Ask LH: Is There A Way To Improve Standard Definition Channels On My HD TV?

Dear Lifehacker, I just bought a 55-inch Samsung 3D LED TV and the standard-definition images are EXTREMELY poor and are really unacceptable. When watching soccer or cricket I can't make out the individuals — they are just a blur. I am quite literally astounded that a modern piece of technology can't convert lower resolutions so that the picture is viewable. Is there anything that can be done? I am desperate! Thanks, Archie

Remote picture from Shutterstock

Dear Archie,

HD TVs are primarily designed to show high definition content — which means anything with a lower resolution tends to suffer as a result. When you couple this with the large size of your TV screen and the low digital bit-rates employed by TV networks in Australia, you're left with very ordinary looking standard-def footage.

One possible solution is to play the channels through a device that is capable of upscaling the image, such as a digital set top box, PlayStation 3 equipped with PlayTV or a HD personal video recorder (PVR). The results still won't be perfect, but you should definitely notice an improvement.

On another note, just how bad do the channels look? If all you are seeing is a fuzzy blur, there may be something wrong with your aerial or you could be tuned into the wrong TV channels for your region; both of which will affect the reception.

The drawback of Full HD technology is that hardware continues to outpace available content. Outside of Blu-ray discs and movie downloads, there isn't a whole lot of 1080p material out there. Even Australia's free-to-air HD channels are broadcast in either 720p or 1080i (and that's if you're lucky — most of the time they just re-run 'classic' standard-def TV shows). Hopefully, this will slowly begin to rectify itself as the networks begin to adopt more and more HD content.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Pretty sure AU's HDTV standard doesn't actually support 1080p MPEG2 streams. The standard only defines 576p, 720p and 1080i
    Even though most decoders are capable of decoding a much wider range of video formats.

    There is an MPEG4 standard that is mandated to get freeview branding but networks are not permitted to use it for broadcasts yet, I wouldn't bet on a transition to MPEG4 for a very long time

    The reception should not impact the image because it's a 3D TV and will have a digital Tuner. So you're either getting signal or you're getting missing squares of black and a maybe some popping. Not blurry faces.

    Also I've got a 50" Samsung and have no issues with blurry faces in the cricket. Sounds like you may have turned off the upscaling and/or something else is wrong.

    You could also be sitting too close to the TV.

    EDT:- If there is nothing wrong - and I think that likely - you're going to be stuck with a crappy image until the digital providers transmit your shows (sport) in 1080i. Though some already do for the big events.

    Last edited 19/02/13 2:32 pm

      I've got a 50" Panasonic plasma, my friend has a 55" Sony LED sitting literally right next to it in our lounge. When watching sport on SD channels the plasma looks noticeably better. When something is moving quickly on the LED, like a ball or someone running, you can notice blocky artifacts all around the fast moving object, on the plasma this is reduced hugely. This is definitely the case with channel 9's shitty 576i broadcast of the cricket. I've had them both running simultaneously many times.

        Good call - Didn't think of that. I've got a plasma for this reason. But plasmas are becoming an endangered species thanks to the latest advances in LCD - but as yet there are still some things that LCD can't do well - Motion in sport is one of them.

    Foxtel HD. It ain't cheap, but it sure is purdy.

    Up-scaling makes barely any difference and is usually for recorded video such as a DVD, not live transmissions. The basic problem here is that your large TV is designed to show 1080 resolutions, so when trying to watch an SD transmission, it must artificially stretch the much smaller SD video to show on your TV at full screen. I am sure the SD video would look perfectly acceptable if your tv didn't stretch the video, but then the picture would only take up a quarter of your screen, defeating the purpose of having a big tv.

    Maybe certain TVs use different formulas to scale the video, but in general all algorithms are simply using a little intelligence to insert extra pixels in order to make it fit the full screen. Because it is guessing the extra pixels it needs, you will get blurring because it will never be perfect.

      Upscaling can work wonders, it all depends on the device doing the upscaling. The in-built upscaliers in HDTV's are pretty crappy, to say the least, where with a PS3 you'll get much better picture from the same source (just try playing a low res MP4 video or something using the native player in your TV vs the PS3).

    Stop sitting so close to the TV. Might sound facetious, but if you have a massive tv and a smallish living room maybe that's it.

    I'd recommend channel BT for 1080p content, and an AppleTV to get it on the bigscreen from an iTunes library. Foxtel is 1080i, but often the bitrates are low depending on the channel. It's unbelievable that in the 21st century we still can't get 1080p for our TV channels (even pay tv), and OneHD is utterly wasted by showing B-grade movie reruns and Cops episodes rather than HD sports. There's no reason to watch free to air tv, and little reason to watch Foxtel with the constant life insurance and funeral ads. Bring on affordable a la carte streams hopefully via Apple on its AppleTV box with app support.

      TV stations here have no one to blame but themselves for a lot of us are using channel BT. HD content is easily downloadable for overseas programming - watching David Attenborough on Australian FTA SD is almost criminal. And I pay for a Foxtel HD unit to get HD sport EPL & AFL (don't get me started on the AFL HD 'downgrade' when simulcast on FTA)

    Try playing with some of the settings eg turn off picture smoothing etc. Sometimes the settings designed to make the picture better make it worse because more processing is needed.

    SD should be called LD or VLD. You'll end up partly getting used to it and partly moving away from FTA.

    Agree with Dirk re One HD ( plus 7 Mate & Gem) are utterly wasted in not being used to broadcast HD sport.
    The TV broadcasters have well and truly pulled the wool over the government's eyes in regard to allowing their HD channels to broadcast old reruns instead of HD sport.
    The proliferation of those dreadful infomercial channels is also a scandalous waste of TV broadcast spectrum. Whoever allowed that to happen should have their arse kicked.

    I get the impression that most inbuilt TV processors are not good at upscaling SD broadcasts.
    Chris' reply mentions the PlayStation 3 equipped with PlayTV or a HD PVR could provide better upscaled 1080p stream for the TV.

    I am most interested in this too.
    If anyone know of a device that is really superb at upscaling SD TV broadcasts to 1080i or 1080p please let us all know.

    I run pretty much everything through FetchTV, except for Channel BT which runs through my WDTV Live.
    Just like the OP, I have a spanky new top of the line 55" Samsung, but the only issues I ever have, are with sh!tty FTA broadcasts.
    Oh, and I don't do sport, but if you have motion issues on one of these babies it's the broadcasters fault, not yours.

    Last edited 20/02/13 10:39 am

    "On another note, just how bad do the channels look? If all you are seeing is a fuzzy blur, there may be something wrong with your aerial or you could be tuned into the wrong TV channels for your region; both of which will affect the reception."

    Aaahhh, no. Not for digital TV. You either have reception or you don't, and if you don;t you know about it. blurry faces on a digital transmission are not due to poor reception.

    Just bought an LG 4K 65" Smart TV. Can have Foxtel HD as my building isn't wired for it. Is there a way to improve the quality of picture from my SD Foxtel Box

    I am planning to buy 48" Samsung UA48HU8500R - My challenge is the viewing distance is 9 feet.
    I will not have problem in watching HD channels. But worried about viewing SD channels. Any one suggest is this distance ok for seeing SD channel without blur images.

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