Background Intravenous agitated saline injection during transthoracic echocardiography assists in the detection of right to left intracardiac and intrapulmonary shunts. Whether digital echocardiography offers comparable sensitivity and specificity to analog tape recording to assess shunts is unknown. Technical differences between methods could lead to significant differences in shunt detection. Methods Agitated saline was injected intravenously at rest and with Valsalva in 189 consecutive patient studies (406 injections). Echocardiographers assessed presence and degree of left ventricle contrast on simultaneously recorded analog tape and digital echocardiography images in blinded fashion. Results Digital echocardiography had low overall sensitivity (rest 0.50, valsalva 0.63, late 0.39) compared to analog tape. Longer clip lengths improved sensitivity for detection of late contrast passage (rest 0.50, valsalva 0.67, late 0.46). Conclusion Digital echocardiography saline contrast studies have poor sensitivity for assessment of intracardiac shunts versus analog tape, and increasing clip length only modestly increases sensitivity. Joint Photographic Experts Group digital compression losses may be an important cause of failure to detect intracardiac shunts, including patent foramen ovale.