Anti-aliasing is the hidden backbone behind making your games look great. It serves a simple purpose — fixing the jagged edges that show up in games — but the specifics are complicated. We’re here to demystify the anti-aliasing options you see in games so you can achieve the image quality and performance your gaming PC needs.
- What is anti-aliasing?
- Types of anti-aliasing
- How to turn on anti-aliasing in games
Among all of the graphics settings you need to tweak in PC games, anti-aliasing is one of the most important. It can tank your performance or make your game look terrible if harnessed incorrectly. But with a little guidance on what anti-aliasing settings to use, you can optimize any game in seconds.
What is anti-aliasing?
Before answering what anti-aliasing is, we have to talk about what aliasing is. Aliasing happens when a curved line is drawn across square pixels. It’s a byproduct of how computer graphics are rendered, as a pixel can only display one color at a time. Anti-aliasing attempts to smooth out aliasing.
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You’ll find it in games and photo editing apps mainly. You can see an example of aliasing inDestiny 2below. The railing is covering multiple square pixels, which creates a jagged line where the pixel ends and the next one begins.
The idea of anti-aliasing is to remove or smooth those jagged edges. There’s a wide range of techniques to accomplish that. You likely interact with some form of anti-aliasing on a daily basis, even if you don’t play games or edit photos. Your browser, for example, uses anti-aliasing for text.
Types of anti-aliasing
Although there are several different techniques for anti-aliasing, they boil down to two main approaches. The first is supersampling. In these cases, the anti-aliasing technique blows up the image to a higher resolution and uses that extra detail to smooth out rough edges in the final image.
The second is guessing — really. Instead of rendering the image at a higher resolution, some anti-aliasing techniques use an algorithm to look at nearby pixels and guess where the extra detail should go.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of anti-aliasing techniques. Many techniques are combinations or slight variations of other techniques. We’re focusing on the types of anti-aliasing you’ll actually find in games today.
Supersample Anti-Aliasing (SSAA)
Supersample Anti-Aliasing, or SSAA, is the most basic form of anti-aliasing. It works by taking a higher resolution image and downsampling the pixels to fit native resolution. The final result avoids jagged edges by averaging colors near the edges.
In SSAA 4x, one pixel is stretched out to four. A sample is taken from each, and then the four pixels are downsampled to a single pixel that averages the color. SSAA still produces the best anti-aliasing results, but it’s also the most demanding, as it’s essentially rendering the image at a higher resolution. Because of its performance tax, SSAA isn’t an option in most modern PC games.
Multisample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA)
Multisample Anti-Aliasing, or MSAA, is a cheaper form of SSAA. Instead of going through the painstaking process of sampling every pixel, MSAA only comes into play where aliasing could become an issue (an edge), which saves a lot of computing resources.
In a scene, there are often adjacent pixels that have the exact same color. These don’t need to go through the super sampling process, which is the idea behind MSAA. Although much less demanding than SSAA, MSAA is still taxing on your hardware.
Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA)
Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing, or FXAA, is a post-process form of anti-aliasing. That means instead of messing with the rendering, it’s an algorithm that comes in after the fact to clean up jagged edges. That makes it much less demanding than MSAA and SSAA, though at the cost of image quality.
FXAA uses a high contrast filter to find edges before sampling those edges and blending them. It doesn’t average unique colors like SSAA and MSAA, so it tends to look more blurry around the edges.
Temporal Anti-Aliasing (TAA)
TAA, or Temporal Anti-Aliasing, is similar to FXAA. It’s a post-process form of anti-aliasing that samples each pixel in a frame. However, it samples a different location within each frame, and it uses past frames to blend the samples together.
It’s temporal, or time-based. The anti-aliasing happens by blending past and current pixels, which cleans up many of the blurry edges caused by FXAA. TAA carries its own issues, however, such as ghosting where a previous sample carries over to a new frame, creating a blur effect.
