In signal processing and related disciplines, aliasing is an effect that causes different signals to become indistinguishable (or aliases of one another) when sampled. It also refers to the distortion or artifact that results when the signal reconstructed from samples is different from the original continuous signal. Aliasing can occur in signals sampled in time, for instance digital audio, and is referred to as temporal aliasing. Aliasing can also occur in spatially sampled signals, for instance moiré patterns in digital images. Aliasing in spatially sampled signals is called spatial aliasing. Aliasing is generally avoided by applying low pass filters or anti-aliasing filters to the input signal before sampling. Suitable reconstruction filters should then be used when restoring the sampled signal to the continuous domain.
When a digital image is viewed, a reconstruction is performed by a display or printer device, and by the eyes and the brain. If the image data is processed in some way during sampling or reconstruction, the reconstructed image will differ from the original image, and an alias is seen.
An example of spatial aliasing is the moiré pattern observed in a poorly pixelized image of a brick wall. Spatial anti-aliasing techniques avoid such poor pixelizations. Aliasing can be caused either by the sampling stage or the reconstruction stage; these may be distinguished by calling sampling aliasing prealiasing and reconstruction aliasing postaliasing.
Temporal aliasing is a major concern in the sampling of video and audio signals. Music, for instance, may contain high-frequency components that are inaudible to humans. If a piece of music is sampled at 32000 samples per second (Hz), any frequency components above 16000 Hz (the Nyquist frequency for this sampling rate) will cause aliasing when the music is reproduced by a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). To prevent this, an anti-aliasing filter is used to remove components above the Nyquist frequency prior to sampling.
In video or cinematography, temporal aliasing results from the limited frame rate, and causes the wagon-wheel effect, whereby a spoked wheel appears to rotate too slowly or even backwards. Aliasing has changed its apparent frequency of rotation. A reversal of direction can be described as a negative frequency. Temporal aliasing frequencies in video and cinematography are determined by the frame rate of the camera, but the relative intensity of the aliased frequencies is determined by the shutter timing (exposure time) or the use of a temporal aliasing reduction filter during filming.
Like the video camera, most sampling schemes are periodic; that is, they have a characteristic sampling frequency in time or in space. Digital cameras provide a certain number of samples (pixels) per degree or per radian, or samples per mm in the focal plane of the camera. Audio signals are sampled (digitized) with an analog-to-digital converter, which produces a constant number of samples per second. Some of the most dramatic and subtle examples of aliasing occur when the signal being sampled also has periodic content.