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Enhance Button

"Zoom in. Now... enhance."

A staple of any crime drama, the "Enhance" button on the computer is able to turn a tiny, blurred, grainy image in a photo or video into a clear, unmistakable piece of evidence. This process is virtually instantaneous unless added dramatic tension is required (in which case extra Techno Babble or more Applied Phlebotinum may be needed). May require someone to stand next to the computer intoning "Enhance.... enhance..." for full effect.

Now there are real techniques that vaguely fit under the category of "image enhancement" that can enable one to see details in a picture that's blurry, grainy, dark, overexposed, and so on; and it is possible to compile data from several frames of video of a moving object to reduce the blurring (if only slightly). But the Enhance Button simply ignores the fact that the big blocky pixels you get when you zoom in too close on a picture are the only information that the picture actually contains, and attempting to extract more detail than this is fundamentally impossible. No matter what you do or how you do it, you're merely guessing, if not making stuff up outright.

Sometimes this is Hand Waved, where the enhanced image is still blocky/blurry, but a higher-up will instruct the techie to "clean it up" using their mad computer skillz, and then it becomes close-up quality. In reality, the techie is merely analyzing the picture and making educated guesses about what is probably there. It's like attempting to guess the exact words on a missing page from a book, based on what was said in the surrounding pages — it's ultimately just a guess, and hopefully not proof admissible in court (although the courts have bought into this trope to some degree also—Photoshop is still a very popular tool in forensic image analysis).

In most examples of an Enhance Button, the tech is able to make out words on clothing and license plate numbers off vehicles, even though if they're blurred or pixelated enough, it would be far more difficult to guess even if the tech can work out the general image. In particularly jarring examples, they might even pull off feats such as rotating the image to see the faces of people with their backs turned, or to see something that's just around the corner...details that were never actually recorded on camera at all.

Although the tech ought to be more familiar with the system and its capabilities, in a great many examples techs never use the Enhance Button, no matter how necessary, until a more important character tells them to.

Without exception, the Enhance Button is a standard feature of the Everything Sensor, which also tends to come bundled with Facial Recognition Software and an Omniscient Database to help it out. Also compare Rewind, Replay, Repeat, which is used under similar circumstances but is a lot more realistic.

An enterprising troper has edited together a montage of the abuses of this trope covering many of the film and live action TV examples: Let's Enhance


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Parodied in a Honey and Clover episode, in which one of the characters pauses, rewinds, enlarges, and enhances the face behind the waterfall of one of his own memories. It works, naturally, although it helps that he was obsessed with the character in question.
  • An episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex called "Interceptors" had almost an exact reference to the similar scene from Blade Runner mentioned below; the terminology used by the voice-activated photo-enhancement program is even identical, with Togusa saying lines like "Enhance 32 to 50" just as Deckard does.
    • Best part: the enhancing does bupkis for the investigation. Togusa's Eureka Moment comes after hours of pointless enhancing when he comes to a picture of a mirror that doesn't reflect a camera. This is when he realizes that the pictures were taken with the (minimally-enhanced) subject's eyes. Someone lo-jacked the subject with Nanomachines!
  • Pokemon Mewtwo Returns does this at the beginning. They get a grainy image of Mewtwo standing on a mountain and then they keep enhancing it so it becomes clearer.
    • A similar thing happens in Pokemon Destiny Deoxys. An image of Deoxys is picked up and has to be zoomed in on, but no enhancement is implied, making it slightly more realistic.
  • In Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 episode 7, a worker in an undersea base discovers that his wife is cheating on him when he enhances a video message from her and sees a naked man sitting on her bed reflected in the bezel of her watch.
  • Subverted in 20th Century Boys: Fujiki and Yoshitsune have some old pictures magnified so Kyoko will have an easier time identifying someone in them, but as she points out it doesn't help much because that makes them a lot more blurry.
  • Every so often in the manga of Great Teacher Onizuka somebody wants to un-mosaic an image (either to identify a person in it or just to ogle their concealed body parts). While impossible in real life, this always works in the setting. There's a bit of blink-and-you'll-miss-it justification at one point, implying that the mosaic functions in all commercial and most freeware graphics packages were written by a grand conspiracy of perverts and thus all find ways to steganographically embed the original image data in the end result - making mosaics reversible. In this show's setting, that's actually plausible.
    • In one of the live-action segments of Otaku no Video, an interviewee claimed to have invented a pair of goggles that could do the same thing on the fly, while he's watching a censored video.

    Comic Books 
  • In issue #11 of the original Marvel run of The Transformers, Shockwave accesses Rumble's brain to know if he saw anyone breaking into the captured Ark. He uses his "more advanced" robot brain to enhance a pixelated image from Rumble's memory, revealing that Buster Witwicky had snuck in because he was too small to be noticed by Rumble at the time.
  • A really exceptionally implausible example in the short-lived The New Universe comic Spitfire and the Troubleshooters, where one character uses a special helmet that visualizes computer data, and ends up 'computer enhancing' an image of a villain's face... which was generated from a written report.

