What Is Anti-Aliasing?

Anti Aliasing Explained

In a Nutshell

Anti-aliasing is a technique that removes jagged edges from shapes, which gives the appearance of a smooth edge.

If you are a gamer or had interactions with video games on your computer, you’ve likely come across something called anti-aliasing. It is a setting that smoothens out the snaggy graphics in a game, resolving the aliasing issue. These jagged graphics occur on monitors and other output devices with low resolution.

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Anti-Aliasing Explained

How it Works

Pixilation on displays results to edges and lines, which appear jagged. Anti-aliasing reduces the visibility of the jaggies by going around the stair steps with intermediates shades of color, or gray for grayscaling devices. By adjusting the color of pixels, anti-aliasing makes them blend in, reducing the jagged experience. This process eliminates any jaggedness, though it comes at the cost of making pixels fuzzier than they were before anti-aliasing took effect. However, fuzzier images are better to look at than having to deal with pixelated ones.

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Types of Anti-Aliasing

Different types of anti-aliasing are available, and some are more effective than others in dealing with the aliasing issue depending on hardware capabilities. Here are all the available anti-aliasing options that you should know about:

  • Supersample Anti-Aliasing (SSAA) – SSAA works on high-resolution images and tones them down to the needed size to give smoother edges. However, SSAA demands a lot of hardware resources like extra video memory from the GPU. Most PC users avoid this type of anti-aliasing because of the amount of power that it demands.
  • Multisample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA) – MSAA works by supersampling specific parts of an image, mainly polygons. Since it focuses on a particular part, it does not demand too many resources. The downside of using MSAA is that, since it does not work on entire scenes, it adversely affects image quality. This problem becomes more apparent in transparent/alpha textures.
  • Adaptive Anti-Aliasing – This type is an extension of MSAA built to work better with the transparent/alpha texture. Despite the additional details that it works with, it is not as demanding as SSAA in regards to resources.
  • Coverage Sampling Anti-aliasing (CSAA) – CSAA is an improved version of MSAA from Nvidia, producing similar results at a higher level. It has a slightly higher performance cost over the latter.
  • Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA) – Still based on MSAA, EQAA provides high anti-aliasing without significant impact on performance or any additional video memory requirements.
  • Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA) – FXAA is another improvement on the performance of MSAA that is much faster without demanding a lot from the hardware. Also, it works on all the edges on images. However, the blurriness is more prominent and may not be ideal if you are working towards better graphics.
  • Temporal Anti-Aliasing (TXAA) – TXAA is one of the latest anti-aliasing processes with improvements over FXAA by utilizing different smoothing strategies. It comes at a performance cost that is a little bit higher than that of the FXAA. On the downside, TXAA doesn’t work on every GPU.
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While playing games, you might find yourself limited to two, one, or even none of these types of anti-aliasing. In most cases, you can enable them in your GPU drivers or download new ones with given types of anti-aliasing. However, with the advancement in monitor resolution and market leading GPUs, the need for anti-aliasing is reducing, and you probably won’t have to worry about it in the near future.

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