TAA is the backbone of Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), and it’s a big reason why Temporal Super Resolution (TSR) and AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution 2.0 (FSR) are able to produce such high-quality results.
Subpixel Morphological Anti-Aliasing (SMAA)
Subpixel Morphological Anti-Aliasing, or SMAA, is very similar to FXAA. It uses edge detection and blurs pixels around harsh edges. The main difference is that SMAA taps into your GPU a bit more to take multiple samples along those edges.
Because of that SMAA tends to offer better image quality than FXAA while not requiring as much horsepower as MSAA or SSAA. It has fallen out of favor over the last few years, however, as TAA strikes a similar balance with better results.
How to turn on anti-aliasing in games
You can anti-aliasing settings in the graphics settings of most games. You’ll either see it listed as justAnti-Aliasing,or as the type of anti-aliasing (FXAA, MSAA, etc.) The settings mostly speak for themselves, outside of factor. Some techniques, like MSAA, are accompanied by a number that notes the quality of anti-aliasing (MSAA 4x is better than MSAA 2x, for example).
If you want to set up anti-aliasing universally, you can do it through your graphics card software. For Nvidia, open the Nvidia Control Panel and navigate to Manage 3D settings.By default, theAnti-aliasing modesetting is set toApplication-controlled.You have three options:
- Off: Turns off anti-aliasing in games by default.
- Enhance the application setting: Allows you to enable further anti-aliasing beyond what a game provides (useful in titles with an anti-aliasing toggle).
- Override any application setting: Allows you to set your own anti-aliasing based on the factor in theAnti-aliasing settingsection.
In addition, you can turn on FXAA in the Nvidia Control Panel. Because FXAA is a post-process form of anti-aliasing, you can apply it to any game, either as a standalone form of anti-aliasing or on top of what you have set in-game.
In AMD’s Radeon Software, you can also set up anti-aliasing. Navigate toSettings > Graphicsand click theAdvanced dropdown. You have similar settings to Nvidia for anti-aliasing: Turn it off, enhance it, or override it. Radeon Software provides more tools for the type of anti-aliasing you want to apply, though:
- Multisample: This is MSAA, which you can apply on top of existing anti-aliasing or as a standalone setting.
- Adaptive multisample: This is adaptive MSAA, which improves MSAA by applying anti-aliasing to surfaces with transparent elements.
- Supersampling: This is SSAA, which is the most demanding form of anti-aliasing.
You’ll also find options for MLAA, or Morphological Anti-Aliasing. This is basically AMD’s version of FXAA, which you can apply as a single post-process pass of anti-aliasing or on top of anti-aliasing you have set in-game.
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What is anti-aliasing MSAA vs FXAA? ›
Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing, or FXAA, is a post-process form of anti-aliasing. That means instead of messing with the rendering, it's an algorithm that comes in after the fact to clean up jagged edges. That makes it much less demanding than MSAA and SSAA, though at the cost of image quality.What is anti-aliasing MSAA vs TAA? ›
TAA compared to MSAA
MSAA samples (renders) each pixel multiple times at different locations within the frame and averages the samples to produce the final pixel value. In contrast, TAA samples each pixel only once per frame, but it samples the pixels at a different locations in different frames.
The Primary Difference – TAA vs FXAA
TAA stands for Temporal Anti-Aliasing, while FXAA means Fast Anti-Aliasing. What FXAA does is evaluate each pixel and determine where the jagged parts are. Then, it fixes them before they even reach onto your screen.
If you have lower-end hardware or are struggling to maintain a high frame rate (FPS) in a particular game, disabling FXAA may help improve performance. On the other hand, if you prioritize image quality and have more powerful hardware, you may prefer to keep FXAA on or experiment with other anti-aliasing techniques.Should I use FXAA or not? ›
FXAA (Fast approximate anti-aliasing)
Generally, FXAA causes a lot of overall blur and smudging to achieve a smoother edge. If jaggies really bother you, and you don't have a lot of computing power to spare, then FXAA can help you out but I'd recommend using a more detailed AA method.
