What TVs and AVRs Have the Best Upscaling? Ask the Editors

best upscaling

Q: I am looking to upgrade my entertainment equipment, but I have a dilemma regarding my DVDs. I don’t want to replace my entire DVD collection, so can you tell me which 75″ 4K HDR TV and AV receivers have the best upscaling? I know that some TVs, like the Vizio P series, are considered to have poor upscaling. Maybe an AVR could provide either total or stepped upscaling; that is, have the AVR upscale to an intermediate level and let the TV do the rest.

– Tom Adams (TBA1234)

A: Actually, there are at least three places along the signal path that can perform upscaling: the player, the AVR or preamp/processor, and the display. You could also insert a dedicated video processor with upscaling in the signal chain.

As far as I know, all UHD Blu-ray players can upscale lower-resolution formats such as Blu-ray and DVD; in fact, most modern HD Blu-ray players can upscale to UHD as well. But if you’re going to get a 4K/UHD TV, I strongly recommend getting a UHD Blu-ray player as well. The best players are generally considered to be the Panasonic DMP-UB900 ($600) and Oppo UDP-203 ($550). In Sound & Vision’s review of the Panasonic, one of the positive bullet points is “High-quality upconversion of Blu-rays and DVDs,” though the review itself does not mention DVD upconversion specifically, only Blu-ray. S&V’s review of the Oppo does not mention DVD upconversion either, but like the Panasonic review, it notes high-quality upconversion of HD Blu-ray.

I don’t recall ever reading—or even writing—a review of an AVR that included an evaluation of its upscaling performance. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t any; if there are, I’m sure that one or more AVS Forum members will point them out!) So I don’t know which AVRs have the best upscalers.

You’re right that the Vizio P series is often cited as having relatively poor upscaling, but Sony TVs are generally considered to have excellent upscaling. In the 75″ size class, the XBR-75Z9D ($9000) is hard to beat, but if that’s too rich for your blood, the XBR-75X940E ($6000) is a very strong option. If that’s still too expensive, Samsung processing is also considered to be very good, so I’d look at the UN75MU8000 ($3300). The UN75MU9000 has no pricing yet, and the 75″ QLEDs are in the same price ballpark as the Sonys (UN75Q9F is $10,000, and the UN75Q7F is $6000). However, because all 2017 Samsung TVs are edgelit, I generally prefer the Sonys mentioned here, which use FALD (full-array local dimming) backlighting.

You mention the possibility of “stepped” upscaling, which is an interesting notion. As far as I know, no one has looked carefully at doing that. However, I suspect it’s probably not a good idea. In general, you want to minimize the number of processing steps that a signal goes through. Each step might improve some aspect of the signal, but it can also introduce unwanted artifacts. In my view, the best approach is to find the upscaler that does the best job and disable any upscaling in other devices in the signal chain.

How do you know which device has the best upscaler? Try each one in turn using the same content. Let’s say you have a UHD Blu-ray player, an AVR with 4K/UHD upscaling, and a 4K/UHD TV. First, enable the upscaling on the player, disable the upscaler in the AVR, and play a familiar DVD while carefully observing the picture quality on the display. Next, disable the upscaling in the player, enable it in the AVR, and play the same content while carefully observing the image. Finally, disable the upscaling in the player and AVR and play the same content. In this case, the TV will perform the upscaling. Which of these three setups looks the best?

One thing to keep in mind: Playing poor-quality images on a large screen magnifies the flaws in those images, no matter how good the upscaling is. As they say in computer science, garbage in = garbage out. DVDs are the best standard-definition source, so they will look better than, say, VHS tapes. But don’t expect miracles.

If you’ve got an AV question, please send it to AskTheEditors@avsforum.com.