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Zapp: Why's it still blurry?!
Kif: That's all the resolution we have. Making it bigger doesn't make it clearer.
Zapp: It does on CSI: Miami.
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"Zoom in. Now... enhance."

A staple of any crime drama, the "Enhance Button" is a computer function that allows you to turn a tiny, blurred, or grainy image into a clear, unmistakable piece of evidence. It's nearly always heralded by someone standing next to the computer ordering it (or the technician operating it) to "Enhance."

This allows characters to glean information beyond what the picture itself actually contains. As such, most Enhance Button functions are impossible in real life. The Enhance Button derives from legitimate Real Life "image enhancement" techniques that allow you to change things like colors or saturation, or compare frames of a video, which will create a clearer image than before. But there's still a limit to what it can do, and it can only work with the data in the photo. The Enhance Button adds data. The worst cases will even allow you to change the camera angle, see through or around things, or pick up reflections in unlikely places. They also have an incredible zoom, which creates new pixels rather than simply enlarging them.

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Sometimes a technician will point out this impossibility but nevertheless be able to "clean up" the image with his mad computer skillz, with an appropriate Hand Wave as to how he did it. This is based off a Real Life technique where you can guess what's in the picture based on the position and color of the pixels, the way you might be able to guess the words of a missing page in a book based on the text of the surrounding pages. This kind of thing is good for guessing things from a limited range of possibilities, like license plate numbers, but not much else.

The Enhance Button is a common part of the Rewind, Replay, Repeat sequence, where some kind of investigator is looking through pictures or video footage for evidence and gets to spot a clue that's not initially obvious. It's often also got Facial Recognition Software and an Omniscient Database to help identify individuals. Interestingly, the investigator rarely uses the Button himself; he has to order the techie on the computer to do it, hence the ubiquitous command, "Enhance". Conversely, the techie rarely enhances on his own initiative, even though he knows the software better than anyone and can guess what his boss wants him to do.

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It's such a ritual that it's not uncommon to lampshade or parody the phenomenon, with a tech-illiterate investigator who expects this to work, or with a clearly impossible enhance button that wraps around to Rule of Funny.

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. Ironically, since the original, the creator has, uh, enhanced the quality and made an HD version. (The above link is for that HD version.)


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Detective Conan episode "Scoop Picture Murder Case" Professor Agasa scans an image from a magazine and zooms pretty far in to help Conan find evidence - in the reflection on a mirror, which is partly behind a fire, at night. Of course he can enhance it with his advanced algorithms which account for air humidity and the position of the stars. Literally.
  • 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.
  • The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode "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. 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!
  • The beginning of Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns shows a grainy image of Mewtwo standing on a mountain, which the technicians keep enhancing it so it becomes clearer.
  • 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 she points out that it just makes them more blurry.
  • Every so often in 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, who devised ways to embed the original image data in the end result — making mosaics reversible.

