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What is anti-aliasing exactly? Whenever you look closely enough at your computer’s monitor, you will see that the image displayed on the screen is made up of tiny pixels. These pixels are basically small rectangular lights, and this is why the images rendered on the screen will have a tendency to appear as if they’re composed of small rectangles. This results in an image with a jagged edge or overall appearance, and it’s especially noticeable when playing video games.
When playing a game, the rendered objects that you see are simply shapes combined together to look like a discernible object; and technology has certainly come a long way. If you’ve played some of the more dated titles like the original Tomb Raider will know what we’re talking about since every old game will have that distinctive blocky and pixelated look that’s prevalent in that era of gaming.
Developers have found a way to alleviate these age-old issues by trying to pixels in our monitors smaller. For example, an image that’s made up of 5000 pixels will look much more refined compared to the one that’s only made of 50. In short, having a higher resolution can help alleviate this issue, but it won’t solve the problem entirely.
This is where anti-aliasing comes in. Software experts have developed this complex technique that eliminates any jagged edges that occur whenever a non-rectangular shape is created with regular pixels. But first, we have to look at the root of the problem – aliasing.
What Is Aliasing?
In rasterized images or images rendered in pixels, their jaggies are largely caused by aliasing. This happens because of image distortion where the scan conversion was done with low-frequency sampling (or Undersampling.) Aliasing occurs when real-life objects that have smooth and continuous curves have been rasterized with pixels to form an image.
What Is Anti Aliasing?
If you compare the same image with and without anti-aliasing applied, you will notice that the aliased form will have jaggies, while the one with anti-aliasing will have blurred out edges.
Anti-aliasing tries to solve the jaggies issue by smoothing out the edges of an image. This is why a few people will notice a mild blurring effect on the edges of objects while playing video games. This means that an anti-aliasing program is active and working hard to give the jagged edges a more natural curved shape.
What Are AA Multipliers?
As you start up your game, you might have seen a few anti-aliasing options in its settings. In a few cases, you’ll have a wealth of anti-aliasing customization, but in most, you’re lucky enough to have two options. Regardless, it can get pretty confusing even if you’re picking between a limited choice of anti-aliasing tools. Luckily, they’re actually pretty simple to understand.
If you can’t figure out what happens when you raise an AA multiplier to say, cranking up from MSAA x2 to MSAA x8, you can imagine them as the blurring tool that you use in Photoshop. They perform the same function, just with varying degrees. The MSAA x2 will work doubly compared to the standard MSAA, filtering an image all the same, except twice. The MSAA x8 works similarly, applying itself eight times to do the same function.
“Raising the anti-aliasing multiplier equates to your game looking better” is a very common misconception about game graphics. This is actually far from the truth because there are many aspects to consider when picking out the right multiplier for your setup. For example, it can depend on what kind of game you’re playing or your monitor’s resolution. Some games or setups might require only one anti-aliasing application, while some might need more.
You might find that a certain game looks good when anti-aliasing is set to MSAA x2, but any higher than that makes the images look too blurry, or maybe the color accuracy is starting to take a hit. Raising the AA multipliers also takes a much heavier toll on your GPU, so not only will your game run less smoothly, but your PC will also produce more heat. With this rise in heat, your computer’s overall performance can decline, because every modern processing unit is designed to throttle when under extreme temperatures.
What is Anti Aliasing For AMD VS Nvidia
Your options for anti-aliasing can differ depending on what type of GPU you have. Both Nvidia and AMD have developed different anti-aliasing systems for their units, namely, CSAA and CFAA, respectively.
CSAA is far less taxing for your GPU, resulting in a more effective type of anti-aliasing. This is done by sampling fewer colors in a given area in your monitor, so color accuracy takes a slight hit with CSAA.
CFAA, on the other hand, uses an algorithm that has edge detection, which results in more efficient line filtering while the color quality is retained. However, this comes at an additional requirement of computing power compared to CSAA.