    Film 
  • The climax of the 1987 film No Way Out hinges partly on the excruciatingly slow "enhancement" of a tiny, blurry Polaroid picture — continuously displayed with a Viewer-Friendly Interface so the moviegoer can see just how close it is to implicating Kevin Costner as a Soviet mole. Justified as the computer program doing the "enhancing" is explicitly stated to be guessing/extrapolating (see page introduction) rather than magically creating missing data, though the trope returns in full force when the incredible accuracy of the image is revealed.
  • Parodied in Mel Brooks' High Anxiety. As a secondary character blows up a photograph, he pins up a series of even greater enlargements until he finally gets one roughly 20 feet across, which he examines with a magnifying glass before exclaiming, "Aha!" Considering the fact that it was a good picture taken with a medium-format camera, it is still more realistic than most examples on this page.
    • The only unrealistic thing from that scene is the easy availability of super-sized photographic paper. In modern digital terms, a 1977 good medium-format camera with professional-grade film would easily yield a 150MP image (assuming it's a 6x7 camera, the image's size in pixels would be around 11400x13200). Modern lenses and film can surpasss 200MP without problem.
  • Used to a ridiculous outcome in Next. With a CCTV, the FBI agents were able to zoom in and enhance the picture enough to get a VIN number from a SUV.
  • Used briefly by Dwayne Johnson's team in Fast Five to track down Dominic Torreto. The enhancement itself doesn't actually get a clear photo because he's masked, but it's clear enough that they're able to match him by facial structure.
  • Taken to a ridiculous extreme in Blade Runner, when Deckard analyzes a snapshot to bring out truly magical levels of detail, including following a reflection around a corner.
    • The 1997 video game tie-in lets the player do this as well.
    • Who knows, those photographs might be super-detailed 2019 prints! It's speculated that they are in fact holographic images of a three-dimensional space just shown through a flat screen.
  • Used to chilling effect in The Last Broadcast. Ostensibly a documentary looking into the murder of three filmmakers years after the event, the documentary maker asks a photographic expert to enhance an blurry image of a monstrous-looking creature. The image is returned to throughout the film, each time being slightly clearer, but is only revealed at the end. It turns out that the image, as well as being blurry, is also stretched vertically, and turns out to be a picture of the documentary maker, who is implied to be the original killer.
  • In Enemy of the State: the NSA uses two takes from separate frames from a security video, and then rotate the image in 3-D, Matrix-style, in order to see a shopping bag hidden behind someone's back. There is some handwaving about how the computer is simply "speculating", and the baddies waffle about how the bulge in the bag "could be nothing, could be everything". And then the Big Bad's next words order his subordinates to find out precisely what it is, presumably so they have concrete evidence instead of speculation.
    • Not to mention the trailer contains a scene where Zavitz is viewing the footage shot by his wildlife camera, and he pauses it and rotates the view to see Reynolds' henchman stick a needle in the congressman's neck. In the actual movie, he simply sees it in the background and zooms in.
    • Spoofed in one scene where Gene Hackman's and Will Smith's characters are talking on top of a building, with the government goons watching them via satellite. One guy asks if they can get a look at their faces, to which Jack Black responds, "The satellite's one hundred and fifty miles up. It can only look straight down."
    Krug: Huh, seems kind of limited.
    Fiedler: Well, maybe you should invent something better.
    Krug: Well, maybe I will!
  • Used in the remake of The Pink Panther, to zoom in on the picture of Clouseau's airport accident, allowing the Pink Panther diamond to be seen on the bag scanner. Well, he could actually see it before he zoomed. So the theory behind it isn't wrong. The representation is though.
  • There's an early example in Call Northside 777, a film from 1948, in which a reporter proves that a witness lied in a trial eleven years earlier, by blowing up an old photo of the witness and the accused together, so that a minor detail, the date on the newspaper in the hand of a paperboy in the corner of the photo, becomes clear, thus establishing that the witness saw the suspect the DAY BEFORE she made her identification, was therefore lying, and the suspect is therefore innocent. Given the age of the film, this may be the Ur Example.
    • Slightly justified, in that they were blowing up the original photo negative, but even that may push credulity.
  • In Stargate the movie, technicians use several presses of the Enhance Button to discern glyphs on the other side's Stargate. Stargate SG-1, however, mostly avoids this trope... Mostly. It still creeps into "Endgame". In the movie, at least, rather than using the Enhance Button to add more information that they couldn't possess, when the image is scrolled the computer displays a low-resolution placeholder until it finishes loading the high-resolution image to memory. The same process can be seen in the program Google Earth.
  • Used ridiculously in Disturbia. The protagonist apparently has a good enough video camera that he can enhance a split second image seen through a hole in a grate, in a dark house, into a high resolution image.
  • Played with by the Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer movie Déjà Vu. A secret government agency recruits Denzel to help them apprehend a terrorist using an experimental imaging system that uses satellite data to reconstruct every aspect of the bomb site in 3D, capable of zooming in at ground level, going inside structures, even supposedly recreating audio. He is extremely skeptical at first, but then it is revealed that they are actually folding space-time in order to view past events in real time.
  • In the Charlie's Angels movie, they enhance the image of a normal CCTV tape taken in a normal parking garage. At night. Not only that, they spot their target through his reflection in the door of a nearby car. It simply must be seen to be disbelieved.
  • Bringing Down the House: Steve Martin joins a dating service, and Queen Latifah is his first date. Martin complains that she wasn't in the picture he received. Latifah takes him to a computer, and enhances the picture, to show her in handcuffs in the background.
  • Mocked in Super Troopers, in a scene where Ramathorn, sitting at a computer, repeatedly says "Enhance!" between random keystrokes (as a shenanigan, not because he's stupid), before his exasperated superior yells at him to "just print the damn thing!"
  • Used by Rolly in F/X 2 to get an image of the killer. It takes several zooms, and each takes more time than the last, but he eventually gets a slightly over-saturated and blurry, but still altogether too-clear picture.
  • Played with in Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. Two lab technicians muse over a very blurred photo of Adam and his stuffed bunny, thinking it's an alien. When Dr. Hendrickson arrives, he presses one button which completely unblurs the photo.
  • Played painfully straight in Underworld, where the protagonist has a picture of someone which has about four pixels for their entire face, but at the press of a button it becomes a clear image of her Designated Love Interest.
  • In Taken, Brian Mills gets a lead on his daughter's kidnapping by enhancing a photo found on her camera phone card, in which the spotter was a faint reflection on a nearby phone booth. This does not seem so amazing until you realize he did this at a photo kiosk in a subway station. Still, once Brian clicks "process," the image becomes only slightly more high-resolution, but still pixelated - it's now just enough that Brian, already knowing to look at the airport, can recognize the guy. You get the impression that the first image was a low-resolution digital preview created by the kiosk so someone could navigate a large number of photos quickly, while the second, "processed" image is the original high-definition image source taken direct from the camera.
  • Largely averted in U.S. Marshals. Zoomed in CCTV footage is visibly pixellated, and the focus is fuzzy, if not quite as badly as it should be. Nonetheless, it provides Gerard and his team useful clues about the homicide their fugitive committed.
    • Its prequel The Fugitive provides an audio example; the background noises on a wiretap recording are enhanced until the team can clear make out the name of a train station being broadcast over a distant PA system.
  • This forms the plot of Antonioni's Blowup: A photographer tries to investigate a murder he believes he caught on camera, but loses resolution as he tries to enhance his picture.
  • Similar to Antonioni, this is also the basis of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, but focusing on sound and surveillance.
  • Star Trek: Generations. While the Duras sisters are watching through Geordi's VISOR, he looks at a control panel in Engineering with a graphic of the Enterprise. They enhance part of the screen so they can see the shield frequency the Enterprise is using. Later developments have allowed for the use of video of an object to be enhanced to details well in excess of anything in any individual frame. Justified due to the fact that what they are watching is an image extrapolated from the readings taken from the VISOR, which is more like an Everything Sensor than a video camera and very well could have recorded far more data than is visible in a 2D video.
    Lursa: That's it! Replay from time index 924. Magnify this section and enhance! Shield modulation: 257.4.
  • Sneakers.
    • While the team is watching a videotape of Gunter Janek's office, they zoom in on an answering machine and its image becomes clear.
    • While the team is watching a video of a man getting into a car:
      Bishop: Can we get plates?
      Mother: Let me see. Zooming in. Another bump. Enhancing. There's your plate. 180 IQ.
  • Used in Avatar, when Jake tries to stop the bulldozers. Before, you couldn't quite tell it was him, but after the enhancement, it's enough for the Big Bad to recognize him.
  • While it's not exactly the same as enhancing an image, it's the same principle; in Blade Trinity, the Nightstalkers get one piece of Drake's armored skin. Their computer is able to "extrapolate" the rest of Drake's body from that one spike.
  • The Sean Connery film Rising Sun, is an adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel which memorably used the Enhance Button realistically.
  • In the first film adaptation of Judge Dredd, a Judge is able to feed a physical photograph into a computer and remove the artificial layers to reveal the original image beneath. Apparently in the future, you can preserve image layers in a hard copy of a photograph, and the creators of this fake never thought to "flatten" them. Dredd's defense counsel maintains that the image is too low-res to be admitted into evidence.
    Matt Wilson: Dredd is saved by a Blu-ray snob.
  • Averted in The Departed. After a long, tense scene in which Sullivan is pursued through the streets by Costigan without their ever clearly seeing each other, he finds Costigan on security camera footage. There is no enhance button, and zooming in reveals nothing.
  • In Eagle Eye agent Morgan and agent Grant are looking at a security footage of a moving bus and enhance to a clear image of the suspect.
    • It is then taken to a even more ridiculous level when agent Morgan asks the tech to enhance a section that just looks like blackness, it flashes a couple times, and then suddenly a reflection appears with the face of the other suspect
  • Used in The Truman Show to spot Truman's hand.
  • A more realistic approach in the American version of The Ring. Noah (who owns a video production studio) is helping Rachel analyze the Cursed Video frame by frame. When they come to the image of the drowned horses, he notices (thanks to the jittery video that bleeds from the side of the frame) that there's something else just out of frame, in the overscan. Since they're using professional equipment, they're able to force the tracking head to read the overscan, getting a glimpse of the Moesko Island Lighthouse just before the head pops out of alignment. Later, Rachel goes to her newspaper's media department, which has much higher-end processors and sturdier tracking heads, and she's able to repeat the feat and get a clear image.
  • Done in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, where a bit of camera footage is enhanced, through the controls on the camera that recorded it no less, to show a ghost that was present during the recording.
  • In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, the Big Bad got a hold of a photo of a secret map...with Daffy Duck blocking the important part. No one responds to his increasingly angry command to "remove the duck", and he breaks the glass the photo is projected on.
  • Averted in Accidental Hero when the reporters are trying to zoom in on an image of the mysterious rescuer in the background of a video recording:
    Joan: There's no face. There's nothing really to work with. Big dots, that's all you're gonna get.