    Comic Books 
  • In issue #11 of the original Marvel run of The Transformers, Shockwave accesses Rumble's brain to find out 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.
  • The short-lived The New Universe comic Spitfire and the Troubleshooters has an exceptionally implausible example, where a character uses a special helmet that visualizes computer data, and ends up "enhancing" an image of a villain's face — generated from a written report.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, 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. It's not just an Enhance Button, though; Fred explicitly describes what he's doing as he enhances the image, and reveals that he has to alter the contrast and sharpness to reveal the ghost, which is invisible to the naked eye.
  • In Big Hero 6, Hiro's friends show him some security footage from Krei's "Project: Silent Sparrow", and Professor Callaghan attacking Krei after the teleportation portal fails, evidently killing the pilot. Hiro zooms in on a shot of the pilot, and discovers the name "Callaghan" printed on her helmet, revealing that she was Professor Callaghan's daughter and that he was seeking revenge against Krei for her death.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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. The computer program doing the "enhancing" is explicitly stated to be guessing what's there rather than magically creating missing data, but the resulting image is still incredibly accurate.
  • 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!" It's oddly more realistic than most examples, because it's from a medium-format camera, which even back then could easily take 150 megapixel photos — the real unrealistic bit is where he can get photo paper that big.
  • In Next, FBI agents zoom in and enhance a grainy frame of CCTV footage enough to get a VIN number from an SUV.
  • In Fast Five, Dwayne Johnson's team uses this to track down Dominic Torreto. The enhancement itself doesn't actually reveal a clear photo because he's masked, but it's clear enough that they're able to match him by facial structure.
  • Blade Runner has a famously ridiculous use of the trope, when Deckard analyzes a snapshot to bring out truly magical levels of detail. He's even able to follow a reflection around a corner. It is set 20 Minutes into the Future, though, which might explain the ridiculous technology. The 1997 tie-in video game allows the player to replicate this feat.
  • 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. The image isn't just blurry; it's also stretched vertically, and it turns out to be a picture of the documentary maker himself, who is implied to be the original killer.
  • Enemy of the State:
    • The NSA uses two takes from separate frames from a security video and rotates the camera angle to see a shopping bag hidden behind someone's back. They try to mitigate the ridiculousness by handwaving about how the computer is "speculating" and being unable to find out what's inside the shopping bag, which is what the Big Bad really wants to know.
    • The trailer contains a scene where Zavitz, viewing the footage from his wildlife camera, pauses 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 a scene where Dean and Brill are talking on top of a building, and the government goons are watching them by satellite. One of the goons asks if they could zoom in and see their faces:
      Fiedler: The satellite's 150 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!
  • In The Pink Panther (2006), investigators zoom in on the picture of Clouseau's airport accident, revealing the Pink Panther diamond on the bag scanner's screen. Interestingly, you could see it without enhancing, making the Button unnecessary.
  • The 1948 film Call Northside 777 provides an early example; a reporter proves that a witness lied in a trial eleven years earlier by blowing up an old photo of the witness with the accused. He can thus read the date on a newspaper in the background, revealing that the witness saw the suspect a day before she claimed to.
  • In the Stargate movie, technicians use several presses of the Enhance Button to discern glyphs on the other side's Stargate.
  • 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.
  • In Species, they get a blurry still from a video camera and manage to enhance the image in the lab, if only slightly.
  • Played with in Déjà Vu. A secret government agency is using satellite data to reconstruct every aspect of an area in 3D, allowing them to zoom in at ground level, go inside structures, and even recreate audio. The protagonist is extremely skeptical, before it's revealed that they're folding space-time 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, and spot their target through the reflection in the door of a nearby car.
  • In Bringing Down the House, the protagonist joins a dating service, but his date isn't the person shown in her profile picture. She shows that she is indeed in the picture — in the background, in handcuffs, visible only with an Enhance Button.
  • Mocked in Super Troopers, in a scene where Ramathorn, sitting at a computer, trolls his superior by repeatedly saying "Enhance!" between random keystrokes, before his exasperated superior yells at him to "just print the damn thing!"
  • In F/X 2, Rolly uses an Enhance Button to get an image of the killer. It takes several zooms, and each takes more time than the last, but he eventually gets a picture that's slightly over-saturated and blurry, but still altogether too clear.
  • 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.
  • In Underworld, the protagonist has a picture of someone whose face is only four pixels large. 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 is a faint reflection on a nearby phone booth. Crazily, he does the enhancing at a subway station photo kiosk, although the original photo may have been higher-resolution than the kiosk shows.
  • Largely averted in U.S. Marshals; zoomed-in CCTV footage is visibly pixelated, and the focus is fuzzy, if not quite as bad as it should be. Nonetheless, it provides Gerard and his team useful clues about the homicide their fugitive committed.
  • 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 Blowup; a photographer tries to investigate a murder he believes he caught on camera, but loses resolution as he tries to enhance his picture.
  • In Star Trek: Generations, The Duras sisters are able to enhance the feed from Geordi's VISOR to ridiculous extents, being able to see the Enterprise's shield frequency. Then again, the VISOR is a futuristic Everything Sensor, so it may just be that high resolution; Geordi simply doesn't use it at that setting because it's rarely needed.
  • In Evidence, criminal investigators looking through dark, partially-corrupted footage are able to "enhance" it enough to get clear images out of pixel soup.
  • 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.
  • In Avatar, the Big Bad needs an Enhance Button to be able to positively identify Jake when he's trying to stop the bulldozers.
  • 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.
  • 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, implying that the computer-generated layers are part of the hard copy (and that the fakers never thought to "flatten" them into a single layer).
    • In an aversion, Dredd's defense counsel maintains that CCTV footage of Dredd supposedly murdering someone is too low-res to be admitted into evidence. They point out that his face cannot be seen at the angle in question, he never speaks, and his uniform could be a forgery.
  • 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, agents Morgan and Grant try to get a clear image of the suspect from CCTV footage of a moving bus. Morgan asks the tech to enhance a completely dark section, revealing a reflection with the face of a different suspect.
  • In the American version of The Ring, video producer Noah employs a more realistic version when breaking down the Cursed Video frame by frame. He notices that one frame has a jittery video bleeding from the side of the frame, meaning that there's something outside the frame, in the overscan. His professional equipment allows him to read the overscan, which shows the Moesko Island Lighthouse. Rachel has to use the high-end processors and tracking heads at her newspaper's media department to get a clearer image.
  • In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, the Big Bad gets a hold of a photo of a secret map, with Daffy Duck blocking the important part. He seems to expect an Enhance Button to be able to "remove the duck". No one responds to his increasingly angry commands, 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.
  • Both adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have ridiculous uses of Enhance Buttons on photos taken from a distance, 30 years ago, on ordinary cameras, by ordinary citizens completely unrelated to the case. This indeed helps them identify the murderer. The original novel was guilty of this to some extent, but was more explicit in how much guesswork and Photoshop there is in the process.
  • Averted in The Bourne Identity: The police are able to "sharpen" a blurry image of Jason Bourne, but it's far from perfect and they have to call in a police sketch artist to look at it. Even then, he can only provide about four or five educated guesses.
  • In Patriot Games, Jack Ryan is looking for the Big Bad in a photo with a large group of people and asks the tech to zoom in on a number of different people, frustrated that he hasn't found what he's looking for. But after a protracted scene of zooming and enhancing, Jack finds what he's looking for: "Tits." It's based off a similar scene in the novel, where the tech explains to Jack that a woman would have to be at least a C-cup for there to be any visible cleavage in the photo.
  • Used twice in Kingsman: The Secret Service:
    • When the Kingsmen watch TV footage of Valentine announcing his free Sim card deal, they are able to zoom in from a wide angle shot to a crisp close-up on the scar on Valentine's assistant's neck.
    • When they analyze footage taken with Harry's spy glasses at Valentine's place, they are able to zoom in on an envelope carried by one of Valentine's assistants, which clues them in on the "South Glade Mission Church".
  • In Renegade Force, investigators are looking at the video of a crime scene and want to enhance a brief reflection on a silver vase — not just a fleeting image, but also a warped and degraded one. They send the footage to "the lab", which sends back several high-quality prints of a gloved finger resting outside the trigger guard of an automatic weapon.

