helpful if you have a classic video source such as a VCR that does not have an HDMI port. It allows the video source to transmit a 4K signal that the inbuilt upscale on a 4K will enhance even further. 

an old videocassette recorder

Upscaling software has machine learning capabilities and can enhance other aspects of the 4K display, such as noise reduction.

Is 4K Upscaling Worth It?

Effective upscaling depends on the capabilities of your TV’s upscaling technology. Cheap TVs usually do a shoddy upscaling job since their upscaling algorithms cannot correctly extrapolate from the available data.

Also, consider that a 1080p resolution looks as good as 4K, and humans can barely notice the additional pixel information on a 4K resolution.

Therefore, upscaling is more sensible if you have a 4K TV; otherwise, the native 1080p resolution will present quality images.


Does 1080p Upscaled to 4K Look Better?

Upscaling from 1080p to 4K does result in a better picture. However, upscaling videos do not look as good as native 4K resolutions as the upscaling algorithms are not always accurate.

Also, the final picture heavily depends on the effectiveness of the upscaling algorithms.

In most instances, upscaling software produces more pleasing images than inbuilt TV upscaling, especially in cheap 4K monitors.

The size of a display output such as a TV or monitor also impacts effective upscaling. 32 to 40 inches is the optimum screen size that adequately supports 4K resolutions.

Also, ensure your connection cables from the signal source to the display can handle 4K signal transmission.

Do 4K TVs Upscale Automatically?

4K TVs upscale automatically. You can tell since the images on the screen fit the whole screen and not just a portion of it.

If your TV has a 4K upscaling setting, it is probably for further data extrapolation to give a more natural presentation.


Most high-end TVs are expensive partly because of their practical upscaling algorithms. Essentially to get quality 4K resolutions, you will have to cough up a few more dollars one way or another. The best advice is to source a native 4K video rather than depend on upscaling software.

Last update on 2022-08-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API.

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