What Is Anti-Aliasing?

Wonder what anti-aliasing is in games and whether or not you should enable it? Is anti-aliasing even worth it? We'll explain all that right here.

Answer:

Anti-aliasing encompasses a variety of techniques used to get rid of jagged edges on your screen that appear as a result of rectangular pixels forming non-rectangular shapes.

Are you not all that familiar with PC gaming? Do all the different graphics settings found in the option menus of most PC games seem a bit confusing?

For example, you might be wondering what “anti-aliasing” is all about.

In this guide, we’ll briefly explain what anti-aliasing is and we’ll list the popular anti-aliasing techniques that you’re likely to encounter in 2021.

Ultimately, this article is sure to help you decide whether or not you should use anti-aliasing for a more optimal gaming experience.

Table of ContentsShow

What Does Anti-Aliasing Do?

As you probably know, your display is composed 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’re almost guaranteed to see some jagged edges, that is, aliasing.

That said, as the name implies, anti-aliasing strives to reduce aliasing as much as possible by using a variety of different techniques. In practice, these differ mainly in the way that they deal with the “jaggies” and in regard to how much they affect your in-game performance.

what is anti aliasing explained

What Types Of Anti-Aliasing Are There?

In 2021, there are a few popular anti-aliasing techniques and, of course, some are more popular than others. Below, we’ll provide a brief overview of the anti-aliasing techniques that you’re most likely to encounter these days.

MSAA

MSAA stands for “multisample anti-aliasing,” and it is among the most common types of anti-aliasing. It 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

SSAA is short for “supersampling anti-aliasing,” and it is one of the most basic and demanding anti-aliasing techniques you will encounter. Essentially, SSAA renders the game at a higher resolution and then downsamples it to produce a sharper, clearer image using various downsampling patterns.

Overall, SSAA tends to produce the best results when it comes to reducing aliasing. Still, 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

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’s not very demanding on the GPU since 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

MLAA, short for “morphological anti-aliasing,” is a type of anti-aliasing that also isn’t too 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 heavily blurred edges in the game, usually more so than with FXAA.

SMAA

Similar to MLAA, SMAA, “subpixel morphological anti-aliasing,” is another post-processing method that functions similarly. Its main advantage over FXAA and MLAA is that it reduces the blur effect that is a common downside to the two aforementioned techniques.

TXAA

Next, there is TXAA, or “temporal anti-aliasing.” It, too, was introduced by Nvidia, and it’s a unique and complex anti-aliasing method that uses multiple AA techniques to deal with both 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 2021.

DLSS

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?

anti aliasing explained

With all that said, which anti-aliasing technique should you ultimately use?

Overall, anti-aliasing methods that rely on post-processing such as FXAA, MLAA and SMAA 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 the image 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. As such, only certain games support techniques like EQAA, CSAA, TXAA and DLSS.

In any case, the question of which anti-aliasing technique you should use largely depends on your hardware and personal preferences. Those who want to get the best in-game performance 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 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 best suits your needs.

Conclusion

And that would be anti-aliasing in a nutshell, complete with all the anti-aliasing techniques that you’re most likely to encounter in 2021.

If we have skipped anything important or if you’ve spotted any errors, let us know in the comments and we’ll make sure to fix them as soon as possible!

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Samuel Stewart
Samuel Stewart

Samuel is GamingScan's editor-in-chief. He describes himself as a dedicated gamer and programmer. He enjoys helping others discover the joys of gaming. Samuel closely follows the latest trends in the gaming industry in order to keep the visitors in the flow.

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