Commonly Asked Questions Regarding The Kinds Of Anti-Aliasing
Anti-aliasing techniques were used more than a decade ago, and it has only improved since its inception. Here are the most notable types that you might see on a typical system:
- What Is Anti Aliasing (Spatial)?
Because display resolution is intrinsically linked with spatial anti-aliasing, one needs to know a little bit about their relationship to gain a full understanding of how it all works. Display resolution is essentially the number of pixels used by your monitor when creating the image you will see on the screen. Standard monitors will have minimum display resolutions of 1920 x 1080. What does this mean? This equates to 1920 pixels being used for the screen’s X-axis and 1080 on the Y-axis.
Nowadays, screens that sport a higher resolution are becoming more and more commonplace. By utilizing more pixels, they produce a cleaner image with great detail and better color accuracy.
Here’s a brief rundown on what is anti-aliasing (spatial):
- You have an image that’s being seen at a low resolution, and this results in jaggies.
- With spatial anti-aliasing, the image will be rendered at a resolution higher than the one set.
- Excess pixels produced by this higher resolution will be used as color samples.
- This image is reduced back to its original resolution, but every pixel that it has will receive new colors that have been averaged using the color samples.
In summary, low-resolution images will get the same color accuracy as their high-resolution counterparts. These optimized colors will help each pixel blend with each other more smoothly, resulting in less visible jaggies.
Spatial Anti-Aliasing Types
- Supersampling, SSAA
SSAA is a very effective spatial method and probably the most commonly before the rise of newer methods. It is also called full scene anti-aliasing, or FSSA for short. Supersampling is one of the very first methods of anti-aliasing ever developed, and it uses the same process described previously.
SSAA is well-suited for processing photorealistic images because it softens the harsh lines and makes them look truer to life. However, using SSAA comes with a few downsides.
For one thing, images that have many vertical and horizontal lines won’t do well with SSAA’s processing. Because these lines are naturally sharp, they will appear soft even though they were meant to look “harsh.”
Finally, SSAA needs the whole image processed before smoothing can happen (hence, the name full-scene). Since games need to be rendered real-time, using SSAA on top of that requires a higher computing power just to be able to operate at sufficient speeds for gaming. For this very reason, SSAA is rarely used for video games nowadays.
- Multisample, MSAA
As your GPU renders the image seen in your monitor, it differentiates two types of objects while doing so – the texture and the polygon.
The GPU starts off by drawing the polygon because this is the general outline or shape that an object will use in a game. Afterward, the GPU places a texture on top of the polygon to add the details and bring it to life.
MSAA cuts down a little bit on the required processing power by only smoothing out the polygon’s edges while leaving the textures in their original state. This form of anti-aliasing is very popular among gaming enthusiasts for its effectiveness and efficient use of processing power. One minor drawback is that you might get a few pixelated textures.
- Coverage Sampling, CSAA
Nvidia created its own spatial anti-aliasing system called coverage sampling anti-aliasing or CSAA. By using CSAA, your GPU will detect the presence of a polygon in a given image, and it will determine what parts of that polygon have a higher chance of producing jaggies.
This way, they will only super sample a portion of the polygon instead of the whole thing, which means less processing power used. And other parts of the image that don’t need softening retain their normal appearance.
- Enhanced Quality, EQAA
Much like Nvidia, AMD created their own anti-aliasing method called enhanced quality anti-aliasing, or EQAA. And this pretty much works in a similar way as its Nvidia counterpart.
This method can be utilized by owners of AMD Radeon’s HD 6900 or other succeeding series. AMD has claimed that this method is an enhanced version of MSAA, where it adds additional coverage samples for every pixel while keeping the original number of stencil/depth/color samples for better anti-aliasing quality.
- Quincunx Super, QSAA
This is an Nvidia-exclusive method that somewhat improves on MSAA. If you compare QSAA x2 and MSAA x3, they will have the same level of anti-aliasing quality, except the former uses less processing. QSAA is essentially a blurring filter that will shift a rendered image upwards by half a pixel and left by half a pixel to allow for the creation of sub-pixels. This removes most of the jagged edges, but the overall detail of the image also takes a hit.
