In 2020, Topaz Labs introduced their new product ‘Video Enhance AI’ for the purpose of upscaling and enhancing videos. This review is based on my personal experience with Topaz Video Enhance AI, and the newly released version 2.
Video upscaling isn’t a new technology. High resolution televisions and video players have been doing it for several years. Those products do the upscaling live on the fly. Topaz Labs Video Enhance AI will convert your video file to a higher resolution file and allow use on computers and televisions which may not feature upscaling technology. It also cleans up a bit of the noise sometimes introduced with upscaling. This latter point will come up again later in this review.
Short Story – Spoiler Alert!
If you want the general basis of this review, then here it is. Topaz Labs Video Enhance AI upscales and enhances reasonably well, depending on the source. Don’t expect miracles and don’t expect rapid results. The product is expensive for its limitations and short-fallings.
Please read on for a detailed explanation of my review.
Each computer system is going to have different results with this application, depending on its hardware and software configuration. My review of Topaz Labs is based on my system configuration; the basics are as follows:
Dell XPS 8930
Windows 10 Professional (64-bit)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070
Intel i7-8700 3.2 GHz
32 GB RAM
256 GB NVMe Flash drive (Operating System and Application Installs)
512 GB NVMe Flash drive (Scratch disk and temporary storage)
When the source video is good enough quality, the upscaling is not bad to pretty good. In the example below from Porky’s1, the source was a Widescreen DVD rip (720×404) upscaled to HD 1080p.
Since the source is a relatively clean video from a DVD of the original film, the standard Gaia HQ processing model is fairly reliably to scale the video up to 1080P.
The Artemis model sharpens well, but tends to introduce artifacts (worming) in soft areas. It is only really good upscaling a source that is very good. Like the below example from Oz the Great and Powerful2. The original recording is with high definition digital equipment. As a result, even though the source file for the conversion is DVD rip (720 x 404), a clean upscale is much more possible.
Video Enhance AI doesn’t appear smart enough to reference the previous few frames when it upscales a frame. When a key subject has moved in the frame, if the previous frames were referenced, the system could use the prior data to help ensure that there is consistency with how it handles the subject in its new location. Instead, each frame is individually rendered, independent of prior frames, resulting in variations and sometimes artifacts of the same material as it moves on screen.
The example to the right, also from Oz the Great and Powerful, demonstrates the artifacts created with the Artemis model. It is evident in most of the soft focus areas, as well as around small details like Oz and Theodora running in the distance.
As you see, it sharpened details, like Oz’s hat and bag, but notice the artifacts around his shoulders and seat. Also the edges of the soft focus vegetation that frame Oz and Theodora have been over-processed. The result is similar to poorly processed dithering.
Video Enhance AI offers low-quality and computer quality (Gaia only) rendering models, but they tend to super enhance aberrations and high contrast areas at extreme levels. I have not found a good use for these other models yet.
Video Enhance AI needs to include facial recognition and modified algorithms for faces. Close faces (larger on screen) upscale very well, but distance faces (smaller detail) often end up deformed or blurred out.
In the below example of just Oz as he arrives at the land of his namesake, you can see the aberrations that are my main complaint with the Artemis model.
Look at his nose and edges of his face and hair. The damage caused to these areas reminds me of poor de-interlacing, except that the lines for interlacing are horizontal not vertical. In the softer areas of the scene, like on the left and right geographical structures, you can see aberrations that I refer to as digital worming. I used to see this effect with lower quality digital cameras from 20ish years ago.
With the newer models, scaling from 720p to 1080p, the face deformities are less common, but there are still some cartoonish fakeness to teeth and eyes. Scaling 720p to 2160p is worse. As shown in the example to the right.
Ignoring the overall softness in this example, you see the eye to our right actually looks reasonable, but look at what happened to the other eye. It is greatly exaggerated. The mouth rendering has raised “opened” the mouth slightly on only one side, or just exaggerated the lips over there. The top, front of the hairline was refined some, while the rest of his hair is left soft. The deformities to the ears can only be appreciated with moving video, which I’m not going to bother putting in this article.
At least the newer models are an improvement over the deformities created by Artemis, which were not improved in second release.
One of the things that Topaz Labs is touting about Video Enhance AI, is that it is good for restoring low quality videos, like home movies. Using the average home movie, which often comes from tape formats, the improvement is marginal at best, especially for small details.
As part of the upscaling, Topaz Labs Video Enhance AI performs noise reduction along with its scaling and sharpening. With the Gaia model this eliminates a lot of the digital artifacts from the scaling process and even helps with noise that was on the source. This results in a cleaner video image that is easier to watch. The Artemis model has a tendency to enhance artifacts that were on the source video, often to ugly and distracting levels.