    Literature 
  • A character does this by hand in a Babysitters Club novel: After she's blown up a couple photos as much as she can and still can't make out a background detail, she photographs the pictures and then blows those photos up, resulting in a perfectly clear and damning piece of evidence.
  • In Feet of Clay, one of the Discworld Watch books, parodies this with a sort of Victorian-era proto-CSI making an imp paint smaller and smaller portions of a picture of the victim's eyes, eventually revealing the burned-in image of the last thing he saw. This is actually a more reasonable example: the imp is the main component of a Magitech camera, at close range, and winding the lenses out to zoom in further with each shot. What we call in reality "zooming in".
    • And what he gets out is barely more than a couple dots of light. In this case it's just enough to give Vimes the clue he needs.
  • Handwaved in Dirty Martini by J. A. Konrath, where a tech-savvy police grunt drops some Techno Babble to describe how they were able to filter and blow up a grainy picture until it became legible.
  • Artemis Fowl uses the C Cube to enhance low quality video into much more higher one. Handwaved as it's fairy technology.
    • Possibly related to a previous book in which the location of a similarly low quality video was identified not by the image itself but by the artifacts left by the exact impurities in the copper of the cabling it had traveled through on the Internet - which wouldn't have amounted to a single bit change in the digital form of the signal.
  • In one of the Tom Swift novels, saboteurs take out a camera under their boat. To prove it was deliberate, they use the Enhance Button on its last (blurry) image to reveal the knife that cut the cord.Lampshaded in that they discuss that the computer is pretty much just making stuff up to fill the missing data, but otherwise played straight.
  • Played for Laughs in Rick Cook's The Wizardry Cursed, when a group of high-ranking U.S. Air Force officers get a perfectly clear photo of a dragon, complete with dragon rider. Because they can't possibly believe in dragons, they decide that the photo is "out of focus", and "enhance" it until they can convince themselves that it's some new top-secret Soviet stealth airplane. By the time they break for dinner they are arguing over the serial numbers on the tail.
  • The Cam Jansen series is a series of books for kids in which the titular heroine uses her "photographic memory" to solve minor crimes. Although the testimony of a 10-year-old would already be unlikely to convince (or convict) anyone of anything, in one story, she is able to concentrate enough on a "photograph" of a memory to read the address on a magazine carried by someone walking by, utterly destroying any semblance of believability.
  • Subverted in Animorphs. Ax has set up a device that can record all TV shows at once. When Marco thinks he sees an Andalite on a TV show, he visits Ax and they replay the show revealing that, yep, it's an Andalite. But there's not enough detail for the heroes to figure out who the Andalite is. Marco suggests zooming in (which Ax's device can do) and enhancing the image, but Ax protests that he can't get any better detail than what he has without the original video reel.
  • Subverted in Scott Westerfeld's So Yesterday. The protagonist asks a friend who works in computer graphics to blow up and enhance a low-quality picture from a cell phone camera; the friend explains that this is impossible. She does zoom in so that it's incomprehensible pixels, but then shows how blurring the photo can actually make it more comprehensible.
  • In the Jack Reacher novel "Die Trying" by Lee Child, the FBI takes the security footage of a crime, isolates the faces, and then mathematically rotates the side shots to be full face images. The technician explicitly uses words like "hypothetically" and "simulation", points out that the algorithm assumes that people's faces are mostly symmetrical, and states that if one of the people was missing an ear or had a scar they wouldn't be able to get that part right. The FBI lead investigator accepts the limitations but finds that the results are actually helpful in the case.
  • Michael Connelly's The Narrows subverts this trope. Our protagonist detective, who knows little of computers, asks another character to "enhance" a digital picture this way only to be told that it's impossible.
  • A BattleTech novel, Assumption of Risk, has an entire chapter dedicated to a minor character enacting this trope. Possibly justified: the year is 3055 and holographic display technology is widely available, to say nothing of the Humongous Mecha of the setting. It probably isn't too much of a stretch to expect some absurdly high-resolution camera equipment by that time.
  • Used well in Michael Crichton's Rising Sun. Right after the death of a supposed murderer whom a security camera had shown in the act, it is discovered that the tape was doctored; a brief part where his face was visible was modified, and that the camera had originally taped someone else committing the crime. However, at first the cops swallow the doctored tape hook, line and sinker. It's only after the Crichton-surrogate brings the tape to an audio-video wizard(an expatriate Japanese woman who immigrated to the US so she would not be ostracized for her deformed hand) that the deception is revealed; as she dismantles the image step-by-step she criticizes the arrogance of the Japanese editors who made the tape; obvious-once-revealed errors such as sloppy airbrushing and extra shadows - "They think we will not be careful. That we will not be Japanese." Subverted in that she's unable to identify the killer - but does succeed in reconstructing the face of a witness who happens to have an undoctored copy of the tape.
  • A version of this was used to reconstruct events in a party in Inferno. Here a computer was compiling images from multiple security cameras to create a full representation of what was going on in the room. People who were not in the view of the cameras at any given moment were given lower quality images to indicate that this was simply the computer's best guess as to where the person was in between times when a camera could see them.
  • A low-key example in the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Ship of the Line. When the 23rd-century border cutter USS Bozeman (from the TNG episode "Cause and Effect") detects a Klingon heavy cruiser attempting to make a sneak attack on the Federation outpost in the sector while the rest of the Klingon fleet distracts Starfleet. Captain Bateson asks if any identification exists for the ship, and he is told by the science officer that they are too far away to read any markings clearly, but the computer is attempting to extrapolate based on the available sensor data. When Bateson asks how this is possible, the officer explains that this is a recently-developed method for searching for easily-recognizable characters and going from there. For reference, the Klingon alphabet looks like this. The officer then identifies the name of the Klingon ship, which immediately clues Bateson in that it is captained by his old nemesis Kozara (the ship is named after Kozara's mother).
  • Zig-Zagged on Congo: The hunt to enhance a piece of footage that displays one of the killer gorillas storming the first ERTS camp requires specialised computer programs (some of which need to be run to counteract a degradation of the footage that the previous program unwillingly created) and a long amount of time, and Ross the needs to run several programs to make sure that the resulting slightly-more-clear image is real, as well as needing to convince Travis of this (the resulting picture still looks bad enough that Travis thinks at first it's an "easter egg" from a rookie programmer that Ross unknowingly triggered). It is the speed and efficiency of Ross pulling this off that helps her convince Travis to send her as the needed "console hot-dogger" for the second expedition.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Human Target used the Enhance Button as early as its sixth episode, 'Lockdown'.
  • Las Vegas is absolutely terrible about this. In fact, it's built into the very premise of the show: the main characters are almost always able to solve the various crimes that occur in their casino because of the abundance of security surveillance on the premises (as noted in the pilot, Las Vegas has more surveillance cameras per capita than other any city in the world). Nearly every episode has Danny, Ed, and Mike zoom in to identify individuals from security cameras at least twenty feet away and use absurdly sophisticated (for a casino) facial recognition software. Some of the more ridiculous examples:
    • Episode 2.16 has Mike using the footage from two convenience store cameras to create a composite image of Ed driving through a green light (he was falsely ticketed for a red-light violation) by among other things, straightening a diagonal image, and using a reflection on a videoscreen in the footage to zoom in on the (now-defunct) High Roller Ride on the Stratosphere Tower more than 5 miles away. This massive amount of effort - Mike even had to get a job at the place that had one of the tapes, just so he could get his hands on it - is all to facilitate the punchline; when Mike gets the evidence, Ed shows it to a judge he knows, who says that Ed would still get a ticket...for not wearing his seatbelt.
    • Episode 2.08 (a crossover with Crossing Jordan) has the boys using four or so medium-close-up-size stills to end up with a 3-d simulation of a room, revealing the face of a women which wasn't anywhere in the recorded material. There's a slight Hand Wave that the computer "extrapolated" the new information from what they already had (which simply means that it took a guess), but it's not even shown how it did so - the audience is simply supposed to accept it.
    • Episode 2.18 starts out with CCTV footage of a guy's head shoved onto a restaurant counter by Sylvester Stallone, with his hand concealing nearly all of the man's face. They then remove the hand, fill in the missing features, do the same to the other half of the guy's face, ending up with a complete 3-d rendering of the guy's head by pure guesswork.
    • In Shrink Rap, Mike holds a special filter up to an image of cards on the screen, revealing the markings in invisible dye which a cheater has been applying to them. On the screen, which by rights shouldn't be capable of displaying anything but the human-visible spectrum of colors. And yet despite all this, they still manage to get robbed in every other episode.
  • In one episode of MacGyver this was coupled with some superficially realistic-sounding Techno Babble: "Create a bitmap. Now increase the Z-axis while holding the X and Y axis steady." While this sounds ludicrous, it's basically the 1980's equivalent of getting a high resolution image file from a film negative ("Create a bitmap."), and using the zoom function on your computer ("Increase the Z-axis...").
  • Federal agents in 24 seem to do this a lot. Lampshaded once when the Chinese government produces an enhanced photograph of a CTU agent illegally entering a Chinese embassy and Jack Bauer immediately tries to deny its authenticity by saying it was digitally altered, played straight in season seven when the FBI find out Tony Almeida's still alive.
  • A staple of the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise, this tends to be played a lot straighter on the New York & Miami spin-offs, but the original is also guilty of it, albeit to a much lesser degree.
    • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation likes to rely on the NTSC overscan to find hidden details in an image. In one episode, they are able to reconstruct a recognizable image from the reflection in someone's eye. At night. In the dark. From a grainy CCTV image. Another similar example involved getting a recognisable image of a person behind camera from the reflection of someone's sunglasses in the window of a car.
    • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation had an egregious example when they showed off a 3D crime scene scanner. Such a device does actually exist, using a laser to create a 3D image of an area, but then they used the computer to lift the body off the bed to look at the stains on the sheets underneath it. It's the equivalent of taking an ordinary photographic image and being able to "strip away" the skin and muscles to get an image of not just the structure of the person's bones, but what color they are.
  • CSI: Miami takes the cake when they zoom and enhance an image so much they can see the reflection in a person's eyes. Said reflection... is of course... crystal clear.
    • Similar thing happened on CSI: New York, only this time using a freeze frame from a security camera and the reflection from an eye to get an image of a person facing away from the camera.
    • An even more outlandish example occurs in one episode where the original image was on a BOLT on the back of a car, which they turned into a crystal-clear, completely undistorted, image that showed the killer's face perfectly.
  • CSI: New York were able to pull a fingerprint off of a still from a grainy video when the suspect put his hand in front of the lens.
  • Spoofed on Cold Case episode "Time to Crime." Detectives Vera and Jeffries are watching a videotape and notice something interesting in the background. Jeffries says, "Let's enhance this." The two detectives then get up from their chairs and walk closer to the TV screen. Vera however laments that their station is too poor to have one of those zoomer things.
  • Subverted in Due South, when a face from a crowd at a hockey game on television can't be enhanced because his three-block face will still only be three blocks when enlarged, resulting in no additional detail. The detectives show more smarts than normal; they're not after the guy's face, they just want to work out his seat number, since they suspect he's a season ticket holder. They do this by counting rows and seats, not by "Enhancing".
    • They also show the footage to an elderly deaf lady, who attempts to lip-read what the man is shouting. Even she doesn't bring the magic, giving them only a close guess to what he might be saying.
  • Also subverted on the British show KYTV in their murder special, where they examined some CCTV footage and attempt to zoom in, but the enhanced version is even worse than the original.
  • In the 2000s Battlestar Galactica revival, a character says it'll take a day to enhance the picture of someone's reflection in a computer mainframe, as seen in CCTV footage. The computer ultimately produces a crystal-clear image of the character who had been implicated of sabotaging the mainframe, but in a variation, the image turns out to have been faked by the Cylons in the first place. Despite the outcome, however, it still contains the fundamental aspects of the trope: that it produced a clear image, and that everyone involved expected this.
  • Parodied on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when viewing some fuzzy CCTV. One character asks another to zoom in on an element, and after being told no:
    Cordelia: So? They do it on television all the time.
    Xander: Not with a regular VCR they don't.
    • This is followed a few lines later by the immortal exchange:
      Oz: What's that? Pause it.
      Xander: Guys! It's just a normal VCR. It doesn't... Oh wait, uh, it can do pause.
      • Admittedly it's a very impressive pause; you almost never see a pause like that on standard consumer VCRs. No, seriously, have you ever tried pausing on a frame with a normal VCR? It doesn't really help in making things clearer. High-end VCRs have a digital freeze frame that remembers the last clear picture before the pause, but this never became a standard feature on home units.
    • On many VCRs at least, if the video was recorded in SP mode (two hours on a standard tape) you get the classic "fuzzy horizontal bar in the middle of the screen" pause, but if it was recorded in lower-quality SLP mode (six hours on a standard tape), it yields a relatively clear freeze-frame.
  • Inverted on an episode of Angel. After being handed a visual image taken from the psychic imprints of a blood sample, Angel asks if it can be cleaned up at all. He's cut off by Wesley, who sternly states that it's not a photograph.
    • Played straight in the Angel episode "Dad" when the demonic lawyers zoom in 100x on Lorne's shirt pocket. Then again, they're demonic, maybe their CCTV footage is high definition.
  • In the Columbo episode "No Time to Die", Columbo's nephew's bride is kidnapped. The cops spot the kidnapper in the background of one frame from a security camera. They're able to not only zoom in on the man's face, but also read the lettering on his class ring.
    • This trope — in fact, this specific episode of Columbo — is parodied in this webcomic.
    • In the 1975 episode "Playback" a recorded surveillance video serves as an alibi. A frame is enhanced (off screen) to reveal that a tiny white rectangle at most a few video lines in size is an invitation with clearly readable writing.
  • An early episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Duet," has a possible war criminal apprehended by the crew. After finding the only known picture of him is blurry and small, they enhance it to perfect clarity and zoom in on different faces. (Like the Blade Runner example, this may be because they have magical future technology.)
  • Arguably, the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Corbomite Maneuver" has a true inversion. A crewman marvels at the size of a Big Dumb Object, saying "Over 5,000 meters away, and it still fills the screen." But after Spock says "Reduce the image", they are somehow able to zoom out enough to see the entire thing, implying that either the Enterprise's screen is normally tightly zoomed in, or that the ship has probes which can look at things from far away.
    • The Enterprise sensors are already far away. Space weapons have much longer ranges than earth based weapons. For example, plasma torpedos can maintain integrity at faster than light speeds for several minutes - meaning that two ships in combat must be several thousand miles away. If the view screens were not tightly zoomed in, the tactical crew would not be able to aim their weapons, as the enemy ship would be too far off the see. Spock probably reduced the zoom to make the image ratio closer to 1:1.
    • There isn't really any weirdness here - zooming out is possible due to the existence of wide-angle lenses. They probably just have one of those.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In the episode "The Vengeance Factor", the Enterprise is investigating some mysterious deaths in the scavenger tribes they're attempting to escort to treaty negotiations. In this investigation, a picture of someone with half their face hidden comes up as a clue. Riker asks if they can show the rest of the face; somehow, they can, and do, and the result implicates a character introduced in the episode. This would put doubt on its use as legitimate evidence since, at most, the computer was making a guess - but of course, the person implicated does turn out to be the villain.
    • Also in "Identity Crisis", when Geordi asked the computer to isolate and enhance a quadrant of footage to show a sliver of a shadow, transfer the scene to the Holodeck, then remove the characters whose shadows were obscuring the remainder of the shadow in question (how it knew which parts of the shadow belonged to whom I don't know), then asked the computer to extrapolate the general 3D volume of the shadow-casting object. Even in a holographic vector-based recording medium, it would be impossible for the computer to accurately describe a 3D volume from the shape of a shadow. Still, the existence of advanced future technology may might this slightly more believable. He still needed to tell the computer to assume a humanoid about his size to have cast the shadow. The result is also just an undifferentiated blob about the size of a person. Specifically he had the computer remove individuals and their shadows, which was easy since there was only one light source, until all that was left was the 'mystery shadow'. He then told the computer to guess as to its position assuming it had the same height as him. All of this is possible, but would take much longer for us, but since this is a science-fiction show increased computer power is hardly beyond plausibility. More to the point, it's acknowledged as guesswork and the result isn't specific. Most applications of this trope actually included adding data that doesn't exist in the original image as if it's stone cold fact.
    • "Unification Part I" started with a Starfleet admiral enhancing an image showing that Ambassador Spock was on Romulus.
  • House dances on the brink of absurdity: complaining that he can't make out any detail on his small TFT computer monitor from video footage of a heart scan because "the pixels are the size of Legos", the gang watches the same footage on a bigger HD TV in the staff break room, and still not seeing anything until they project the footage in the hospital cinema — they don't get as far as the prophesied "breaking into the IMAX". If the same signal was being being used in each case, all they would've accomplished is upsizing the pixels to housebricks.
    • They get away with this in principle: a digital cinema projector would have a higher output resolution than the HD TV, which would've had a higher resolution than the monitor, and the original scan may have been big enough to benefit from the extra pixels. But maybe that's giving them too much credit. It makes sense that a medical diagnostic image would be very high-resolution. What doesn't make sense is that House's computer not only lacked an adequate monitor for viewing such images, but also that the software used to view it apparently didn't have any ability to view the image at actual size (which would have required scrolling through it if it didn't fit on the screen).
  • Bones has all kinds of crazy image stuff. In the 5th episode, this trope is first subverted when Booth asks "Can't we just zoom in on it?" and the response is that the image is 640x480 and "The fewer the pixels that make up an image, the more the image degrades as you zoom in it" (which is a surprisingly good explanation). 10 minutes later however, they find a reflection in a door taken by the same security cameras by "repolarizing" to do exactly what they just said they couldn't do!
    • This is lampshaded fairly often; Angela mentions that she has a patent pending on whatever device they use, implying that the device exists on the show but is not yet known to the rest of the world.
    • The worst, and most un-justifiable, case was when Booth and Bones went to England and tried to solve a murder there. They sent Angela a picture of the girl who had been killed, and she managed to enhance the image so well that they could recognize the building reflected in the girl's eye. This could maybe be handwaved away with an exceptionally good camera and Angela's exceptionally good computer skills, but the picture they sent her was a scan of a printed tabloid. Between the 80mm telephoto lens, the distance from the subject to the camera, the deliberate blurring of the picture, the printing of the picture on low-quality paper, the scanning of the picture, and then sending it over the Atlantic, there is no possible way the image still had that much depth of detail.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Not only is the computer able to enhance a motion-blurred image to perfect clarity, it is able to figure out from a vague verbal instruction which portion of the image Londo wants to enhance.
    • Averted in another example, where Ivanova needs to find a bomber on the station. Instead of performing computer magic on the security cameras, she employs a group of very diligent and patient monks to sift through the hours of footage for tenuous clues.