- Multi-Frame, MFAA
This method can be utilized by owners of Nvidia GeForce’s GTX 900 or other succeeding series, and this acts as CSAA’s immediate successor. MFAA can be used with MSAA to create a lower hit in performance. It also offers more flexibility for different types of gaming engines and can be used in higher resolutions without using up too much processing power.
One drawback of this method is that it doesn’t handle well when running below 40 FPS, where it causes motion blurring and smearing.
- Sparse Grid Super-Sampling, SGSSAA
This updated version of the original SSAA possesses higher anti-aliasing quality but requires high levels of performance. This can come in either two forms, namely, Transparency Sparse Grid Supersampling Anti-Aliasing (TSGSSAA) or Full Scene Sparse Grid Supersampling Anti-Aliasing (FSSGSSAA). You can enable the former through Nvidia’s control panel, while the latter requires an override on the anti-aliasing mode and setting the transparency to equal values as the anti-aliasing setting.
2. What Is Anti Aliasing (Post Process)?
For this type of anti-aliasing, every pixel after being rendered is blurred slightly. Because it’s is all done post-rendering, this method is compatible with all types of videos, games, and still pictures.
The GPU will determine the edges of a specific polygon by comparing color contrasts between adjoining pixels (similar-looking pixels will mean that they come from the same object). After determining these parts, the pixels will be blurred in relation to their level of contrast with each other.
Blurring is a very effective method of AA because it can eliminate the obvious contrasts of adjoining pixels that cause jaggies. Sometimes, the blurring effect is too much, giving the image a less than ideal definition.
This blurriness can be more apparent in video games that sport dynamic lighting and highly detailed textures. This is the main reason why this method is applied before a game’s HUD elements are rendered to retain their sharpness.
Despite the occasional blurriness, this remains one of the most popular methods of anti-aliasing for gamers. Many gaming enthusiasts use this method because it can really sharpen the graphics for much less computing power compared to other methods. Most have considered the mild blurring issue to be well-worth the higher image quality.
Post-Process Anti-Aliasing Types
- Fast Approximate, FXAA
This Nvidia-exclusive mode of AA doesn’t require much computing power compared to the other methods. FXAA does this by directly smoothing the jaggies in relation to how they look on your monitor as pixels instead of analyzing the 3D model of the object first.
However, it doesn’t significantly improve the quality of the image compared to the more traditional anti-aliasing methods like MSAA.
- Morphological, MLAA
This method is only available for AMD users, and it can be implemented in all games using the control panel of your display driver, regardless of what graphics API you’re using. While it does offer flexibility for what kind of games you can use it on, MLAA creates a bigger performance impact compared to FXAA.
- Enhanced Subpixel Morphological, SMAA
Based on the MLAA method, the use of SMAA is becoming more and more popular by the day. SMMA is a combination of both post-process anti-aliasing and spatial anti-aliasing. Much like FXAA and MLAA, it smoothens pixels with the traditional blurring method, but it also applies supersampling to help sharpen the whole image.
In general, SMAA’s performance is equal to or better than FXAA and MLAA, and it uses much less computing power to boot. Image quality can vary per game due to differences in implementation, but SMAA is still arguably better than its predecessors.
- Conservative Morphological, CMAA
In terms of computational power requirements, CMAA comes between SMAA 1x and FXAA. In comparison with FXAA, this method can provide a much more significant boost to temporal stability and image quality because it properly handles any edge line below 64 pixels in length and it’s
3. What Is Anti Aliasing (Temporal)?
If a sampling rate (number of frames per second) is considered low relative to an object’s transformation speed inside a scene, temporal aliasing occurs. This will make an object “jump” or suddenly appear in a different location instead of moving smoothly towards their designated spot.
A scene’s sampling rate should be doubly higher than its fastest object if aliasing artifacts are going to be avoided altogether.