Blurring is effective since it eliminates misaligned pixels, one of the primary reasons that cause jagged edges. A significant disadvantage of this technique is that it makes the image a bit too blurry and can negatively affect games with dynamic lighting or detailed features.
FXAA is a not so heavy AA method, SMAA is slightly better but tasks you system a bit more. Try both and see if you find a good balance between FPS and graphics quality. If you can play both modes at reasonable frame rates, I'd say go for SMAA. "SSAA (super-sampled anti-aliasing) is the original anti-aliasing technique.Do I want anti-aliasing? ›
Should I Turn Anti-Aliasing On or Off? If your visuals look great and you have a high-resolution display, you don't need to turn on anti-aliasing options. Anti-aliasing is for people who experience those unsightly “jaggies” and want to smooth out the edges of their graphics.Should I turn off MSAA? ›
Do not switch on msaa in graphics settings!! MSAA (EDIT: which I mistakenly took to be less taxing than SMAA) impacts performance of the game more than SMAA and it also destroys the image quality, as you can see in the first image.What does MSAA do? ›
Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA) is a low-cost approach for improving the quality of rendering by reducing the impact of jaggies along the edges of primitives. Jaggies are the result of aliasing due to pixel sampling of geometry.
What is FXAA used for? ›
FXAA is a single-pass, screen-space, anti-aliasing technique designed for producing high-quality images with low performance impact. The included code and sample use FXAA version 3.11, the latest version available as of this writing. The technique targets aliasing both on triangle edges and within shader results.Does FXAA make blurry? ›
When you enable FXAA it causes your Signal to become blurry, unable to be read. This is an ongoing problem here is the github link to the issue Windows app blurry · Issue #5005 · signalapp/Signal-Desktop .Does turning off anti-aliasing increase performance? ›
Anti-Aliasing can often lowers FPS, especially if you have a lower-end build because it tries to blend the colors at the edge, creating a smooth illusion. This blended effect does come at the cost of computing power.What are the downsides of FXAA? ›
The downsides are that high contrast texture maps are blurred, that FXAA must be applied before rendering the HUD elements of a game lest it affect them too, and that polygonal details smaller than one pixel that would have been captured and rendered by MSAA and SSAA cannot be captured and rendered by FXAA alone.Does FXAA improve performance? ›
It depends on what kind of anti-aliasing: for example FXAA has almost no performance impact, maybe 5-10%, while SSAA or MSAA can almost cut the framerate in half. SMAA is somewhere in the middle, and is actually similar to FXAA, but avoids blurring textures (it tries to only blur edges).Does FXAA cause lag? ›
It's not input lag specifically, but overall system lag. FXAA is a good alternative to MS or SS FSAA if you don't have the graphics performance needed to keep FPS up above refresh rate.What should I set my anti-aliasing to? ›
FSR 1.0 is most beneficial at high resolutions, such as 4K UHD, and when using the 'Ultra Quality' or 'Quality' presets, whereas FPS 2.0 offers better image quality and performance at 4K, but also great results at lower resolutions and with modes that favor performance.Does anti-aliasing reduce image quality? ›
Anti-aliasing will make your photographs look more natural and will help to offset any loss of quality caused by a lower resolution camera or setting. It's always a good idea to shoot at the highest resolution possible, but anti-aliasing helps to make sure your images look great.Which anti-aliasing is best for low end PC? ›
FXAA. Also known as Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing, FXAA was crafted by Nvidia. When it comes to anti-aliasing on low-end devices/PCs, FXAA is the best technique. It's because, in terms of hardware or GPU, FXAA is not that demanding.Is MSAA good for gaming? ›
If you have a high-end Android device, enabling 4x MSAA makes sense as it helps improve the resolution and results in a better gaming experience.