    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.
  • The Discworld book Feet of Clay parodies the trope with a sort of Victorian-era proto-CSI, asking an imp to paint smaller and smaller portions of the victim's eyes, eventually revealing the burned-in image of the last thing he saw. Fortunately, the imp is the main component of a Magitek camera with an incredible zoom. And even then, he only gets barely more than a couple of dots of light — which is still 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's title character uses the C Cube to enhance low quality video into much higher quality one. It's Handwaved as fairy technology; a previous book suggests it works by removing impurities in the wire that transmitted the footage (which wouldn't do squat for the digital signal itself, but whatever.)
  • 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.
  • 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. Since 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 heroine of the Cam Jansen series can use her "Photographic Memory" in this way to solve minor crimes. While eidetic memory is rare in Real Life, it does kind of work like this, allowing one to see new details in old memories as if one were looking at a photograph. But this character uses it to ridiculous extremes, such as being able to read the address on a magazine carried by someone walking by.
  • Subverted in Animorphs: Marco spots an Andalite on a TV show. He visits Ax, they replay the footage together, and confirm that yes, it's an Andalite. They still can't figure out who it is, so Marco suggests zooming and enhancing. Ax protests that he can't get 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, and shows what happens when you zoom in — but also shows that 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 make them 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 novels:
    • 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.
    • In 9 Dragons, this is played realistically, with the use of a computer program to "guess" or fill in the image.
  • A BattleTech novel, Assumption of Risk, has an entire chapter dedicated to a minor character enacting this trope. Then again, 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 in this setting.
  • Used well in Michael Crichton's Rising Sun (as well as in the movie); the Enhance Button is needed because the security footage of the murder has been doctored to remove the killer and replace him with another suspect. The police is totally fooled by the doctored tape, but the Japanese audio-video wizard isn't, and she can reconstruct the footage to prove it's doctored — although not to see who the real killer is. (For that, they have to obtain an original copy.) She can do it because she can see how sloppy the editing is and claims that they were hoping no one would notice:
    "They think we will not be careful. That we will not be Japanese."
  • In Roger Macbride Allen's Inferno, a computer compiles images from multiple security cameras to create a full representation of what's going on at a party. If anyone wanders out of frame in all of the cameras, the computer extrapolates as to where they were in the room during that period (although the image is low-quality).
  • In the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Ship of the Line, the 23rd-century border cutter USS Bozeman (from the TNG episode "Cause and Effect") tries to identify a Klingon heavy cruiser (trying to make a sneak attack on a Federation outpost), but it's too far away to see any marking clearly. The computer, however, can still extrapolate from available sensor data of a blurry image to make out the letters; Klingon characters look like this, and some characters are easily recognizable from a distance, so the computer can extrapolate around those.
  • Zig-Zagged in Congo: The hunt to enhance a piece of footage that displays one of the killer gorillas storming the first ERTS camp requires multiple specialised computer programs, some of which need to be run to counteract a degradation of the footage that the previous program unwillingly creates, and all of which need a long amount of time. Ross can work the programs faster and more efficiently than anyone. The resulting picture is still bad enough that Travis at first thinks Ross found a rookie programmer's Easter Egg. But it's still just good enough to convince Travis that Ross can be the "console hot-dogger" for the second expedition.
  • Done realistically in The Hunt for Red October: While the CIA does enhance poor quality photos of the eponymous submarine, they need to map the lens of the actual camera used to take the photo (not a similar camera) and use that map to break the photograph down into as close to the original image as possible — which still isn't perfect.
  • Done realistically in The Martian: At some point a NASA engineer laments that a satellite photo's low precision is making their work difficult; they're told that the NSA already ran the photo through the enhancing software they use for Spy Satellites, and this is the best they could get.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Las Vegas took the Enhance Button further than likely any other show on this list. Surveillance is built into the premise — as noted in the pilot, Las Vegas has more surveillance cameras per capita than any other city in the world, and the characters use them to solve crimes in their casino. But nearly every episode involves them zooming in to identify individuals from at least twenty feet away and using absurdly sophisticated facial recognition software (for a casino, at least). For example:
    • In "Can You See What I See?", Mike uses camera footage from two different convenience stores to create a composite image of Ed driving through a green light (and not the red one he was given a ticket for). Among other things, he straightens a diagonal image and uses the reflection on a TV to zoom in on the Stratosphere Tower more than five miles away. And he goes to obscene effort just to get his hands on the footage (even getting a job at the place that had one of the tapes). In the end, Ed shows it to a judge he knows, who notices that he wasn't wearing a seat belt.
    • In "Two of a Kind" (a crossover with Crossing Jordan), the boys use four separate photos of a crime in progress to end up with a perfect 3D simulation of the room, revealing the face of a female culprit 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, but it's not shown how it did so.
    • In "To Protect and Serve Manicotti", they start with CCTV footage of a guy's head shoved onto a restaurant counter by Sylvester Stallone's recurring character, 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, and end up with a complete 3D 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. The only problem is that the screen shouldn't be capable of displaying anything outside the human-visible spectrum of colors.
  • In one episode of MacGyver (1985), 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 and using the zoom function on your computer.
  • Federal agents in 24 seem to do this a lot, such as when the FBI finds out that Tony Almeida is still alive. But they did get a chance to lampshade it once: the Chinese government produces an enhanced photograph of a CTU agent illegally entering a Chinese embassy, and Jack Bauer immediately denies its authenticity by saying it was digitally altered.
    • Also played straight in season six with the security camera footage of Jack, entering the building where David Palmer was shot from.
    • But also averted in season two: when CTU has to find out what was written on a burnt piece of paper they call in a specialist with his own equipment (which is better than what CTU has) and it still takes him close to an hour to extract something actionable.
  • The Enhance Button is a staple of the CSI franchise, particularly the New York and Miami versions.