  • In one episode of Spooks, normally a very grounded show, an image of a meeting between two characters is captured by a spy satellite. MI-5 are not only able to enhance this image but actually rotate it to see the face of the second person and the shape of his sunglasses.
    • Spooks moves back and forth on this. In some episodes satellites able to see inside buildings using infra-red while in others satellites provide still images with a latency of (at least) several hours.
  • Averted and parodied in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Birds and the Bees". Stottlemeyer and Disher look at a surveillance tape of their suspect Rob Sherman meeting with his murder victim Dewey Jordan in a courthouse lobby, a tape that has been enhanced, but still too blurry to make out who the people are, to the point that Stottlemeyer suggests that the blurs could be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (only for Randy to inform him that Ginger Rogers has been dead for years). Randy then tries pointing out the blurs on the screen by circling them with a permanent marker.
  • Not as bad as the rotating or moving examples, but the pilot of the short lived TV series Threat Matrix had Homeland Securities examining a picture of a criminal they got from a traffic camera. Unfortunately somebody else is standing in front of him so they can't see what he's holding so they simply remove the obscuring man from the footage, revealing the briefcase the criminal was holding.
  • In the series Early Edition the characters want to enhance a thirty-year-old photograph which shows a potential presidential assassin. For reasons of plot, this takes several hours. When it's done, it's clearly someone they're helping. But just to hammer this home, one of them says "Can you age that by thirty years?" A few keys are pressed, and the people in the picture age instantly.
  • A first season episode of NUMB3RS attempted to subvert this trope; Charlie explained how image enhancement as seen in the movies was unrealistic. This did not prevent him from enhancing an image a few minutes later, with the explanation that he used math.
  • The X-Files:
    • In one episode, white noise with a vague blur behind it is run through magic software. Once you take out all the white pixels of snow, what's left certainly shouldn't be a vital clue. But of course it is. Of course, the vague image was placed there by a ghost, so maybe the normal rules don't apply.
      • It is worth mentioning that while computers can't add more detail to a video or photo, they're often very good at detecting differences in color that the average human eye cannot. So arguably, even if the human eye couldn't find rhyme or reason in an image, simple (and fast) calculations and comparison of color values, as well as color channel separation could very easily find a message hidden in an otherwise nonsensical image.
    • And again more conventionally in a later episode, "Ascension", where a thumb-sized section of a still from a cop-car surveillance camera is 'enhanced' to reveal a crystal-clear image of a central character, thereby giving the police a vital lead where really they would have been left clueless and she would probably have died. Even more incredible in this example is that Mulder happens to be watching the footage at all - it is literally a random piece of evidence with no known connection to his case at all that his colleague arbitrarily decides he'd be interested in seeing.
    • The season 7 episode "Rush" has a someone adding color to security camera footage that allows Mulder to identify a blur on the frame as a school's letter jacket. Not only that, the blur was on screen for exactly one frame — or 1/30th of a second — yet Mulder spots it immediately.
  • Mildly averted in NCIS: Sometimes, Perky Goth Abby just can't enhance that photo enough to help out the team, but she usually does. The most exaggerated example of this was when Abby turns a blurred reflection in a car door into a portrait clear enough for a hand to be used as positive identification. If it helps the hand was missing fingers.
    • Also the time she enhanced a CCTV camera that hung a hundred feet away from a carrier deck enough to see a pill lying on the ground.
  • Family Matters: Steve, testifying in a trial, points out that it is possible for the security-camera footage with the defendant robbing a jewelry store to have been altered. He does this by replacing the defendant's face with that of the judge. The clincher being that the perp forgot to edit his face out of a mirror in the store. It turns out to be the bailiff. No, really. This is justified, for once, by the fact that Steve is a Mad Scientist. Blowing up an area in a video slightly is probably something he could do during a commercial break.
  • Every show in the Law & Order franchise has done this.
    • Subverted in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where the defendant, played by Robin Williams, is caught on a security camera and the enhanced image showing his face is presented to the jury as evidence. When it comes time for cross-examination, the defendant (he's representing himself) shows the jury the actual image that the picture of his face was taken from, and points out that in the original shot he's just a blurry, shadowed figure wearing a baseball cap. He then gets the image enhancement guy to admit that everything done to the image to get a face to show up was essentially glorified educated guessing, leading for the character to point out "I don't care how sophisticated your software is, a guess is not the truth". The jury returns an acquittal.
    • In one episode of Law & Order, the tech is able to enhance a decal in a car's window to make out what rental agency it's for. Compare this to an episode a few years earlier, involving an amateur porn tape. The detective notes it's a camera, explaining why the tech is able to zoom in a few times and enhance the vic's tattoo. And averted later on when a power glitch displays a frame from the original video on the tape. It's a birthday party at a restaurant, the tech zooms in—once—on the partially obscured logo on the waiter's jacket, to show a blurry image. He runs a filter over it, and gets...a slightly less blurry image. However, it is enough for him to recognize the logo. No, he didn't run it through some database; he simply looked at the logo and remembered what it was for.
    • Season 4 of the original series did this a lot. In 'Censure,' a tech is able to subtract a man's voice from a phone call and is left with vague noise, which he identifies — without any other tools, just from listening — as being the sound of water lapping on the bottom of a certain type of boat. In 'Sanctuary,' when looking at a blurry image, Logan asks the tech to 'push it up a few frames.' This, of course, works fine and the detectives identify an image on the man's hat.
  • Smashed to pieces in the Red Dwarf "Back to Earth" three-parter, where, to gain an address written the back side on a piece of card, Kryten scans a photo, projects it onto a regular TV, uncrops the photo (which expands the field of view to reveal things that were not even in the original photo), and enhances three different reflections: one from the metallic H on Rimmer's skull; one from the reflection from the water droplets on a lamppost on the other side of the street seen in the previous reflection, and a reflection from the window behind the piece of paper seen in the reflection from the water droplet. After they get the information they wanted, they realized that they simply could have looked up the address on the card in the phonebook. It uses this trope to such an insane extent that it could almost be seen as a parody. It was in any case a tribute to the example from Blade Runner, like other parts of the episode.
  • In Smallville, the enhance button is used on a photo which proves (through use of said button) that Lex killed his father. Unfortunately, Jimmy and Lois failed to make more than a single copy, and only made that because their computer at the Planet 'wasn't powerful enough' to do the enhancing...
  • Averted in FlashForward (2009) - at the end of the pilot, the FBI finds footage which shows at least one person stayed awake during the visions. This footage is from a camera at a stadium in Detroit, and when they zoom in on a part of the footage, it's still just as blocky and pixelated.
    • Later played straight and averted when the same footage is "enhanced" enough by the NSA that they can discern a ring on the man's finger. And they're talking about enhancing it even further, to the point where they can identify the ring. This was more understandable as the object in question was reflective and with straight, hard shapes/features and they could use mathematical formulas to get better details off of it, as opposed to Suspect Zero's face, which was much harder to extrapolate from because it was a normal, contoured human face.
  • Would you believe this was actually used in WWE? In 2002 on Raw, Shawn Michaels was brutally attacked in his car in a parking lot. As Triple H kept declaring that he would hunt down whoever did it, Michaels appeared on the Titan Tron with video footage that was then enhanced and then "cleaned up" to reveal Triple H was the attacker. This is what led to the on-camera Michaels/Triple H rivalry that lasted more than three years.
  • Averted in Alias. Marshal is working to get a better look at the face of a murderer (which is an amnesiac Sydney) from a very poor quality security camera. The inversion takes place in that he's working with a moving image and he's created a rendering program that takes the movement of the face in the image to attempt to reconstruct the face itself to reveal the identity. It takes a day or two to render, and ends up failing due to a virus.
  • Parodied in 30 Rock. Jack receives an old home movie of his younger self opening a now-forgotten birthday gift, but the object itself is always out of shot. Curious, he summons a techie to "zoom in and enhance" on the wrapped box to find out what's inside. The tech tells him to just call the original gift giver and ask.
  • Averted in the Torchwood episode "Day One"; Toshiko is trying to match a CCTV image to a database, but the CCTV image is "too low-res" and that's that.
  • The original 1966 version of Mission: Impossible featured this trope without a computer. In "The Bank", Barney is playing back a video recording of a bank vault on a black-and-white cathode ray television screen. With the tape paused at a critical juncture, Jim Phelps uses a pocket telescope to zoom in on the CRT(!) and read the number of a safe-deposit box.
    • The 1988 update took the Enhance button one step further by introducing an IMF device that could recover erased images from a VCR tape. This is more realistic, as long as the resulting images are very low quality.
  • Spoofed in, of all places, an episode of The Sarah Silverman Program. Sarah spots a curious detail in the background of a photo she's looking at and, despite being the only person in the room, tells no one in particular to "Enhance to 125 percent." She then leans in close and pulls out a magnifying glass, which action is accompanied by the inexplicable technical sounds you'd expect to hear when this trope happens on CSI. The camera view through the magnifying glass shows exactly what you'd expect to see in the real world — a blurry blown-up portion of the picture with no extra detail visible. She then calls for another 50% magnification, and pulls out a smaller magnifying glass so she can look at the now horribly blurred picture through both of them, with more beeps and whirrs, and inexplicably decides the blurry image is proof of something the viewer is never quite made aware of.
  • Played for laughs in the Belgian show Neveneffecten. When asked to enhance a blurry screen, the computer technician remarks that he normally can't, but they sometimes make exceptions for TV shows
