Upscaling Images for Video Production – LetsEnhance

By July 10, 2019 September 2nd, 2019 Reviews, Software, Web

INTRODUCTION TO LETSENHANCE

Today I’m looking at a simple way of upscaling images using a service called LetsEnhance. This video is not a sponsored review. These are my thoughts after using the service for a few weeks.

LetsEnhance is a startup company offering a solution to a problem. It upscales images by a factor of 4 while retaining as much detail as it can and even providing some degree of enhancement such as removing JPEG compression artefacts. There are virtually no options. Just drop in a picture, select the content type and let it get on with it.

Initially conceived in 2017 by Ukrainian Oleksandr Savsunenko, LetsEnhance is another product to have jumped on the AI bandwagon. That’s no surprise, however, as a little online research shows that Oleksandr is, at time of writing, the Head of AI Labs at Skylum software. Skylum, also founded in Ukraine, is another company who are very much into claims that AI can do all the work for you.

While I don’t doubt the validity of such claims, nor the quality of Oleksandr’s work, I always find myself needing more information on precisely what is changed and why. The slightly patronising ‘AI to the rescue’ line is reminiscent of the ’80s when computers were new on the scene. Generic phrases like ‘let the computer work its magic’ were commonplace then too.

This is not the only service offering this. There are quite a few of them out there and it appears that each of them has their loyal followers who believe that x service is better for some reason. I suggest you try them for yourself and see what works best for you.

DOES IT WORK & DO YOU NEED IT?

So, does it work? Yes. It’s not perfect but compared to upscaling in, e.g. Premiere (demonstrated in the video) it blows it away.

The second and more difficult question to answer is, do you need it? In my opinion, there is less need than ever to upscale. Content is provided or captured in higher resolution nowadays which gives you a certain degree of wiggle room around crop and final composition.

However, there are still some obvious use cases which, for some, could make LetsEnhance or a similar product a no brainer.

VIDEO PRODUCTION

If you use static images in your video production and deliver content in HD or higher, you can probably make use of a tool like this.

Your mileage in a final render may vary depending on scaling options selected, but LetsEnhance beats Premiere in three key areas.

  1. The upscale retains the details of the background image.
  2. The text remains clear and free from pixelation, albeit a little more processed.
  3. The artefacts around high contrast text areas (a frequent problem with lossy JPEG compression) are improved/removed in the upscale.

In my case, I’m fortunate that I have full content control. If the resolution of an image isn’t up to scratch, I probably won’t use it. A service like this does open up your options though, and if a client dictates the stock images or content you use, you may want to try something like this if they send over something sub-standard.

CROPPED PRINTS

Discussing printing puts you into a more specialist (though still huge) area of the market. When did you last print an image? I bet it’s a while ago, if ever for many. Printing is, however, of huge importance and have a decent quality and high resolution original is much more critical. For now, let’s assume you do want to print.

Not having sufficient resolution to print an image is less of a problem today. With phones producing good quality images upwards of 20MP, you’ll have no problem getting a decent sized print. However, if you begin to crop into an image, the resolution soon drops down, especially when you consider the reality that not everyone in this world has a phone or camera producing that type of resolution. Don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone has the latest and greatest. Old devices are still massive sellers.

You’ll certainly get a better result upscaling in LetsEnhance than in Photoshop but again, I ask myself how often I would ever need to do this.

SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGES

Finally, I can see that you may wish to use this for social media images, assuming, of course, that have the rights to use the pictures in the first place. Although this relates directly to the previous two as social media is purely the source of the images and not the use itself, I’m giving it a separate mention because I think it’s something most viewers of this can relate to.

As a general rule, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and others resize and recompress all media to a standard and not a very good standard at that. If (and it’s a big if because, as mentioned, I know that many people only view these images on a mobile device and are perfectly happy with the results online), but if you do wish to do something else with these such as printing, you’ll probably need a bigger image.

In testing with WhatsApp, it ruined the original by adding very noticeable compression around high contrast areas (expected). Unfortunately, the upscaled version shows the problems of having no control over the process. It has attempts to clean up the original but applies way too much noise reduction in the process leaving an artificial and softened image. In this case, I’ll stick to the WhatsApp version.

Original 640px Video Thumbnail
Sample 01 – Original
Portrait Original
Sample 02 – Original
Upscaled Video Thumbnail
Sample 01 – Upscaled
Portrait Upscaled
Sample 02 – Upscaled

LIMITATIONS

That brings me nicely onto the limitations of LetsEnhance.

LetsEnhance is possibly a misleading title. The rule of garbage in, garbage out still applies. The tool reduces compression artefacts and reduces noise inherent with upscaling but don’t expect miracles. If the small version is a bad image, the big version will be too.

Also, the website does not allow batch processing or drag and drop (though it is being developed all the time so it might do by the time you read this). Very strange.

Upscaled images look processed. There’s no getting around that. Fine details such as hair are lost, and even the excellent upscaling of text can look a bit odd. That said, it doesn’t look bad and most importantly much better than your alternatives.

CONCLUSION

I see this service as an interesting project. It almost feels like someone has been working with AI, realised that it could also do this, wrapped a basic website around it and said, “Hey, look what my new toy does.” Maybe I don’t understand enough about what’s going on here to give it the merit it deserves.

What I can say is that the service works and it has grown on me. I did not make up my video example for this review. This was a real case where I suddenly thought, I wonder how I can upscale this without it looking so rubbish. It creates some great results, particularly when upscaling text and while I don’t really have much need for something like this, you might. It made me realise how terrible upscaling in Photoshop is and making this video made me think about upscaling in general.

Inside my little consumer box, I don’t think demand is very big but the more I think about it, the more I think I might be wrong. In business, it could give your output the edge. Not obvious at first glance but enhancing the overall production quality and feel of your output. My only thought would be, surely they would already have a tool to do this or could simply demand higher resolution originals. It’s hard to say.

It’s definitely worth a look but whether you’d want to pay for this is very dependent on your personal needs. Making something from nothing is a big ask. It can easily go wrong, but LetsEnhance often gets it right.

What do you think? When was the last time you upscaled an image or even thought about it? Are the results you get in your current editor good enough? Let me know in the comments. Please consider subscribing to my channel for more tech reviews and tutorials.

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