    • All three CSI shows used the Enhance Button to construct a recognizable image from the reflection in someone's eye. It being dark and the footage being from a grainy CCTV camera just makes it worse.
    • One CSI episode used the Button to obtain a recognizable image of the person behind the camera, by looking at the reflection of someone's sunglasses in the window of a car — a double reflection.
    • Another CSI episode used a 3D crime scene scanner in this manner. Such devices do exist, using a laser to create a 3D image of an area. CSI's version, though, lifted the body off the bed to look at the stains on the sheets underneath it. That's the equivalent of taking a photo of a guy, "stripping away" the skin and muscles, and looking at what color the guy's bones are.
    • One CSI: New York episode used the Button to get a positive fingerprint ID — after the suspect waved his hand in front of the camera lens.
  • Spoofed in the 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 laments that their station is too poor to have one of those zoomer things.
  • Subverted in Due South, where the detectives are trying to identify a suspect in the crowd of a hockey game from the TV broadcast. They try zooming in on his face, only for it to be equally blocky. But they can still work out his seat number, as they suspect he's a season ticket holder. Then they show the footage to an elderly deaf lady, who gives her best guess at lip-reading what he might be shouting.
  • Subverted on the British show KYVT: In the murder special, the characters examine some CCTV footage and attempt to zoom in, only for the enhanced version to be 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: it produced a clear image, and 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. note 
  • Angel:
    • Inverted in an episode where Angel is given a visual image taken from the psychic imprints of a blood sample. Angel asks if it can be cleaned up at all, only for Wesley to tell him no — because it's not a real photograph.
    • Played straight in "Dad", when the demonic lawyers zoom in 100x on Lorne's shirt pocket. Then again, they're demonic, so maybe their CCTV footage is high-definition.
  • Columbo:
    • In "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 writing on his class ring.
    • 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.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • An early episode, "Duet", has a possible war criminal apprehended by the crew. After finding that 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.) It's also lampshaded, since at first it just does a realistic low-resolution zoom on the face; when Sisko complains, Dax tells him the computer is still processing.
    • In another episode, Sisko recovers a painting of an ancient obelisk containing markings on all sides. Naturally, only the forward-facing markings are visible in the painting, but Sisko needs to see all of them. He notices a waterfall behind the obelisk and uses his computer to reconstruct the markings from the waterfall's reflections. Except this is a painting, and this can only work if the original painter was incredibly anal about the reflections. Perhaps A Wizard Did It — the people who made the obelisk might have anticipated the need for this in the future, given their near-inability to think of time as a straight line.
  • Inverted in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Corbomite Maneuver", where the crew is looking at an image of a Big Dumb Object, and they can't see the entire thing unless they zoom out. But for this to work implies the same principles that power the garden-variety Enhance Button.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "The Vengeance Factor", the crew finds a picture of someone with their face half hidden, and they're able to reconstruct the person's entire face, implicating him as the episode's villain.
    • In "Identity Crisis", Geordi asks 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 who were obscuring the shadow, before extrapolating the general 3D volume of the shadow-casting object. Justified in that Geordi is really reaching; the computer repeatedly tells him there simply isn't enough data to tell him a blessed thing, so he just throws up his hands and orders the computer to use him as an estimate for all the missing parameters.
    Geordi: All right, let's say that my friend and I here are about the same size, say 1.7 meters. Now can you extrapolate its shape and its position?
    (bullshit ensues as the computer gets the object over 90% right... just in time for Geordi to start metamorphosing into a creature just like it)
    • "Unification Part I" starts with a Starfleet admiral enhancing an image and discovering that Ambassador Spock was on Romulus.
      • The camera that took this image was in another star system and picked him out of a crowd. Future tech indeed!
  • House's Enhance Button dances on the brink of absurdity. The gang is trying to interpret a heart scan, but they can't make out any detail on the small computer (and say "the pixels are the size of Legos"). They move the footage to bigger and bigger screens before projecting the footage in the hospital's cinema, which solves the problem but creates a different one (ignoring that if the problem was blocky pixels, the pixels should have gone from being Lego bricks to house bricks) — why is it so difficult to look at routine medical diagnostic images on regular hospital equipment?
  • Bones has all kinds of crazy image stuff:
    • In the fifth episode, this trope is subverted at first, when Booth asks to zoom in and is told that it won't work because the image only has so many pixels. Ten minutes later, they find a reflection in a door taken by the same security cameras by "repolarizing" it to do exactly what they just said they couldn't do. (Angela later claims to have a patent pending on the device, implying that it doesn't do anything we would know how to do yet.)
    • In another episode, Booth and Bones take a scan of an image from a printed tabloid newspaper showing a dead victim, zoom in on the girl's eye, and reconstruct the reflection of a building in the background. This should not have been possible given how many different things should have degraded the image along the way, even if the camera is really good.
  • On 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.
  • Spooks goes back and forth on this. One episode shows MI-5 taking an image captured by a spy satellite, "enhancing" it, and rotating it to see the face of one person and the shape of his sunglasses.
  • 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 and try to enhance it, but it's still too blurry to make out who the people are. Stottlemeyer sarcastically suggests that the blurs could be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Randy informs him that Ginger Rogers has been dead for years). Randy then points out the blurs on the screen, by circling them with a permanent marker.
  • The pilot of the short-lived Threat Matrix showed Homeland Security examining a traffic camera footage, removing a man from the image, and revealing the briefcase the criminal was holding.
  • In Early Edition, the characters want to enhance a thirty-year-old photograph which shows a potential presidential assassin. For plot reasons, 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 attempts to subvert this trope; Charlie explains how image enhancement as seen in the movies is unrealistic. This, however, does not prevent him from enhancing an image a few minutes later, with the explanation that he used math.
  • The X-Files:
    • Averted in "Shadows", when Scully comments that a blurry photograph on a computer monitor can't be enhanced because the resolution is too poor.
    • The Season 2 episode "The Calusari" was the first appearance of Dr. Charles Burk, the FBI's resident digital imaging expert, and creator of a special photo enhancement software. He and Mulder use it to identify photon distortion caused by an "electromagnetic cloud", which is supernaturally luring a child into the path of an oncoming train.