  • Played straight in The Lost Room. Jennifer Bloom is looking at footage of the Conroy Experiment, where she zooms in and enhances on a scan of a copy of a fifty-year-old film, only to find the Occupant's face in the midst of the chaos. Not only does this not make any sense (the Occupant was miles away in a sanitarium at the time), but that piece of information ultimately affects nothing. And to make it even more annoying? That sequence wasn't in the original script. They added it in while filming.
  • Averted in the Krister Henriksson Wallander. In Blodsband, Wallander asks Nyberg if he would be able to enhance some surveillance footage, and is told that that wouldn't improve matters.
  • In the pilot episode of Farscape, the protagonist is blasted into deep space, positioned perfectly to deflect an interstellar fighter into an asteroid, killing the pilot. This pilot turns out to the brother of a fleet commander, who upon viewing the footage of his brother's demise demands that his crew "peel the image." This process takes some time, and produces a crystal clear likeness of the main character, and the interior of his spacecraft.
  • The "magic zoom" is used very frequently on F/X: The Series. Ameliorating it is that this is done on video, where multiple frames increases the resolution that can be derived, and the film being analyzed is generally from movie shoots where they have multiple cameras and the film is very high quality. The term "fractal enhancement" is used far too often to justify this.
  • In Cinemax's After Dark show Forbidden Science, a character uses "Zoom and Enhance" to view a document held in another character's hands.
  • Taken to an absurd extreme in the updated V-2009 series. The Visitors are able to analyze footage of an explosion caught by a fairly standard surveillance camera outside of a building and reconstruct not only the specific explosives used, but even a fingerprint supposedly left on one of the explosives inside the building. Justified to the extent that the results were actually fake, but that absolutely no one from Earth who did not already know better questioned the viability of the method — or even asked how it could possibly work — strains credibility. Without context, a viewer could easily mistake the scene for parody.
  • Subverted in Castle, in the episode "Almost Famous": a character is requested to zoom in on an image, and the image gets blurrier and more pixellated. The character is asked to zoom in again, and yet again, the image gets blurrier. They're still able to identify the subject of the picture, but it's nothing a real computer couldn't do.
    • And averted again the next episode, "Murder Most Fowl", but with more lampshading:
    Castle: The enhancement only increased the pixellation on all these! You can't even see there's a side-view mirror!
    Beckett: It's not like on 24, Castle - in the real world, even zoom-and-enhance can only get us so far.
  • Played with in Community when it sounds like Pierce and one of his elderly friends are playing the trope straight while on a computer, but then the camera zooms in on the monitor revealing that they were actually trying to make the text on a website big enough for them to read.
    • Also parodied in "Basic Lupine Urology", where Britta seems like she's about to zoom in on part of a photo but she was really just showing off that she could use a sepia filter. They then actually zoom in, but just to see a clock that was large enough to see in the resolution the picture was taken in.
  • Played with in Fringe. In the Season 2 episode "The Bishop Revival", Olivia sees a suspicious character in a wedding video, and asks Astrid if she can enhance it. Astrid does, but the enlarged and "enhanced" image is very grainy. She says "that's the best I can do". The trope is also served straight up with a twist in another episode when a piece of CCTV footage is zoomed, enhanced, and slowed down to show a bullet move slowly across the screen before being caught by an Observer. Most CCTV cameras in real life do not, of course, film at several thousand frames per second just in case someone wants to verify a bullet catch.
    • A series 4 episode takes the slowed-down footage idea even further. Played at normal speed the video shows a barely noticable blur for a fraction of a second, but slowed down it shows an Observer who was moving around too quickly for the eye to detect. Even slowed down to what must be thousandths of the original speed, the video still has a decent frame rate.
  • An episode of Sliders can't seem to make up its mind. This chunk of dialog discusses the issues involved in why this is unrealistic: "Of course, it depends on if it's a rasterized image or not; I mean if it's a bitmap like a TIFF then it'll get dotty if we blow it" - okay, so far... though not quite getting why one would think a photo _wouldn't_ be. "Yeah, right, but if it's a JPEG, it depends on how lossy it is" - only in that being lossy makes it even worse, but okay. "We are in luck." "It's rasterized. We can make this thing into a billboard and never lose res." Wait, WHAT? They then proceed to zoom in and through a reflection on the surface of a champagne glass to see a matchbook and identify the hotel. While they could in principle have been looking at the high-resolution source images, the dialogue seems to qualify it for this page.
  • An episode of Chuck has Morgan and Casey trying to hunt down Chuck and Sarah after they go AWOL. After locating Chuck in a CCTV image, they don't even bother with enhancing; they just zoom right in on the ticket which is as clear as if it's being pictured from a few inches away, despite the original image being kind of grainy and taken from enough of a distance that even figuring out that it was him was a really impressive feat on their part.
  • Used frequently in Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye. Examples include:
    • In multiple episodes, they enhance people's mouths in grainy surveillance footage so Sue (a deaf lip reader) can tell what they're saying.
    • In "Assassins," Jack and Bobby tell a Stupid Crook that they can identify him by digitally removing his ski mask from the surveillance photos. He believes them and confesses.
    • In "The Leak," Tara tries to find clues about a terrorist's location based on a video he sent a news station. She enhances a barely visible spot of color behind a white curtain and comes up with a brightly-colored, easily readable neon sign for a diner.
    • In "The Mentor," Tara she finds a clear reflection in the pupil of a man in a photograph.
    • In "Spy Games," Tara enhances and rotates images of suspects' heads to identify them from their ears.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures, Sky asks Mr. Smith to move back 1/10th of a frame to find a glitch in a holographic celebrity; frames are not a measurement of time, they're the images that make up a moving picture, if the glitch happened in-between frames then no image of the glich would exist.
  • A triple humorous example is seen in Flashpoint, "Severed Ties". When examining a photograph with a blurred girl in the background, the officer asks the tech guy "Can you zoom in?" at which point he casually changes the distance of focus, sharpening the background and even blurring out the foreground. And then there's the fact that technology exists today (though it obviously requires special cameras).
  • In Chapter Eight of the 2012 television series The Firm Ray Mc Deere with the help of a "hacker" with a laptop and some stolen hotel security video files enhances a man's reflection in a car window to get a high quality image of the tattoo on the back of his neck. "And if I just enhance this area..."
  • Very early and very low-tech example from The Brady Bunch, where Greg is demoted to football team photographer, and and his shot of the player with his foot out-of-bounds decides which team won the football game. Greg uses his darkroom equipment and keeps enlarging the one section of that one photograph until he achieves an enlarged and crystal clear image of the player's foot and the chalk line. The call is then reversed, and Greg's high school wins, making him a hero.
  • Parodied in NTSF: SD: SUV::. They're even able to search through the person in the picture's pockets with it.
  • Justified in an episode of Profiler dealing with a mole leaking information from inside the FBI: the security cameras in the building are specifically not supposed to have an Enhance Button in order to prevent someone from zooming in to read the contents of important confidential documents. A mole-hunting agent is killed because he spotted a cleverly-hidden telescoping device affixed to the lens of a security camera that let The Mole zoom in whenever he wanted.
  • The Colbert Report loves to skewer this trope, often in combination with a Bat Deduction, as in this sketch. Fundamentally, they just make up whatever the enhanced image looks like (usually something ridiculous) and photoshop it in.
  • The Wire. Prysbelewski shows off by clarifying a photo of a license plate.
  • Averted on Common Law. The detectives have a picture of a suspect driving a truck but it is too low quality to tell them who the man is. They call in a police sketch artist and have him draw a composite sketch of the suspect based on the features they can see. It is a very generic likeness and in the end it does not really help their case much on its own.
  • Done more practically than normally in an episode of Person of Interest when Finch does this with a video taken on a camera phone. Since the resolution on the phone wasn't that great, it turned the small, blurry face into a larger blurry face. Finch manages to work out a rough description of some distinguishing features from the enhanced image and uses a different program to identify possible suspects who have said features.
    • The Enemy of the State variety of this is beautifully subverted in the Season 2 finale. Reese, with guidance from The Machine, is shooting mooks who approach him from all around. The Machine gives a perspective of this that seems like the infamous scene from Enemy of the State but, upon further inspection, actually provides a pretty realistic perspective. Given the building's blueprints and the blurry CCTV images of Reese and Shaw, it's entirely plausible The Machine can render this view. Additionally, the characters from The Machine's perspective look rather flat and two-dimensional.
  • Episode "Endgame" of Stargate SG-1 has the camera looking at the Stargate zoom in and enhance on the person that placed a tracking device on gate. Being a high-security complex there would have been other cameras and checks along the way so they presumably followed this trope for timing reasons.
  • Actually more or less done in analog on Elementary. Sherlock takes a remarkable number of photos of his suspect as a very long train passes by, and then prints them and cuts out all the little slivers of face he got until he has a reasonably good idea what his suspect looks like.
  • In Rizzoli & Isles, episode "I'm Your Boogie Man", Maura uses an enhance button apparently sophisticated enough to expand an image caught by a webcam reflected off of a person's eyeball.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Devil May Care" (S09, Ep02), Sam zooms in on a grainy figure in a security video being played on a touchscreen tablet to reveal a clear image of Abaddon.
  • Averted on Fargo. The cops have security footage of Lorne Malvo but its is too low quality to make a positive identification. When Gus arrests Malvo, Malvo is able to convince the other cops that it is just a case of mistaken identity.
  • In Pretty Little Liars, Season 2, Episode 18, Caleb is in the process of un-encrypting a video found on A's cell phone, when he shows Aria, Spencer, and Emily a frame they previously hadn't seen. After catching a glimpse of a blurry driver's license on the ground, Caleb proceeds to zoom into the frame twice, enhancing and showing the girls a very clear photo of Alison's second fake ID.

