scan_interlaced Deep Dive

scan_interlaced() can be thought of as a converter between storage/transport interlacing and display interlacing (a process sometimes called interlaced scan). The process is detailed below.

Interlacing for Storage/Transport

When captured moments from a camera are stored, two moments’ footage are laced into eachother in a single frame or picture, so in European video systems, this usually means 50 moments captured in a second are interlaced onto 25 frames1. These 25 frames could then be transported over HDTV broadcast or on a DVD and it’s up to the playback system how to present those 50 moments.

Playing Back Interlaced Content

Playback systems like your DVD player and television have a few choices when they play back content that is stored or transported interlaced. Usually the choices are:

Interlacing-naive Progressive Scan

Take the interlaced frame and send it to a progressive scan display as-is. If the original footage was captured at the interlaced frame rate, you’ll lose the notion of the smooth motion of moving objects and the comb effect will be obvious to the viewer. If the playback mechanism doesn’t even read interlaced color patterns from the picture, the combing effect will be thicker and colors could be displayed in the wrong rows.

Content originally captured progressively and stored interlaced might appear uncombed to the viewer if the top and bottom fields of the same moment in time are stored in the same frame, occasionally repeated.

Inverse Telecine or Field-matching

Identify content originally captured as progressive frames at a slower pace than the rate of field moments, stretched out over interlaced fields to fit an interlaced medium. For example, playing back a DVD of a movie filmed at 24 film-frames-per-second.

Deinterlacing

Extract an interlaced field and construct a new frame for that moment using that field and optionally information from the fields stored for previous and next moments. These new frames can be displayed at the original field rate or the moments could be halved and the new frames would be displayed at the stored frame rate.

Interlaced Scan

Extract an interlaced field and paint it onto the display with the same alternating lines it was stored with in that same position then extract the next interlaced field from the stored frame and paint it onto its corresponding lines at the relative moment in time it was captured at. The previously-painted lines might have begun to fade away during this new moment depending on the display technology.

If a video playback system is incapable of interlaced scan, it could instead be fed progressive frames that represent the states of an interlaced scan display. It is these kinds of frames that vsfieldkit.scan_interlaced() helps produce.

Interlaced Scan in Action

Comparing the original stored clip to the output of vsfieldkit.scan_interlaced(). Slowed to 10fps to emphasize differences in motion smoothness.

Code Rush (2000) by David Winton used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Note

To display interlaced footage scanned to progressive frames with vsfieldkit.scan_interlaced(), the display device would need to support progressive scan at the original field rate (e.g. at 50 Hz or 59.94-ish Hz) and you would need a means of transporting this footage, such as high speed HDMI or DisplayPort from a computer, or a USB drive plugged into an HDTV/UHD TV capable of aligning its refresh rate to the frame rate of content in its media player app.

Properties of Interlaced Scan Display

The viewer will perceive motion as smooth, but may either notice a comb effect while two moments’ fields remain painted in their respective lines or may notice the fading of the previous moment’s lines. If you grew up with this form of display and rarely witnessed alternatives, it might appear quite natural.

Why is interlaced tech still used in Modern Times?

It’s the only way to transport high-frame-rate material to the home. Modern digital theatre systems are now capable of receiving 48 progressive fps content, but home entertainment systems don’t have a standard way to take in progressive 48 fps, 50 fps, or 60 fps material from the studio. If you wish to convey smooth motion of events that were captured or rendered in high speed, you can still do one of these at 50 or \(\frac{60000}{1001}\) interlaced fields per second:

  • Put it on a DVD as 480i or 576i

  • Put it on a Blu-ray as 480i, 576i, or 1080i

  • Send a 1080i signal over HDTV broadcast tech.

  • Send 1080i over proprietary digital cable or satellite channels.

When you do that, you’re losing half of the vertical resolution you could be using with the slower progressive formats and you have no idea how the end viewer’s home entertainment system will portray the footage you transport as interlaced.

People making content are ready for high speed progressive options. Those options just aren’t there yet, so the above methods are still used to transport high frame rate material, mostly for sports events, but occasionally for concert footage and adult entertainment. Pushes by Peter Jackson and James Cameron to open the doors for high speed progressive transport may also make its way to the home for cinema, especially for 3D, where smooth motion helps avoid nausea of the viewer.

Why Use scan_interlaced() in Modern Times?

Bob deinterlacers like QTGMC and Yadif have features like motion interpolation of neighbouring moments’ fields to supplement image data presented in the generated frames. This results in more detail per moment than ever before, better capturing the original reality or intentions of the capture. So, you may ask yourself why you would step backward in time and use interlaced scan for display when QTGMC or Yadif paint a prettier picture with no obvious comb effect.

Here are the biggest reasons you might want to:

Academia

You might wish to demonstrate the evolution of video technology to a film class, but only have a progressive display system.

Lossless Display

You may wish to ensure that every stored pixel has its time on display without any of the guessing, aligning, or blending a modern deinterlacer might perform. With vsfieldkit.scan_interlaced() this is achieved while maintaining smooth motion of natively deinterlaced footage.

Blend of Motion

A bob deinterlacer can generate smooth motion from original interlaced fields if the final framerate isn’t halved. However, you are often still placing an object in different places in different moments and if the object is filmed sharply with minimal shutter blur or is rendered/drawn/animated, the viewer could still have a jagged perception of the movement. Because interlaced scan results in remnants of the prior moment as the new moment is drawn, the net effect can be even smoother.

If it was the content producer’s intended playback

Rarely does a filmmaker think to themselves that interlacing is great and they want to work with it more; it’s usually the opposite. However, should that moment arise, perhaps wanting to give a found-footage horror film the lo-fi reality feel that fits, you’re covered.

Chances are, whatever modern equipment you’d normally play back interlaced material on will deinterlace that content and play a progressive representation. You could find the amount of moments presented are cut in half.

True interlaced scan could be done with an old CRT TV and means to transport interlaced content to the TV or you could process interlaced content with vsfieldkit.scan_interlaced() to prepare video that is displayed on a progressive scan system in the same way it would in an interlaced scan system.

Features

Phosphor Decay Simulation

In Cathode Ray Tube displays, an electron beam would scan alternating fields of lines from interlaced content onto cathodoluminescent substances (phosphors) to reproduce the content’s light/color for display. After the phosphors were lit up they would begin to dim before being scanned onto by the electron beam again. The decay_factor and decay_base parameters of vsfieldkit.scan_interlaced() enable simulation of this behavior by dimming lines that were scanned onto in the previous moment.

Phosphor Decay Simulation in Action

Slowed to 30fps for consistent demonstration on most displays.

Code Rush (2000) by David Winton used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Additionally, the attack_factor parameter can be used to brighten newly-scanned lines.

Warning

It’s not recommended to add decay unless you know what the playback device’s refresh rate will be ahead of time. If the final video’s framerate is not a factor of the display refresh rate, it can result in a flickering effect that will distract from the content.

The alternating lines of luma changes created by the decay simulation with a strong decay factor can also be unpleasant or potentially seizure-inducing at final frame rates between 5 and 30 progressive frames per second.

Origins

scan_interlaced() was inspired by

Juha Jeronen’s wonderful Phosphor deinterlacer for VideoLAN’s VLC media player. This code was not derived from it, but it tries to at least keep the subsampling nomenclature the same.

Footnotes

1

\(\frac{60000}{1001}\) or \(59.\overline{940059}\) captured moments per second interlaced onto \(\frac{30000}{1001}\) or \(29.\overline{970029}\) frames per second in North America, some of South America, Liberia, Myanmar, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Japan, and some Pacific Islands nations and territories.