    • In one episode, the magic software takes a photo of white noise with a vague blur, removes all the white pixels, and inexplicably leaves an image showing a vital clue. Then again, the image was placed there by a ghost, so maybe the normal rules don't apply.
    • In "Ascension", 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, giving the police a chance to save her. Even more incredibly, the footage doesn't otherwise relate to Mulder's case at all, and he was watching it by random chance.
    • In "Rush", the Button colorizes black-and-white security camera footage, allowing Mulder to identify a blur on the frame as a school's letter jacket — even though the blur was on screen for exactly one frame (i.e., 1/30th of a second).
  • NCIS goes back and forth on the Button. Perky Goth technician Abby sometimes tries to explain that she can't enhance the photo, but her boss doesn't understand the tech and just expects her to work her magic. And sometimes, it is magic, like when she enhances a blurry reflection in a car door to reveal that the person's hand is missing a couple of fingers, or when she enhances CCTV camera footage from a hundred feet above a carrier deck to see a pill lying on the ground.
  • In Family Matters, Steve is testifying in a trial and points out that the security camera footage showing the defendant robbing a jewelry store may have been altered. He proves it by replacing the defendant's face with the judge's. Then he uses the Button to show the perp forgot to edit his face out of a mirror in the store. It turns out to be the bailiff. Justified in that Steve is a Mad Scientist who often does impossible things like this.
  • Every show in the Law & Order franchise has used the Button to some degree. In the original Law & Order, the Button has been used to:
    • Enhance a Home Porn Movie to reveal the victim's tattoo;
    • Enhance CCTV footage to reveal a decal in a car's window, showing which rental agency it's from;
    • Enhance footage of a restaurant party, zooming in on a blurry image to reveal the restaurant's logo on the waiter's jacket (although this time, the logo is no less blurry; the techie just happens to recognize the logo);
    • Remove a man's voice from a phone call, identify the vague noise in the background as water lapping against a boat, and from that identify the type of boat;
    • Identify a blurry image on a man's hat, which was previously out of frame; Logan asked the tech to "push it up a few frames."
    • Subverted in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The defendant (played by Robin Williams) is caught on a security camera, and the enhanced image showing his face is presented as evidence. The defendant, representing himself, shows the jury the original image, which is just of a blur wearing a baseball cap, and then cross-examines the enhancement guy and gets him to admit that everything he did to get a recognizable face out of that image was just guesswork. The jury returns an acquittal.
      "I don't care how sophisticated your software is — a guess is not the truth."
  • The Red Dwarf three-parter "Back to Earth" has a ridiculous parody of the phenomenon (part of an episode-long pastiche of Blade Runner). The first command is to "uncrop", and it gets crazier from there. To see the other side of a business card, they enhance several different reflections (one from the metallic "H" in Rimmer's skull, and the rest from very distant objects, one of which is a faucet in someone's bathroom) before getting a clear image of the back of a guy who was not even in the original image. Then when they read the address on the back of the business card, Kryten asks if it would have been easier just to look him up in the phone book.
  • In Smallville, Jimmy and Lois use the Enhance Button on a photo to reveal that Lex killed his father. But the computer at the Daily Planet isn't "powerful enough" to do the enhancing, and they didn't think to make more than a single copy.
  • Double Subversion in the 2009 FlashForward pilot. The FBI finds footage of someone who might have stayed awake during the visions, but when they try to enhance his face, it's just as blocky and pixelated as before. But they give it to the NSA, who finds a ring on the man's finger they "enhance" to the point that they can identify the specific ring. It might have been because it's a lot easier to extrapolate the shape of a simple object like a ring than a human face.
  • Averted in Alias: Marshal is working to get a better look at a murderer's face from a very poor quality security camera. He creates a rendering program that takes the movement of the face in the image and attempts to reconstruct the face from there. 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 he can't do that, but he has a better solution: 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 had an Enhance Button without a computer. In "The Bank", Barney pauses a recording of a bank vault on a black-and-white CRT screen, and Jim Phelps uses a pocket telescope to zoom in on the screen and read the number of a safe-deposit box.
  • Spoofed on The Sarah Silverman Program: Sarah spots a curious detail in the background of a photo. Despite being the only person in the room, she tells no one in particular to "enhance to 125 percent". She then pulls out a magnifying glass and looks dramatically at the image. When that's not enough, she calls for another 50% and pulls out an even smaller magnifying glass. The process is punctuated with dramatic camera work and high-tech sound effects like a CSI enhancing sequence, but the image it reveals is exactly what you would expect if you looked at a photo with a magnifying glass — i.e., just bigger and blurrier. Despite this, Sarah declares the image proof of... something (the viewer never quite finds out what).
  • 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.
  • In The Lost Room, Jennifer Bloom "enhances" fifty-year-old footage of the Conroy Experiment and finds the Occupant's face in the midst of the chaos. Not only does this not make any sense plot-wise (the Occupant was miles away in a sanitarium at the time), but that piece of information doesn't even change anything. Even more annoyingly, the sequence wasn't in the original script to begin with; they added it during filming.
  • Averted in the Krister Henriksson Wallander episode "Blodsband": Wallander asks Nyberg if he would be able to enhance some surveillance footage, and is told that that wouldn't improve anything.
  • 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 be 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, but it produces a crystal-clear likeness of the main character, and the interior of his spacecraft, right through the canopy.
  • The "magic zoom" is used very frequently on F/X: The Series. They justify it by claiming it's "fractal enhancement", and that they're analyzing high-quality film from movie shoots, so they have multiple high-quality frames from which to get pixels.
  • 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 2009 V 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 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. Without context, a viewer could easily mistake the scene for parody.
  • Castle:
    • Subverted in "Almost Famous": A character is requested to zoom in on an image, and the image gets blurrier and more pixelated. 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. They try it again in the following episode, "Murder Most Fowl", and Beckett lampshades Castle's expectation that this will work:
    Castle: The enhancement only increased the pixelation 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.
    • Then they started playing it straight. In series 8, they take the CCTV footage of an internet café and "enhance" a laptop screen by zooming in on its reflection in the mirror. They can read the scanned document from the laptop screen, including the smudged-out notes scribbled in the margin.