    Video Games 
  • Downplayed in Case 4 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - a "blown-up" photograph still doesn't show the faces of those in it, as the shadows in the original photo weren't affected by enlarging, but it still becomes vital evidence for another reason. It's also a valid application of 'zooming and enhancing' - the photo in question is a film photo, not digital, so the blown-up image was made by creating a whole new photo from the negative, not by zooming into an existing photo.
  • Parodied in Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Guybrush is using an analog optical telescope, and asks his first mate Winslow to "enhance the upper right quadrant" — Winslow just turns the telescope to increase the zoom. Guybrush then asks for "full enhancement" and Winslow holds up a second telescope at the end of the first one.
  • The video game Blade Runner allows you to do the same enhance as the movie. In fact, you have to do it in order to get the clues you need. Very cool.
  • Deconstructed in Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun in Nod's introduction to Umagon. Slavik and Oxanna are examining recently-recorded footage, cutting, turning, zooming in and finally ordering CABAL to extrapolate missing data to remove shadows. Not only do we get to know later on CABAL's cores use human brains explaining the massive computer power behind the operation, the resulting image is grainy except for the extrapolated parts, which are uncharacteristically smooth. These parts also lack the Tiberium infestation later seen on the real Umagon. The resulting image only gives Oxanna the clue the woman is a mutant, but not who.
  • Played rather conservatively in, of all things, Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere. During a video analysis of the test flight of X-49 Night Raven, the camera footage was paused, zoomed in to the pilot's face, and then the contrast was manipulated to reveal the face behind the see-through visor. It was "sensible" in the sense that, even without the enhancement, the source image was apparently clear enough to make out a good detail of the face in question. But then the image had to be printed, and the investigator looks at the printout rather than the monitor image to make a conclusion. Apparently, even in 2045, printouts of images are still a common thing.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in 24 Minutes, The Simpsons spoof of 24; Principal Skinner orders Lisa to enhance a photo of a message carved into a classroom desk. When it turns out to be a slur directed at him, he shouts "De-hance! De-hance!"
    • Parodied again when Bart is going through the school newspaper archives and sees an old picture. He tells Lisa, who is reading over his shoulder, "Zoom in and enhance!" Lisa responds by grabbing the back of Bart's head and pushing his face closer to the screen.
    • Used in the episode The D'oh-cial Network when Patty and Selma show Lisa their profile picture on Spring Face - a picture of two hot blondes. When Lisa says it's not them, they zoom in the picture to show their reflection in one blonde's sunglasses.
  • Parodied in Clone High, where Abe Lincoln watches a videotape and, upon seeing something of interest, rewinds it and tells the VCR to zoom and enhance the image. Needless to say... it does.
  • Justified in the Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Angel", where the camera in question was invented by a Mad Scientist and was said to take pictures at insanely high numbers of pixels.
  • A somewhat unusual example happened in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, where Fred and Velma not only enhanced the footage in a completely unspecified manner to reveal the ghost of Captain Moonscar, who wasn't originally in the footage, but also zoomed and enhanced in a way that made it look like Daphne was not slightly obstructing him.
  • In Squidbillies, Early, on trial for attacking baseball players during a game, tells the court to "Zoom in! Enhance!" the evidence footage. The lawyer responds, "We can't do that. That's really more of a sci-fi thing."
    • 'At's a shame. 'Cause if y'all could, you could see that my hat reads 'Gyneocologist: Saturday Nights Only.' At's funniern' hell. I got that at a truck stop in Ellijay.
  • Parodied on an episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. While looking through security footage, Phil modifies the image: "Hello, and who do we have here? Enhance! Contrast! Tint! Bright! Sleep mode! Vertical hold!"
  • Parodied in the Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode "King Dead": Space Ghost tells Moltar's console to "zoom in" on a frame from a VHS ransom video. The computer zooms way in until a single yellow pixel fills the entire screen as a calm computer voice says "Enhancing. Enhancing complete. Yellow... block." From this giant pixel Space Ghost somehow recognizes the interior of his own apartment.
  • In an episode of DuckTales, the nephews are able to clearly identify a culprit on a surveillance tape by holding a magnifying glass up to their TV screen.
  • Batman: The Animated Series uses this like crazy. An example: Batman is trying to identify who robbed the safe at a Boxing match. He asks his Magical Computer to play security footage in super slow motion. Then he zooms in on a thug's tattoo (briefly seen during the slow mo sequence) and enhances it so well it matches up with the Facial Recognition Software and identifies the thief.
  • The cartoon version of Battletech used a variation of this, the enemy mechs (and later the good guy ones) were equipped with a system called Enhanced Imaging, ostensibly to aid in combat by making the situation clearer. What this in fact did in terms of the show's effects is turn detailed traditional animation into untextured 3D models.
    • Similarly occurred in the non-Titanium version of MechWarrior 2. "Image Enhancement" blackened out the screen and displayed everything as wireframe models—which did have the benefit of at least displaying the status of the enemy Mech's body parts.
  • Parodied in Futurama. In the "In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela", Zapp Brannigan asks for a section of the screen to be magnified. See the page quote for how well it turned out.
  • X-Men episode "Time Fugitives: Part 1" has Beast doing this to see what Creed used to infect himself. Image Scan Mode... CLOSER. STOP. CLOSER!
  • Played absolutely straight in an episode of The Clone Wars, in which Ahsoka Tano enhances a video to show the hidden face of a hooded figure... which was recorded from behind.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • LoadingReadyRun mocked this phenomenon in their CSI parody. In the video, a lab tech uses a new software package to restore a security tape that was wiped with a magnet. However, the culprit is facing away from the camera, so he zooms in on the toaster and enhances the pixels, creating a crystal-clear picture of the toaster, but with no reflection. He runs a filter to find the reflection, extrapolates it into a full photograph, flips it, and zooms in a second time to get an image of the perp's name tag.
  • This picture, and also this one.
  • Mocked in the pseudo-documentary of Shoggoth On The Roof, one investigator watches an old Super-8 film of a performance over and over again. He notices a strange figure standing in the background who no one really pays attention to ("Maybe he was the writer?"). He asks a technical person: "Can we enhance this photo to get a better image of this man's face?" She laughs, then tells him they can't. He sighs and then asks if they can just take a really good freeze-frame.
  • Subverted by SCP-191, as seen here, as it is explicitly stated that SCP-191 "had to guess" as to the missing data. The images produced in another impossible CSI-like process, however, while still being inaccurate, were very convincing to someone unfamiliar with the location depicted.
  • Played for laughs in Henry & Aaron's ABC2 Christmas Special, where they clear up and zoom in on white noise in the background of some video footage and get an incredible sharp image of the villain.