Temporal anti-aliasing is typically applied in an image space that has objects with simple shapes (disks, circles, squares). Much like other forms of aliasing, complex polygons will require more computing power. One minor drawback to this method is that it can cause major blurring when objects are in motion.
Temporal anti-aliasing can also be used for camera work, where the sampling system’s shutter behavior largely affects aliasing since the exposure’s overall shape over time will determine the band limits prior to sampling.
Temporal Anti-Aliasing Types
- Temporal, TXAA
TXAA is considered a technique that produces a “film-like” quality because its main goal is to maintain smooth levels of motion while you’re moving inside a designated virtual environment. This is done by reducing the flickering and crawling that you typically see when playing fast-paced games with plenty of moving artifacts.
This complex method is a combination of both blurring and supersampling, essentially using the capabilities of MSAA with additional resolve filters that result in a smooth motion and sharp graphics.
You will get much better image quality with TXAA compared to FXAA or MLAA, but because of its complex algorithm, additional computing power is required. Some might also find the graphics look a bit too soft because of the level of blurring. If you want to try out this method of anti-aliasing, you would need Nvidia GeForce’s GTX 600 or higher.
- Temporal Super-Sampling, TSSAA
This method is also called Transparency Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing, or TMAA. TSSAA applies anti-aliasing to both previously rendered frames as well as the current frame, which restores the older positions of the pixels. By doing so, the resulting image has a “cinematic” feel and looks much smoother. And the added load on your graphics card won’t be that much considering the high increase in image quality.
4. Reconstruction Anti-Aliasing
This form of anti-aliasing aims to reduce GPU load by using lower resolutions when rendering an image. Afterward, the output resolution is upscaled to produce a smoother image.
Reconstruction Anti-Aliasing Types
- Hybrid Reconstruction, HRAA
This method is a combination of postprocessing, hardware sampling, analysis, and temporal anti-aliasing. Because this method uses temporal AA, the color integrity of each pixel in a moving image will stay true to its original form.
It also uses analytical AA, which determines the distances between a pixel and any nearby horizontal or vertical edges. The general processing power needed for HRAA is relatively low, sandwiched between FXAA (which is higher) and MSAA (which is lower.)
- Deep Learning, DLSS
Last but not least, this Nvidia RTX exclusive has a similar process to supersampling, using a single neural network that can infer more detail to add to the game’s natural render. This is done by matching reference images and rendering them at 64x. DLSS makes uses over half of the final resolution when rendering, and it upscales the produced image to the original resolution.
- Is Anti-Aliasing Necessary?
In the last decade, the latest monitor resolutions are getting higher and higher, where you can barely see the individual pixels on the screen. You’ll even be hard-pressed to spot a pixel in the most standard 24-inch monitor with a 1080p resolution.
What does this mean for us gamers? It means that anti-aliasing has become more obsolete as our GPUs are getting better, and our monitors’ average resolutions are increasing. There are plenty of older games that can be played without the use of anti-aliasing.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid anti-aliasing altogether. Newer titles are becoming increasingly detailed, and gamers who have larger monitors will notice a big difference when anti-aliasing is turned on.
While bigger resolutions mean less anti-aliasing, this is negated if you have an equally larger screen because the resolution remains the same relative to the size. This will make the pixels more noticeable, so you still need a bit of anti-aliasing to smoothen things out.
So if you have a smaller monitor, you can simply forgo the use of anti-aliasing unless you really notice a considerable difference.
- Should You Use Anti-Aliasing?
Many still wonder what is anti-aliasing and how it affects your game. When it comes to competitive gaming, you need to have pixel-perfect precision to gain an edge over your opponents. Higher image precision essentially equates to higher accuracy. And if you like having an immersive gaming experience, it can get pretty annoying if you keep seeing blocky textures and unnaturally-jagged lines.
Anti-aliasing is useful because it can positively impact your performance and immersion game-wise, but you need to be aware of the extra strain that your GPU takes when you’re using this feature.
