Anti-aliasing encompasses a variety of techniques used to get rid of jagged edges on your screen which appear as a result of rectangular pixels forming non-rectangular shapes.
If you’re not all that familiar with PC gaming and all the different graphics settings found in the options menus of most PC games seem a bit confusing, then you might be wondering as to what “anti-aliasing” is all about.
In this article, we’ll briefly explain what anti-aliasing is and we’ll list the popular anti-aliasing techniques that you’re likely to encounter in 2020, before ultimately helping you decide which you should use for an optimal gaming experience.
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What Does Anti-Aliasing Do?
As you probably know, your display is comprised of pixels. This is the smallest element of every digital image, and while modern TVs and computer monitors boast high resolutions that feature millions of pixels, these pixels are still rectangular in shape. What this means is that, when round shapes are shown on screen, you are almost guaranteed to see some jagged edges i.e. aliasing.
That said, as the name implies, anti-aliasing strives to reduce aliasing as much as possible by using a variety of different anti-aliasing techniques. In practice, these differ mainly in the way that they deal with the “jaggies” and in regards to how much they affect your in-game performance.
What Types of Anti-Aliasing Are There?
In 2020, there are a few popular anti-aliasing techniques, and some are ultimately more popular than others. Below, we’ll provide a brief overview of those anti-aliasing techniques that you are most likely to encounter these days.
MSAA stands for “multisample anti-aliasing” and it is among the most common types of anti-aliasing that generally strikes the best balance between visual fidelity and performance.
What this type of anti-aliasing does is it uses multiple “samples” of two or more adjacent pixels to create a higher-fidelity image. The more samples it uses, the better the image will look. However, using more samples inevitably requires more GPU power, and MSAA can usually use, two, four, or eight samples.
Furthermore, we also have EQAA (enhanced quality anti-aliasing) and CSAA (coverage sampling anti-aliasing). These were developed by AMD and Nvidia respectively and they are both multisampling anti-aliasing techniques that produce results similar to MSAA but do so much more efficiently without putting as much strain on the hardware.
SSAA is short for “supersampling anti-aliasing” and it is one of the most basic and most demanding anti-aliasing techniques that you will encounter. Essentially, SSAA renders the game at a higher resolution and then downsamples it in order to produce a sharper, clearer image using various downsampling patterns.
Overall, SSAA tends to produce the best results when it comes to reducing aliasing, but as you might have guessed, it delivers a big performance hit that can greatly limit the performance of many GPUs, something that makes it a poor choice for those with weaker or dated graphics cards.
FXAA, short for “fast approximate anti-aliasing”, was created by Nvidia and it is probably the best anti-aliasing method for low-end PCs. This is because it is not very demanding on the GPU, as it smooths out the 2D image as it appears on-screen rather than taking into account the 3D geometry of the in-game models. The downside is that the edges and the textures can become somewhat blurred, which obviously doesn’t look as good as the comparably sharper and crisper image produced by MSAA or SSAA.
MLAA, short for “morphological anti-aliasing”, is a type of anti-aliasing that also isn’t very demanding on the hardware because, much like FXAA, it is a post-processing technique that removes “jaggies” from the image by blending pixels and blurring the image. However, as you might have guessed, this results in edges being heavily blurred in the game, usually more so than with FXAA.
Similar to MLAA, SMAA (subpixel morphological anti-aliasing) is another post-processing method that functions in a similar way. Its main advantage over FXAA and MLAA is that it reduces the blur effect that is a common downside to the aforementioned two techniques.
Next, there is TXAA i.e. temporal anti-aliasing. It, too, was introduced by Nvidia and it’s an uncommon and complex anti-aliasing method that uses multiple AA techniques to deal both with jagged edges and temporal aliasing by smoothing out movement. However, TXAA is quite demanding on the hardware and, sadly, not that many games use it in 2020.
Finally, we have DLSS. Short for deep learning super-sampling, it was developed by Nvidia and can currently work only on their Volta and Turing-based GPUs, as it relies on Tensor cores that have only been implemented in those two architectures so far.
What DLSS does is it uses deep learning models constructed on Nvidia’s supercomputers to allow the GPU to generate a sharper, more detailed image and upscale it to a higher resolution using the aforementioned Tensor cores.
Which Anti-Aliasing Technique Should You Use?
With all that said, which anti-aliasing technique should you ultimately use?
Overall, anti-aliasing methods such as FXAA, MLAA, and SMAA that rely on post-processing are great for low-end and mid-range builds as they can reduce aliasing without putting a lot of strain on the hardware. However, as mentioned above, there is usually some blurring involved, so it doesn’t look as good compared to multisampling and supersampling methods that generate a sharper image.
That said, MSAA and SSAA produce a much better-looking image that is cleaner and crisper, but they also require a lot of GPU processing power. This results in a noticeable FPS drop that can really make the gameplay experience less enjoyable on weaker PCs.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that some anti-aliasing techniques aren’t as popular as others, and so techniques such as EQAA, CSAA, TXAA, and DLSS can only be used in certain games that support them.
In any case, which anti-aliasing technique you should use largely depends on your hardware and on your personal preferences. Those who want to get the best in-game performance that they can will likely stick with something like FXAA, but others who don’t really care about performance might go with SSAA if they want the best visual fidelity that they can get.
Ultimately, it’s best to try out all the anti-aliasing methods available in a game if you want to find the one that suits your needs best.
And that would be anti-aliasing in a nutshell, complete with all the anti-aliasing techniques that you are most likely to encounter in 2020. If we have skipped anything important or if you’ve spotted any errors, let us know in the comments and we’ll see about fixing the article as soon as possible!