  • Community plays with the trope:
    • In one episode, Pierce and one of his elderly friends appear to be playing the trope straight on the computer — only for the camera to zoom in and reveal that they're just trying to make the browser text big enough for them to read.
    • In "Basic Lupine Urology", Britta seems like she's about to zoom in on a part of a photo, but she's really just showing off her ability to use a sepia filter. When they actually zoom in, it doesn't reveal anything new.
  • Zig-Zagged on Fringe:
    • In "The Bishop Revival", Olivia sees a suspicious character in a wedding video and asks Astrid if she can enhance it. The image Astrid produces is enlarged and very grainy. She says, "That's the best I can do."
    • In one episode, CCTV footage is "enhanced" and slowed down to show a bullet moving slowly across the screen (and being caught by an Observer). This would require a camera filming at several thousand frames per second, which a cheap CCTV camera probably isn't going to do. A season 4 episode shows the same technique to reveal an Observer moving too quickly for the eye to otherwise detect, with plenty of frames still left over.
  • One episode of Sliders can't seem to make up its mind. They use the Button to zoom in and enhance the reflection on a champagne glass to see a matchbook and identify the hotel printed on it. They wanted to show that this was a special image, but rather than just say it's very high-res, they give the following nonsensical Techno Babble:
    "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."
    "Yeah, right, but if it's a JPEG, it depends on how lossy it is."
    "We are in luck — it's rasterized. We can make this thing into a billboard and never lose res."
  • 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:
    • 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 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 by their ears.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures, Sky asks Mr. Smith to move back a tenth of a frame to find a glitch in a holographic celebrity. This assumes that a "frame" is a measurement of time, which it isn't; it's just one of the many images that make up a video. You can only move back one frame at a time, and if the glitch happened between frames, you're out of luck.
  • In the Flashpoint episode "Severed Ties", the tech guy is able to take a photograph with a blurred girl in the background and sharpen the image of the girl, while blurring the rest of the image, with the touch of a button. It's as if he's just changing the focus on the original camera. There's real technology that can do that, but it requires a special camera.
  • In Chapter Eight of The Firm, Ray McDeere enlists a "hacker" to help him enhance 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..."
  • The Brady Bunch has a low-tech example: Greg is demoted to football team photographer. He takes a shot of what appears to be the opponent's game-winning touchdown. With his darkroom equipment, he enhances the photo and reveals that the player's foot was out of bounds, giving his team the win (and making him the hero). The real NFL often zooms in its footage to review plays exactly like this, to varying degrees of success.
  • Parodied in NTSF:SD:SUV::, where the Enhance Button is so powerful, they can even search through the pockets of the person in the picture.
  • In one episode of Profiler, they're trying to figure out how a mole is leaking information from inside the FBI. One theory is that he's giving out security camera footage, but they point out that the cameras specifically don't have an Enhance Button precisely to prevent anyone from reading confidential information from the footage. It turns out that the mole affixed a cleverly-hidden telescoping device to the security camera.
  • 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.
  • In The Wire, Roland Pryzbylewski uses his Enhance Button to reveal a photo of a license plate. It's not so much about the enhancing as it is about his very openly showing off his ability to do that:
    Daniels: Sometimes you still scare me, you know that?
  • 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's a very generic likeness, and in the end it doesn't really help their case much on its own.
  • Person of Interest:
    • In one episode, Finch tries to enhance a camera phone video, but can only turn a small blurry face into a larger blurry face. He does manage to work out a rough description of some distinguishing features from the enhanced image, and he uses a different program to identify possibly suspects who have said features.
    • In the Season 2 finale, Reese is shooting at a bunch of attacking mooks with guidance from the Machine. The Machine gives a perspective straight of out Enemy of the State, allowing the viewer to rotate the image — except it already has the building's blueprints, and the human characters are flat and poorly rendered.
  • The Stargate SG-1 episode "Endgame" uses the Button to enhance the image of a camera pointed at the Stargate and identify the person who left a tracking device on the gate. Presumably, they could achieve the same result more realistically if they cobbled together security footage from multiple cameras (plausible for such a high-security complex), but it was faster this way.
  • Elementary has a low-tech version: 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, until he has a reasonably good idea what his suspect looks like.
  • In the Rizzoli & Isles episode "I'm Your Boogie Man", Maura uses an enhance button which is 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", 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 it's too low quality to make a positive identification. When Gus arrests Malvo, Malvo is able to convince the other cops that it's just a case of mistaken identity.
  • In Pretty Little Liars Season 2, Episode 18, Caleb is in the process of decrypting 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.
  • Averted in an episode of Bron|Broen, when the Swedish cops are looking at a supermarket security camera video of a suspect. Saga asks if they can enhance the image to get a recognisable face, but their tech guy explains that the original quality of the recording is too poor to get anything more.
  • In The Flash (2014) Christmas Episode "Running to Stand Still", both Team Flash at S.T.A.R. Labs and Patty at Central City Police Station are able to zoom and enhance a video the Trickster broadcast across Central City to see a reflection of a teddy bear in his eye, cluing them in on his location. Given that when The Flash and Patty arrive at the location, the Trickster has prepared a trap for them, it looks like he planned for them to do this.
  • In the Blake's 7 episode "Stardrive", a Federation patrol is blown up by a tiny one-man spacecraft pulling a Hyperspeed Ambush. It's too fast to be seen by the naked eye, so they have to rewind a recording frame by frame to find the attacker. Despite this, the resolution is still high enough to zoom in on an insignia on the pilot's helmet and establish who he is. At least they have the excuse of this taking place in the future, when camera technology would have improved considerably.
  • Midsomer Murders usually avoids this trope, but in "Days of Misrule", WPC Stephens is able to enhance a photo from a speed camera to reveal a crucial piece of evidence in the rear window.
  • Parodied in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. When presented with a grainy surveillance image that has a detail they need, Jake declares "It's time to squint".
  • Beautifully subverted on Take Two. Samantha, an actress who spent years playing a cop on TV, is now working with private eye Eddie. In the pilot, they watch a video with Eddie giving Sam a This Is Reality moment.
    Eddie: You can't enhance video resolution. That's scientifically impossible.
    Sam: We did it all the time on the show.
    Eddie: And every time, it was moronic.

