If you have an older GPU and have to endure scrawny edges while playing your video games. To get rid of pixelated edges, if you switch to a higher resolution, your GPU might lag and affect your gaming experience. Anti-aliasing (AA) might just be the solution for you.
In this post, we will walk you through different AA methods and tell you how you can select the optimal AA method for your gaming PC. You can check out different anti-aliasing techniques to soften the pixels trickling out of the edges.
But first, let’s find out what Anti-aliasing actually is.
What is Anti-Aliasing?
Has it ever occurred to you that you tried to render high-resolution graphics and its edges appear to be made out of lego blocks? Those pixelated edges are termed jaggies.
This happens because your GPU can’t keep up with the resolution you are rendering. So when you try to increase the resolution, and your GPU tries to match up to the resolution demand, it starts lagging your application.
This happens because your GPU doesn’t have the processing power of allocating extra pixels per frame while rendering graphics.
With the help of anti-aliasing, you can fix distorted graphics to some extent. You can decide the level of anti-aliasing you need while rendering graphics. This way you need not worry about switching to a more powerful GPU.
Anti-aliasing is a sampling method that replaces jaggies and promotes a better gradual pixel distribution while rendering graphics. This technique is widely used in PC games, video and image editors.
What Does Anti-Aliasing Do?
To better understand how anti-aliasing works, you have to first understand how graphics are rendered on your screen. Every structure that is visible on your screen has an area and a definitive edge that distinguishes it from other graphical elements.
All information about any graphical element is depicted in pixels. A simple line for instance will have a series of pixels one after the other. You can also use pixels of different colors to depict the texture and color of the element too.
Pixels work perfectly while rendering horizontal or vertical lines, but not so much while rendering horizontal lines or curves. This is because the basic building block, i.e. pixels are square so it can’t completely replicate curves without sticking out from the edges.
The jaggies are the result of aliasing. These distortions occur when a signal is reconstructed from samples.
Anti-aliasing is a mathematical sampling method that figures out how an element needs to be rendered and uses approximation techniques to fill out the jaggies. This way the edges will look smoother and more realistic.
Yes, if you increase the rendering resolution your processor will allot more pixels to define a graphical element. So the jaggies might not be that prominent. But it’s an expensive alternative.
What is Anti-Aliasing in Games?
After launching any video game if you don’t like the graphic rendering during gameplay, you can either change the resolution or check out anti-aliasing options.
In case you change the resolution, it will reduce jaggies and improve overall rendering, but the process will demand a lot of processing power which isn’t the ideal solution.
So you can look out for anti-aliasing settings in your PC games. Some GPUs even let you set anti-aliasing settings on their control panel.
After launching your video game, go to the graphics or display tab (location might vary depending on the video game you are playing) and search for anti-aliasing mode options.
The screenshot above is from Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare which has the anti-aliasing setting in the Graphics tab. You can choose from different anti-aliasing techniques and the amount of clarity you want.
You will also have a preview section that will give you a sneak peek of how your settings will affect the rendering. You can turn anti-aliasing on or off and check how it affects your graphical rendering. Different anti-aliasing techniques use different approaches to eliminate jaggies. These techniques have their own sets of pros and cons.
Some games even show you how much VRAM an anti-aliasing technique will demand.
Let’s look at some of the basic anti-aliasing techniques.
Types of Anti-Aliasing
Anti-aliasing techniques can be broadly classified into two categories
- Spatial anti-aliasing
- Post-process anti-aliasing
In this method, a high-resolution color sample of a graphical element is generated. This means using more pixels to depict the graphical element. This way you add more detail.
Now an average of the sampled pixels are derived and assigned to the original resolution. To put it differently, to eliminate prominent black-and-white pixelated edges, using different shades of gray to ease the transition, resulting in better graphic rendering.
Here are the different types of spatial sampling.
Supersampling anti-aliasing (SSAA) also known as full-scene anti-aliasing (FSAA) is one of the most effective spatial methods.
SSAA is mostly used in processing images. It gives images a softer look and makes them look more life-like. As a result, you can notice a reduction in sharp edges. However, it has its own downsides.