If you want to see what anti-aliasing does, boot up a few of your games, and see the difference in image quality for yourself. If you’ve noticed a significant hit in performance, you might want to crank it down a notch. You could toggle the setting down, or turn it off altogether to test the difference in performance.
If you’re looking for the best type of anti-aliasing, you should remember no method is the best one. It largely varies depending on the situation: what kind of gaming setup you have, the size and resolution of your monitor, and what type of game you’re going to play.
Generally speaking, FXAA is the go-to method because most budget systems can still handle it pretty well without sacrificing too much performance. You can also turn off MSAA or lower its multipliers if you want to save computing resources. If you’re sporting a modern system, you have the option of trying out a variety of combinations, such as CSAA.
It’s always good to remember that more filtering doesn’t necessarily equate to better picture quality, so try to be rational with your judgments and only use a setting when you see a real difference.
- How Can I Get Anti-Aliasing?
A majority of PC games and modern GPUs will let you run different anti-aliasing settings. As we’ve mentioned previously, AMD and Nvidia produce their own GPUs that have unique anti-aliasing methods. If you’re GPU or PC game can’t support the type of AA that you want, you could to find drivers on the internet that will let enable you to use them.
- How Do I Pick The Best Anti-Aliasing Method For My Setup?
As you’ve seen, there is a large number of anti-aliasing methods for you to use, so you might be thinking about which one is the best? As we’ve said, it can vary depending on different factors, and it all boils down to your needs and preferences. You also need to consider the graphical power of your system. To help you figure things out, here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:
- What kind of games do you play?
- Are those games graphically demanding?
- Are the jagged edges of the in-game objects visible or barely noticeable?
- How up to date is your gaming hardware?
- What are your preferences in terms of graphical features, a sharper, more defined image, or a smoother one?
In-Depth Guide To Choosing The Best Anti-Aliasing Method
After answering the questions, you can consider opting for these methods depending on what kind of hardware you have:
1. Budget Gaming System
- Moderately-performing GPU and CPU
- Integrated graphics
- Below 8GB RAM
- Tends to overheat
Consider these AA methods:
These two methods have the least power requirements, so they’re best suited for computers that can’t handle intensive processes without sacrificing performance.
2. Mid-end Gaming System
- Moderately-performing GPU and CPU
- Comes with dedicated graphics
- Uses at least 8GB Ram
- Adequate cooling system
Consider these AA methods:
You might have to experiment with your system if you’re the median between budget and high-end because results tend to vary widely. There’s a high chance that you can run SMAA or even FXAA and MLAA if you’re near the top of the heap. Run a few tests to see if your PC can handle MSAA with the games that you’re playing.
3. High-end Gaming System
- GPU and CPU are built specifically for gaming
- Comes with dedicated graphics
- Uses at least 8GB RAM
- Has top-of-the-line cooling systems (like liquid cooling)
- CPU can overclock without heating up too much
Consider these AA methods:
If you have this kind of gaming system, you can run MSAA no problem. You can experiment with TXAA and SSAA to see what limits your system has. Generally, you can run both TXAA and SSAA in the lowest settings that they have. If you are willing to sacrifice a few graphical details, you can probably run them at the highest setting. But you should know that you won’t be able to notice much difference between 4x and 8x when supersampling.
Tweak Your Graphical Settings
You should do this if you want to test:
- How far your system can go
- What kind of graphical settings you prefer
Raise and lower these graphical settings so you can optimize between performance and image quality. Most games have these in their settings, but you can also change them in the control panels of your GPU.
- View Distance
- Anisotropic filtering
Whenever you test for graphical settings, you should start at the lowest point and move higher from there. This way, you can really observe the difference in performance and graphics quality. It might be a bit tedious at first, but this is the best way of finding the best performance and graphics of your most beloved games.
Anti-aliasing is a solution to an age-old problem that has plagued the screens of many individuals. While some might say that it’s becoming irrelevant due to higher resolutions and better graphics, it still offers a considerable boost in the image quality of your games. Knowing what kind of AA method works best for you will give the best picture enhancement while retaining the optimal performance of your PC system.