    Music 
  • Parodied in the They Might Be Giants song "Unpronounceable":
    Zoom and enhance
    If that were even a real thing
    Which it isn't

    Pro Wrestling 
  • In the 2002 WWE Raw, Shawn Michaels was brutally attacked in his car in a parking lot, and Triple H declared repeatedly that he would hunt down the attacker. However, Michaels appeared on the TitanTron with a video that he enhanced and "cleaned up" to reveal that the attacker was in fact Triple H himself. This led to a long on-camera rivalry between the two.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Cyberpunk 2020, one cyberoptics option will enhance an image and give you a bonus to Advert/Notice checks. It's the only such option that will give you a bonus.

    Video Games 
  • Parodied in Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1, where Guybrush uses an analog optical telescope as an Enhance Button. He 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 requires you to perform the same Enhance Button sequence that famously happens in the movie. Fortunately, it's actually pretty cool to do it, and at least it's future tech.
  • Deconstructed in Command & 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. The resulting image is grainy except for the extrapolated parts, which are uncharacteristically smooth (and lack the Tiberium infestation later seen on the real Umagon). It does clue Oxanna in to the fact that the woman is a mutant, but not who she is. We later find out that CABAL's massive computing power comes from its being powered by human brains.
  • Played rather conservatively in Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere: During a video analysis of the test flight of X-49 Night Raven, the characters pause the camera footage, zoom in on the pilot's face, and manipulate the contrast to reveal the face behind the visor. Weirdly, the investigator can't get a good enough look at the pilot's face until the photo is printed out.
  • Tales from the Borderlands:
    • Parodied in episode 2, when Sasha tries to "enhance" the map of the Gortys Project by shouting "Enhance!" at the computer. You can get Fiona to join in, but eventually Vaughn will shut Sasha up and explain that computers don't work that way.
    • Played straight in episode 4, where Rhys is able to enhance a holographic map of Helios projected from his cybernetic arm. Sasha's a bit annoyed that it works for him.
  • In the intro video to Battlezone II: Combat Commander, Voyager 2 first appears to have an Enhance Button, scanning the Dark Planet and repeatedly zooming in on small sections of each scan. However, in the final scan, the light source it is observing is noticeably pixellated, though still detailed enough for Voyager to detect the light from a missile launch, whereupon Voyager enters combat mode.
  • In Batman: The Telltale Series, Batman notices a reflection on the glasses of a hostage in a ransom video, and instructs the Batcomputer to extrapolate a 3D virtual-reality recreation of the room from it, which is detailed enough to include readable text on the label of the water heater across the room and the bus stop sign outside the window.
  • In the non-Titanium version of MechWarrior 2, "Image Enhancement" will blacken the screen and display everything as wire frame models — which does have the benefit of at least displaying the status of the enemy Mech's body parts.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, Edgeworth takes the security camera footage of the murder and uses the Button to zoom in on a car parked outside the building, showing that the suspect was in the car — because he could see the reflection of his medal in the window on the opposite side of the car to the one facing the building.
    • In Gyakuten Kenji 2, the Button in a video analyzing machine Gumshoe calls "Mr. Analysis", and it's used twice. First, they look at footage of an apparent dog attack, zoom in on a mirror, and identify the victim as a police officer by his uniform. The second time, they zoom in between a set of shut window blinds to see what's going on behind them.
    • Downplayed in Case 4 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, where a photo is "blown up" but the faces aren't any more visible; fortunately, it becomes vital evidence for a different reason. In addition, the photo in question is a film photo, and the blown-up image was made by creating a totally new digital photo from the negative rather than zooming into an existing photo.
  • In Virtue's Last Reward, Phi and Sigma are checking out the security footage from the cabin where Luna and Alice's bodies was found. During a part where K is looking at his bracelet, they zoom in on the bracelet to see that it's says "00:21", meaning it's about a minute before K met up with the two of them in the Floor B Warehouse, which gave them the basis for the timeline of the events on the footage.note  Although to be fair, it is 2028. And to be even more fair, it's actually 2074, as the game eventually reveals.