    Real Life 
  • There are actual image-enhancement techniques that can do things like see what a person is looking at by distortion-correcting the reflections in their eyeballs, or reconstruct a scene from the point of view of the light illuminating the scene, but they generally require extremely high-resolution images as a starting point.
  • The real technique of super-resolution can produce higher-resolution images from a sequence of low-res images shifted by fractions of a pixel (which naturally occurs during video recording). The levels of enhancement seen in fiction are still ridiculous compared to this, though. Fairly obviously, it seems, this would only work for data where the original limiting factor of detail was the resolution of the image sensor, rather than the quality and accuracy of the focus.
  • A little statistical analysis, Photoshop, and Javascript are all that's needed to recover text down to as little as three pixels in height. Law enforcement has access to software which specializes in recovering somewhat distorted license plates, though it's not magic and doesn't do any good if the license plate in question is completely blown out, or is simply too distorted.
    • The software is now available as a Photoshop plugin so the general public has access to it too.
  • A technique featured in CSI was actually used in Real Life to solve the murder of a cop who had been gunned down during a routine traffic stop. TV display screens usually cut off a few pixels at the end of each image. Analysts were able to get what the patrol car's camera filmed beyond the edge of the normal display area by simply moving the image around with the control on the monitor (re-centering the display a few degrees to the right). The resulting image showed the shooter in action, who had previously been just out of frame. This is due to many television sets implementing an 'overscan' feature, which is a largely pointless (and in fact detrimental in every respect) remnant of CRT display technology, and would not have been an issue viewing the footage using a digital signal on a decent modern TV (configured correctly, in some cases) or a computer monitor.
  • Many of the customers such as those featured on Clients From Hell seem to think the Enhance Button will solve all their problems. This happens occasionally in print shops because the customer is Not Always Right.
    • One misinformed customer asked to have someone cropped out of the foreground of a photo to see what was behind him.
    • Another provided a photo of the front of a house, with instructions to "Rotate 180 degrees, so I can see the back of the house."
    • Also: "Please remove this cow so I can see the face of my ancestor!"
    • And: "We need to see this person's face [points to person in photo with their back to a camera]. You need to turn the person around 180 degrees."
    • And: "I have these photos of a masquerade ball. [holds up photos with people with full masks on] I need you to Photoshop the masks off."
  • Bad focus or motion blur can, in fact, be run through deconvolution filters to get slightly better focus. This can, in theory, be used to help make out details, but there is still no getting around any information genuinely lost by the initial defects and the filters will never make the image as clear as it was if had been taken in focus ion the first place.
  • INTERPOL caught a pedophile who was abusing children in Thailand in 2008 after putting out a hue and cry over the Internet. He could be found because a spiral blur had been used to hide his face; this kind of blur does not destroy very much photographic information at all, and reversing the process could be easily accomplished by anyone who knows how to use a Photoshop filter and has the time.
  • Compressed sensing is a real life Enhance Button for fuzzy, corrupted images. It uses a series of mathematical tricks to make a perfect image out of, of all things, a random 10% of the pixels in the corrupted image.
  • Content Aware Fill in Photoshop CS5. It's WITCHCRAFT!
    • Fill + Content-Aware = Instant Un-Person.
    • Either parodied or foreseen by The IT Crowd: "It's like someone broke up with Stalin." is Moss' comment about all of Roy's pictures have had his girlfriend seamlessly removed.
    • Gimp's answer, which actually came out before CS5, was a plug-in called Resynthesizer.
  • Revel in the enormity of this 70 GIGAPIXEL image of the Budapest skyline. Yes, 70 Gigapixels, complete with inbuilt "ENHANCE!" app: http://70gigapixel.cloudapp.net/
  • Computational photography, the science of digital photo analysis, can now allow specialized cameras to see around corners. The camera itself casts a laser light on a surface so it's reflected around the corner, then captures and maps the returning "echo" of the laser.
  • Another valid technique can improve video taken from Dizzy Cam by moving each frame so that the object of focus is kept "centered."
  • High dynamic range imaging (HDRI) can bring out detail in very dark or very bright images by taking the entire light-dark contrast over the image and preading it out across the whole spectrum of light-dark contrast we can render. This is how striking images of cities at night are achieved.
    • HDRI is a little more complex than this - mere stretching tends to produce images with overly dark regions. Different changes in exposure are applied to different parts of the image in a nonlinear way.
  • Two individuals, Vincent Di Pietro and Gregory Molenaar, used SPIT technology to "enhance" the so-called Face On Mars, claiming that the enhancements revealed sculpted eyeballs and teeth. Sceptics and actual astronomers remain unconvinced!
  • A 2012 paper introduces a method called "Eulerian Video Magnification" which can amplify small changes by "tuning" to a specific frequency. Such as the reddening of someone's face as a result of their pulse.
  • The Lytro digital camera (and plenoptic cameras in general) allow users to change the focus on pictures in its special format after they've been taken, much like this
  • One common problem is that people tend to confuse what is possible with traditional negatives with what is possible in digital photography. Just as converting a vinyl record to an MP3 will cause the loss of some fine acoustic details, the conversion of analogue information to digital format inherently sacrifices quality and depth of resolution for efficiency and convenience.
    Because traditional photographs function via the analogue process of directly converting light to recorded image, the only effective limit on the resolution is the quality of the lens of the camera. This allows traditional negatives to be blown up to massive sizes via projection, and many CSI enhancements like pulling an image from a reflection aided by this. Reversing the process in contolled conditions also allows microfiche to store entire books and newspapers on a single tiny panel of film without loosing significant quality, and for these images to once again be displayed at full size or larger without significant increases in grain (the analogue equivalent of pixilation). In an excellent example of this effect in action, Modern Spy satellites which can read a document over a person's shoulder from orbit use massive digital sensors, long exposures, and extremely high quality lenses to approximate the resolution of images taken at supersonic speeds by the film camera installed in the U2 spy plane.


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Energy WeaponFuturistic Tech IndexEverything Sensor
Embarrassing SlidePhotography and IllustrationFatal Family Photo
Dueling HackersMagical ComputerEverything Is Online
Eating Lunch AloneImageSource/WebcomicsThe Slacker
Endangered SouffléReality Is UnrealisticEveryone Gets Their Turn

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