Getting a stable frame rate along the beautiful-looking images was always a balancing act but one of the reasons why we always sort of managed to maintain clean-looking images is anti-aliasing.
Nowadays you can choose more than one type of anti-aliasing in order to find that sweet spot of smooth gameplay and easy-to-look-at graphics.
If you’re wondering exactly how anti-aliasing is making the graphics look better then the short answer is that it smooths the jagged edges. Of course, the long answer is much better so let’s check it out.
A small caveat before we continue – if your PC is capable of producing satisfying gameplay at 4K on an 27-inch monitor then you likely don’t even need anti-aliasing as the rendered images will look smooth out of the box.
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How Does Anti-Aliasing Work?
Before answering that question, we need to make sure you’re aware of how and why those nasty-looking jagged edges even get on the screen in the first place.
If you’re unfamiliar with how computer graphics work, you should know that although most video games are 3D, the image that is shown on screen has to be 2D. We still don’t have 3D monitors, unfortunately.
This 2D image is generated by the GPU by taking the camera’s view and drawing what it sees. This means that it will create an image out of the 3D objects by using pixels and in some cases, it’s simply too hard to draw those 3D assets the way they’re supposed to look. What happens next is stuff like pixelized images with jagged edges of objects.
To say that it smooths out that jaggedness is doing a disservice to this simple yet incredible technology. So, how does anti-aliasing achieve this?
Let’s get deeper into the actual problem so that we can understand the issue better. When pixelized images are shown, the lines in these images are obviously made of pixels strung together which is fine if those lines are exclusively vertical or horizontal, but they simply aren’t.
A diagonal line will look like a string of squares connected only by their corners and how anti-aliasing solves this problem is by taking samples from around the area and filling that empty space with similar-looking pixels which creates a smoother-looking line.
Which Type Of Anti-Aliasing Does What?
As we mentioned earlier, there is more than one type of anti-aliasing and if you ever tinkered with a game’s graphic settings, you’re likely already aware of this. Let’s go through each type of anti-aliasing and give you a bit of insight into which type does what.
Supersample Anti-Aliasing (SSAA)
The way SSAA does anti-aliasing is by rendering the image in a higher resolution and then downsizing it. In theory, this is one of the very best methods of anti-aliasing but the issue is that it still requires very strong machine to run it.
Multi-Sampling Anti-Aliasing (MSAA)
This approach functions a little differently. MSAA will only smooth out certain parts of the frame where it deems it necessary and although this significantly helps speed up the anti-aliasing process and lowers the GPU’s workload, it can still be a little spotty in execution.
You can also find MSSA available at x2, x4, and x8, with the necessity of a better machine coming as you go higher.
Coverage Sampling Anti-Aliasing (CSAA)
This is Nvidia’s anti-aliasing solution which works in a very similar way to MSAA. Where it differs from the MSAA is that it offers a much better performance and is naturally only available on Nvidia cards.
Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA)
And of course AMD is going to have an answer to Nvidia’s exclusive anti-aliasing solution. It performs pretty much the same way as CSAA in that it’s works similarly to MSAA but it doesn’t overwork the GPU. Of course, this is an AMD exclusive.
Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA)
Like MSAA, you’re likely to find FXAA in almost every game’s settings, sometimes referred to as FSAA However, FXAA isn’t as hungry for processing power as MSAA and is therefore a perfect solution for those with lower-end machines.
The way FXAA manages to do this is unfortunately a relatively bad way. Its anti-aliasing process consists of smoothing out the jagged edges but you will most often find the whole image blurry. There will sometimes be tiny details that will be smoothed over.
Temporal Anti-Aliasing (TXAA)
TXAA is only a little bit more demanding than FXAA but is also a better solution. It combines several techniques in order to smooth out the edges but it still doesn’t work as much as we would’ve liked. It’s plagued by the same issue as FXAA in that it sometimes over-blurs, but the good news is that this is a relatively new anti-aliasing type and there is room for improvement.
The best anti-aliasing method can be tricky to choose and it generally comes down to your machine. If you have a top-notch, high-end computer then SSAA is the best solution but if your PC is mid-range at best, then you will probably have the most FPS with FXAA. However, we suggest tinkering with the settings a bit and finding that optimal balance of good-looking graphics and as much FPS as you find enjoyable.