    Web Comics 
  • Parodied inBitmap World issue 38: Harry is watching a movie where the characters enhance a picture so much that the suspect's DNA is visible.
    Harry: This movie is stupid!
  • Parodied by Nedroid in Crime Lab. Luckily, the killer's face just happens to be a 4x4 block of pixels and compression artifacts.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court plays the trope deadpan straight in this comic, but then lampshades it in the commentary after.
  • Parodied in Paranatural: What the Vice Principal claims is the enhanced image is actually the image crudely redrawn in MS Paint to be more offensive.

    Web Original 
  • LoadingReadyRun mocked this phenomenon in their CSI parody. 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.
  • Parodied 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.
  • Mocked in the pseudo-documentary of A 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 whom 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.
  • Many customers on Not Always Right seem to expect photo studios to be able to do this kind of thing:
    "All you do is click the fix button and it’s done in five seconds."
    "Crop this guy out so I can see what's behind him."
    [Showing a photo of a house] "Rotate 180 degrees, so I can see the back of the house."
    "Please remove this cow so I can see the face of my ancestor!"
    [Showing a photo of someone with his back to the camera] "We need to see this person's face. You need to turn the person around 180 degrees."
    "I have these photos of a masquerade ball. I need you to Photoshop the masks off."

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied often on The Simpsons:
    • In "24 Minutes", an episode-long spoof of 24, Principal Skinner orders Lisa to enhance a photo of a message carved into a classroom desk. It turns out to be a slur directed at him, causing him to shout, "De-hance! De-hance!"
    • Bart is going through the school newspaper archives and sees an old picture. He tells Lisa, reading over his shoulder, to "zoom in and enhance!" Lisa responds by grabbing the back of Bart's head and shoving his face closer to the screen.
    • In "The D'oh-cial Network", Patty and Selma show Lisa their profile picture on SpringFace — a picture of two hot blondes. Lisa points out it's not them, to which they zoom in on the picture to show their reflections in one blonde's sunglasses.
  • Parodied in Clone High: Abe Lincoln watches a videotape and, upon seeing something of interest, rewinds it and tells the VCR to zoom and enhance the image. It does so dutifully.
  • 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 an insanely high resolution.
  • In Squidbillies, Early is on trial for attacking baseball players during a game and is examining the evidence footage:
    Early: Zoom in! Enhance!
    Lawyer: We can't do that — that's really more of a sci-fi thing.
    Early: 'At's a shame. 'Cause if y'all could, you could see that my hat reads, "Gynecologist: Saturday Nights Only". 'At's funnier'n hell. I got that at a truck stop in Ellijay.
  • Parodied in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law: While looking through security footage, Phil modifies the image:
    Phil: 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 (1987), 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 frequently uses the enhance button. In one episode, Batman is trying to identify who robbed the safe at a boxing match and asks his Magical Computer to play the security footage in super slow motion. Then he zooms in on a thug's tattoo (visibly only for a couple of frames) and enhances it so well, he can match it up with his Facial Recognition Software and identify the thief.
  • Gargoyles does this a few times, with Elisa Maza (an NYPD detective) zooming in on security camera footage to identify suspects.
  • The cartoon version of Battletech uses a variation of this: The enemy mechs (and later the good guys) are equipped with a system called Enhanced Imaging, ostensibly to aid in combat by making the situation clearer. What this in fact does in terms of the show's effects is turn detailed traditional animation into untextured 3D models.
  • Parodied in the Futurama episode "In-a-Gadda-da-Leela", where Zapp Brannigan asks for a section of the screen to be magnified:
    Zapp: Why's it still blurry?!
    Kif: That's all the resolution we have. Making it bigger doesn't make it clearer.
    Zapp: It does on CSI: Miami!
  • In the X-Men episode "Time Fugitives: Part 1", Beast uses an Enhance Button to see what Creed used to infect himself:
    Beast: Image Scan Mode... Closer. Stop. Closer!
  • Played absolutely straight in an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in which Ahsoka Tano enhances a video to show the hidden face of a hooded figure — which was recorded from behind.
  • In The Cleveland Show, Cleveland Junior is able to zoom and enhance a YouTube video.
  • In the second episode of Detentionaire, Lee manages to enhance a blurry photo of someone's hand so much that he can see details like a class ring and a scab.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Ben 10 (2016), where Ben asks his cousin Gwen to do this when he notices that the movie footage they've been recording on her phone might have clues to where the episode's villains went. She skeptically does so and is surprised that it works, staring at her fingers in awe.

    Real Life 
Part of the belief that an Enhance Button will work derives from a misunderstanding of certain Real Life image enhancement techniques that aren't nearly as magical as TV makes them out to be. However, they can still work in certain situations:
  • It's possible to enhance old VHS tapes to create "enhanced editions" for DVD. Good film negatives can capture amazing amounts of detail, and high-quality film was being used for such purposes as far back as the 1920s. It's just that people didn't have the equipment to display that level of detail back then, particularly not at home. The difference with the Button is that the footage always had a ton of detail; it's the screen you're viewing it on that's different.
  • If you have a very high-resolution image to begin with, it is possible to do some ridiculous Enhance Button things, including distortion-correcting reflections in people's eyeballs and reconstructing a scene from the point of view of the light illuminating the scene.
  • The super-resolution technique can increase the resolution of a video by overlaying different frames where the image has shifted by fractions of a pixel — something that naturally occurs during video recording. It only works for data where the original limiting factor of detail is the resolution of the image sensor, rather than the quality and accuracy of the focus. A similar technique can reverse the effects of a Dizzy Cam so that the object of focus is always "centered".
  • Text is relatively easy to enhance, even if it's as little as three pixels tall, because there's only a finite number of possibilities as to what any given character could be. You still need some Photoshop, Javascript, and a little statistical analysis. Law enforcement has specialized software to do this, although you can also get it yourself as a Photoshop plugin.
  • Older CRT TVs have an "overscan" feature, which crops the footage slightly to fit it properly on the screen. If you fiddle with the footage, it's possible to catch something in the overscan that you couldn't before, simply by shifting the display to one side. That said, modern digital TVs don't need this, so this is rapidly disappearing as an option.
  • A deconvolution filter can fix a bad focus or motion blur to get a slightly better focus. It still can't restore any information genuinely lost by the initial defects and can't fix the focus completely.
  • It's possible to reverse certain Photoshop effects because they aren't meant to truly obscure the image; the original data is still there. INTERPOL once caught a pedophile this way; he used a simple spiral blur to hide his face, only for a simple Photoshop filter to reverse the process.
  • The compressed sensing technique uses a series of mathematical tricks to take a fuzzy, corrupted image, pull out a random sample of 10% of the pixels, and make a much sharper image.
  • Vector graphic images (like SVG images) can be enhanced indefinitely, as they're defined not as a series of pixels arranged a certain way, but rather shapes and lines drawn relative to each other. This is most often used for things like diagrams, though, rather than security camera footage.
  • Some digital cameras will take full-resolution pictures and crop them down to a selected lower resolution, meaning that if you still have the raw data stored on the camera, it's possible to "enhance" the image.
  • The RAW photo format allows your camera to shoot a photo alongside most information captured by the camera's sensor. This lets you make much more drastic changes to a photo than a normal jpg or png file. For example, a wall that's directly reflecting sunlight would be a solid white plane in a conventional file format, while a RAW file usually contains enough information to edit into a decent picture.
  • A new algorithm created by Japanese programmers, amusingly called Waifu2x, can upscale pictures reliably to a high-quality image, in a way Photoshop can't (mainly because it's very processing-intensive). It works best with flat artwork, but it can also produce good results with other images, depending on how much picture noise they contain. It can't restore detail that wasn't in the original image, so the results can look soft and waxy, but it's probably the best approximation of an Enhance Button that currently exists. Here's the documentation on Github, as well as an online version.

In other cases, scientists are working on techniques that can replicate more ridiculous Enhance Button functions in Real Life:

  • Computational photography has derived a way for a specialized camera to see around corners. The camera casts a laser onto a surface so that it's reflected around the corner, then captures and maps the returning "echo" of the laser.
  • 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.
  • Plenoptic cameras like the Lytro digital camera allow users to change the focus on pictures after they've been taken if they're in the camera's special format.


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