As the name suggests FSAA uses the entire image, samples all pixels, and looks out for contrast amongst adjacent pixels to figure out graphical edges. These edges are then replaced with averaged-out sampled pixels. The whole process demands a lot of computing power as all pixels at each frame need to be analyzed.
For this reason, it isn’t used in games.
Also, SSAA due to its inherent sampling mechanism can make vertical and horizontal lines blurry as these lines are sharp by nature.
As opposed to Supersampling, Multisample anti-aliasing only works on the edges and not on the whole surface area of your graphical element.
When your GPU renders an image on your display, it distinguishes between objects (polygon) and their texture. First, the GPU outlines the object and then fills it with the texture.
As MSAA only works on the edges, it smoothes out the edges without smoothening the texture.
While using MSAA even though you will find pixelated textures, it does cut down on the processing power. This is because sampling only needs to be done at the edges and not for the complete frame.
Because of its optimized sampling solution, MSAA is widely used in PC games.
CSAA and EQAA
CSAA and EQAA sampling techniques are even more optimized than MSAA. Coverage Sampling Anti-aliasing (CSAA) was developed by NVIDIA.
Enhanced Quality Anti-aliasing (EQAA) on the other hand was developed by AMD. Even though the anti-aliasing techniques are named differently they are based on a similar principle.
Just like MSAA, CSAA and EQAA don’t do supersampling on the whole frame rather, only at the edges. But what makes CSAA and EQAA stand out is, it’s rather than working on all the edges, it only selects parts of the polygon that are more likely to have jaggies.
This means unlike MSAA and working on all types of polygon edges, CSAA and EQAA don’t oversample horizontal or vertical edges. This makes it even more efficient than MSAA as you need not sample all the edges.
CSAA and EQAA are popular anti-aliasing techniques used in video games.
In this anti-aliasing technique, contrasting pixels are blurred after it is rendered. Your GPU can determine the edges of a polygon by comparing the color contrast of adjacent pixels.
If two pixels have the same color contrast it indicates to the GPU that they are part of the same graphic element. If there is a stark difference in the pixels they are blurred to eliminate jaggies.
The only downside of post-processing anti-aliasing is if there are multiple texture patterns in your polygon this sampling technique will make it too blurry. The excessive blurring is even more evident when there is dynamic lighting in the gameplay and detailed textures.
However, the biggest advantage of this sampling technique is, it requires less processing power and it is quite faster than spatial anti-aliasing.
Here are some of the post-processing anti-aliasing techniques.
MLAA & FXAA
Morphological Anti-aliasing (MLAA) and Fast Approximate anti-aliasing (FXAA) are the most popular anti-aliasing techniques used in PC games today. They require less computation power and make the texture a tad bit smoother due to their blurring effect.
MLAA was developed by AMD while FXAA was developed by NVIDIA. Both use a similar sampling technique.
You can use MLAA or FXAA to improve your game rendering without experiencing any performance hiccups. The image above shows MLAA in action used in Borderlands.
Temporal anti-aliasing (TXAA) is relatively a complex sampling method that uses both blurring and supersampling to create graceful motions and sharp graphics.
TXAA is more of a film-style technique to preserve smooth motions as you move through your virtual environment. As it uses both AA techniques, you get better images with TXAA than FXAA or MLAA.
However, TXAA demands more computing power and the rendered graphics are a bit on the softer side.
Enhanced Subpixel Morphological Anti-aliasing (SMAA) is the new kid in the block. Just like TXAA, it leverages both spatial and post-processing anti-aliasing techniques to render smooth pixel transitions and eliminate jaggies. After that, it uses supersampling to sharpen the pixel transitions on the entire image.
Compared to MLAA or FXAA, SMAA output is better and it requires lesser computing power. Due to its ability to render smoother graphics without draining your GPU, SMAA is well-perceived by gamers.
Which Anti Aliasing to Use?
As described above there are many anti-aliasing methods used for eliminating jaggies. But that doesn’t mean you should only stick to the best AA method and turn a blind eye to the other AA techniques.