Unfortunately, the noise reduction can generate a slight haze over some video content, and details of small items are often lost. This is a normal problem for noise reduction, so I can’t fault it too much.
In this 1989 high school presentation of Grease3, you can see that the video was very low quality. Every single detail is soft, with noise.
When run through the Artemis model, the faces became ugly lines and boxes. The harsh shadows from the stage lights became extremely exaggerated. I should have saved a sample with that model, but my evaluation copy of Topaz Labs Video Enhance AI expired and I don’t have the Artemis sample to show.
As pointed out earlier, the Gaia model reduced the noise on this low quality video, but it also introduced a haze. It also softened both character’s facial features while starting to exaggerate the harsh shadow on the right side of Sandy’s skirt.
Oddly enough, the Gaia and Artemis models that were designed for low quality sources gave the worst results.
The newer models – Theia, Gaia and Dione – didn’t do any better on lower quality source video content. In some cases, they were worse than the older models. The only exception is the Dione Interlaced TV model, which didn’t over-enhance shadows.
Video Enhance AI falls way short on text rendering with lower quality sources. Title screens, credits, and especially the small text at the bottom, all get boxy and blobby. Topaz Labs needs to improve their text rendering when upscaling video. This is very similar to the issue with distant faces.
This problem is evident on this sample from the title credits of If You Could See What I Hear4. The title has an awkward shadow-like outline with the bottom of each letter repeated. The Copyright notice at the bottom is practically illegible.
One of the important things to note is that the video processing speed is dependent on the amount of upscaling being performed and processing power of the CPU/GPU of the computer. It is best to use the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) rather than the CPU (Central Processing Unit), because the GPU is designed for graphics rendering and can perform the task substantially quicker. Using the GPU also frees the CPU for performing other unrelated tasks – you know, multi-tasking. For fastest results, it would be great if Topaz Video Enhance AI would use both GPU and CPU at the same time. Currently, we can only use one or the other.
On my system, a feature length film (about 90 minutes) being upscaled from DVD rip to 1080p takes about 38 hours. You read that correctly – a day and a half to upscale one movie. This is something that my television does on the fly, real-time. And my television has substantially less processing power and memory than my computer.
With version two of the software, this same video conversion ranged from 43 to 72 hours, depending on the model used. They managed to make the software run slower. Even the quick preview takes dramatically longer to load – even when we ignore the couple times the software crashed during processing.
The size of the final file is quite large, averaging 5-6 GB for a 90 minute film in 1080p. This is about 1-2 GB larger than usual, so I run the file through an optimizer which maintains quality of audio and video, while reducing the file size.
Topaz Video Enhance AI Review Summary
I use Topaz Labs tools in my photography work. Many of them, like DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI are excellent tools. Video Enhance AI has a lot of growing up to do still, even after the release of version two.
At a retail price of $299, Topaz Video Enhance AI is expensive for its limitations. If Topaz Labs were to drastically improve facial and text handling, as well as processing times and perhaps reduce finished file size, then the product would be worth that cost.
Version 2.6 Update (2022 January 23)
At the beginning of 2022, Topaz had a sale which made the price worthy of my purchase. Version 2.6.2 is the current version, and I am running an upscale operation even as I type this update. Some of there newer features give greater controls for the scaling operations and cleanup, but they have done nothing to improve processing speed and the artifacts discussed in this article still exist.
In the United States, and many other countries worldwide, it is technically not legal to rip copyrighted materials from their retail source (ie, DVD and Blu-ray), due to the digital millennium act. Even for making backup copies of the content that you lawfully purchased.
United States Title 17 specifically indicates that it is illegal to reproduce a copyrighted work. But there are a lot of gray areas around that statement. Consider this – you are reading this blog post on your computer. (Don’t forget your smart phone and tablets are computers too.) Your computer creates a locally cached copy of this article on itself to make review easier, especially if you go offline. According to Title 17, your computer just broke the law on your behalf – oopsy. We can also rip our music CDs for the purpose of our personal use, playing on our mobile devices. Is it legal? Well according to Title 17 it is copyright infringement.
Giving or selling a copy of your ripped content to someone else is where the gray area becomes black and white. Redistribution of copyrighted content is absolutely illegal.
The copyrighted works which I used for this evaluation were ripped purely for this exercise in evaluating the Topaz Labs tool, to exhibit the difference between upscaling professional video and home video which tends to be of lower quality. The use herein are protected under “fair use” rights.
Anyone wishing to copy and upscale copyrighted works must obtain permission and licensing from the copyright owner, if it is not themselves.