What Is Anti-Aliasing?

Short Answer

Anti-aliasing uses various techniques to get rid of jagged edges on your screen which appear as a result of square pixels forming non-rectangular shapes.

If you’re not all that familiar with PC gaming and all the graphics settings found in games’ options menus, then you’re probably wondering about the one called “anti-aliasing”. You most likely turned it on at some point and not notice any difference in graphics, all the while receiving an unwanted decrease in performance.

So, what is anti-aliasing and what does it even do? What types of anti-aliasing are there? We will answer all of that below!

What Does Anti-Aliasing Do?

As you know, your screen is composed of pixels. Each individual pixel possesses a rectangular shape, which, when it comes to rounded shapes, leads to jagged edges – aliasing.

As the name implies, anti-aliasing strives to reduce aliasing as much as possible by a variety of techniques. These differ both in the way that they deal with the “jaggies” and in how much they affect the in-game performance.

what is anti aliasing explained

What Types of Anti-Aliasing Are There?

There are numerous types of anti-aliasing out there, with the most popular being:

MSAA

Standing for “multi-sampling anti-aliasing”, MSAA is the most common and type of anti-aliasing that balances out quality and performance. It relies on color manipulation around geometric shapes to produce an effect of smoothness. It can use either 2, 4 or 8 samples – the higher the sample count, the higher the quality and the performance impact.

Furthermore, there are also TXAA (temporal anti-aliasing) and MLAA (morphological anti-aliasing) that function in a similar way, although they are more efficient. They belong to Nvidia and AMD respectively and therefore perform better on their respective company’s GPUs.

FXAA

FXAA stands for “fast-approximate anti-aliasing”, and it is the least demanding type of anti-aliasing. Rather than running complex calculation depending on the geometry and colors displayed, FXAA simply applies extensive blurring to obscure the jagged edges. The end result is unnoticeable performance impact but a generally blurrier image.

SSAA

By far the most efficient way of anti-aliasing, but also the most demanding one, is super-sampling anti-aliasing. What it does is actually make your GPU render a game at a higher resolution and then downsamples it. That way, it increases the overall pixel density of your display and renders a much sharper image.

What Is Anti-Aliasing?
Click to enlarge image.

Which Type of Anti-Aliasing Should You Use?

A general rule of thumb is to adhere to the following:

  • FXAA for low-end PCs
  • MSAA for mid-range PCs
  • SSAA for high-end PCs

This is a division reliant mostly on the GPUs processing power, but you can always pick whichever type fits your needs best. As mentioned above, FXAA has the least performance impact, SSAA is the most demanding, and MSAA is a balance of the two.

Furthermore, the size and resolution of your display will also dictate how much anti-aliasing will be needed to smooth out the edges. For example, a 21-inch full HD display will have very little noticeable aliasing, while the same can’t be said for a 40-inch 1080p TV. Furthermore, a higher resolution (2K or 4K) will naturally produce fewer jagged edges due to the higher pixel density.

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