So single out the right anti-aliasing method, you must find out
- How graphically demanding is the video game that you are currently playing?
- What kind of hardware configuration does your gaming rig have?
- What kind of clarity are you expecting from your anti-aliasing method?
These questions are the proper yardstick that will help you figure out the right AA technique depending on the video game you are playing, your gaming hardware, and your game rendering preference.
Anti-Aliasing For Low-Tier Gaming Rig
If your gaming rig has
- Basic CPU and GPU
- Integrated graphics
- Less than 8G of RAM
- No cooling system
Then SMAA or CSAA anti-aliasing will be the perfect option for you. Given that your PC meets the recommended configuration for playing any video game, opting for advanced AA might introduce glitches or can even lead to crashing.
Anti-Aliasing For Entry-Level Gaming Rig
If your gaming setup has
- Decent CPU or GPU
- Dedicated graphics card
- More than 8GB RAM
- Standard ventilation and cooling mechanism
For an entry-level gaming rig, SMAA, MLAA, or FXAA will do just fine. You will notice softer and smoother edges and minimal jaggies with these AA methods. They won’t affect your game performance as well.
Also, we would suggest you try out MSAA and check if your GPU can meet its processing requirements.
Anti-Aliasing For Pro-Gaming Rig
In case your gaming rig has
- Gaming CPU and GPU
- Dedicated graphics unit
- More than 8GB RAM
- Advanced liquid cooling mechanism with ventilations
- CPU overclocking capability
MSAA will work like a charm for pro-gaming rigs. You can even run SSAA and TXAA and check whether it affects your gaming performance. Start with lower AA settings, at 2x and 4x, and check how your gameplay is affected.
Does Anti-Aliasing help FPS?
Depending on the anti-aliasing method you choose, FPS is affected. If your AA method demands a lot of processing power, to compensate, your GPU will bring down the frame rate or FPS.
In a way, as the rendering improves and jaggies reduce, you will notice performance issues in your game as the FPS reduces.
But if you use simpler AA techniques like FXAA, FPS won’t be affected much even if you have an entry-level gaming setup. FPS might reduce by 5-10% but you would barely notice any gaming performance issues from the FPS drop.
SSAA or MSAA demands the most processing power, so if your rig isn’t top-notch FPS can be cut to half. Even though the frames would be smoother the gaming experience will be pretty bad.
TXAA too does drop FPS but it’s relatively less than that of MSAA or SSAA.
How can I Find the Optimal Graphics Settings?
Your gaming experience has a lot to do with your display unit. But there are a lot of configurations that you can do on your video game graphics settings to get optimal gameplay rendering on your screen.
You can use the default resolution or opt to choose a better one and see how your system responds. With more resolution, more pixels would be put in place to bring out the tiniest of details while rendering your game.
You can also tweak texture and shadow quality to find the right contrast and saturation for your gameplay.
Anti-aliasing will help you to eliminate the jaggies, but depending on the extent of AA sampling, it might take a bite off the FPS. So you need to find a sweet spot that brings out the best graphics without messing with the gaming performance.
Field of View and View Distance are other parameters that let you decide the panoramic score and viewing angle for your gameplay.
You can start with the default settings and try by going up a level in resolution and AA settings. The moment you notice degradation in gaming performance, switch back to the earlier config.
The numerous trials can take some time but they will help you to figure out the right graphics settings for your hardware.
So, now that we have learned what anti-aliasing is and how it improves graphic rendering, let’s round things up and run over it quickly.
If your PC isn’t able to render your video game in optimum quality, it starts introducing jaggies that show up as squared pixels at the edges. This is because your GPU isn’t capable of introducing more pixels and switching to a higher resolution.
The alternative is to turn anti-aliasing on and select an AA method to improve your graphical rendering. Current PC video games use spatial, post-process anti-aliasing or a mixture of both to smoothen edges by adding additional pixels.
Depending on the anti-aliasing it can also demand a lot of processing power. So you should select AA methods that are at par with your gaming setup so that it doesn’t affect FPS or game performance.