Do I need MSAA at 4k? ›
It depends entirely on the game and how many single pixel wide elements it has on screen, which is where you'll actually notice it. Some games you won't need any, some games you'll want MSAA or at least some post-processing AA to cover odd bits of pixel shimmering.Does MSAA improve image quality? ›
MSAA (Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing) is the most common one, that uses samples of two or more pixels to maintain graphics quality and performance. The more the samples, the better the picture quality.Does MSAA increase performance? ›
MSAA (Multisample Anti-Aliasing) usually looks a bit better than FXAA (Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing). Turn off FXAA and try turning on MSAA at either 2x or 4x to improve low FPS.Is MSAA good for performance? ›
MSAA is considered to cost relatively little performance. This is true for typical games and UIs, which have low geometry counts but very complex shaders.What is TAA in graphics? ›
TAA is an advanced anti-aliasing technique where frames are accumulated over time in a history buffer to be used to smooth edges more effectively. It is substantially better at smoothing edges in motion but requires motion vectors and is more expensive than FXAA.
Force 4x MSAA: Enables multisample anti-aliasing (MSAA) in Open GL ES 2.0 apps. Disable HW overlays: Disables the hardware overlay. Note that using the hardware overlay lets apps that display something on the screen use less processing power.How do I use MSAA? ›
- Go to Edit, then Project Settings.
- Selecting Quality opens the Project Quality Settings panel.
- Now choose the Anti Aliasing drop-down, and then choose the appropriate setting. Preferably 4x Multi Sampling where possible. Note.
FXAA is inferior to MSAA but is almost free computationally and is thus desirable on low end platforms. Personally I prefer FXAA over MSAA in most cases even though I can run MSAA maxed out just fine in most games. FXAA tends to look clearer, MSAA tends to look more smeared to me.Should I use FXAA and MSAA GTA V? ›
Use MSAA instead of FXAA
MSAA (Multisample Anti-Aliasing) usually looks a bit better than FXAA (Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing). Turn off FXAA and try turning on MSAA at either 2x or 4x to improve low FPS.
Morphological Anti-Aliasing (MLAA) and Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA) Also developed by AMD and NVIDIA, both techniques work in the same manner as mentioned above. MLAA and FXAA are the most popular anti-aliasing methods in the market due to their ability to sharpen graphics using less computing power.
Does MSAA increase quality? ›
Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA) is a low-cost approach for improving the quality of rendering by reducing the impact of jaggies along the edges of primitives.Does FXAA increase FPS? ›
Less GPU-intensive forms of AA (like FXAA instead of MSAA) can also raise FPS.
Activating Force 4x MSAA setting in Android Developer Options, you can enjoy a better gaming performance on outdated devices: It forces your phone to use 4x multisample anti-aliasing in OpenGL 2.0 games and apps. However, enabling this setting can drain your smartphone's battery faster.Does Force 4x MSAA drain battery? ›
As told, Force 4x MSAA selflessly provides everything possible to the game. So enabling this feature will obviously drain battery faster. So, make sure you turn it off after you kill the boss. And better charge your Android to full before you game again.Does 4x MSAA increase gaming performance? ›
What's the use of the 'Turn on 4x MSAA' feature on an Android smartphone? You have increased 4 times multi sample anti aliasing . Advantage-In simple if you turn it On your Android system will render games in highest possible quality and give you smooth gaming experience.Which GTA has the best graphics mode? ›
In Fidelity Mode the graphics of the game will be at the highest visual quality with 4K resolution, along with Ray Tracing capabilities, but will only target 30 FPS.Does FXAA make game look better? ›
It depends on what kind of anti-aliasing: for example FXAA has almost no performance impact, maybe 5-10%, while SSAA or MSAA can almost cut the framerate in half. SMAA is somewhere in the middle, and is actually similar to FXAA, but avoids blurring textures (it tries to only blur edges).Do you want anti-aliasing high or low? ›
You should be able to run SSAA and TXAA at their lowest settings (2x and 4x). You might be able to run them on their highest settings if you sacrifice certain minor graphics details. But know that there is little difference in quality between supersampling at 4x compared to 8x.