What is Anti Aliasing and What Exactly Does it Do? [Simple Clarification]

In the most basic terms, Anti-aliasing (AA) is a technique used for smoothening out jagged edges better referred to as Jaggies. It is a technique used to create the semblance of a smooth straight line rather than the blurry, uneven, staircase appearance where a straight line is supposed to be when the resolution is at it’s highest but is still not enough. Anti-aliasing may not completely make your images sharper, but goes a long way toward correcting jaggies.

Every avid gamer must have experienced jaggies at one time or the other and they are certainly not fun to watch, but what can one do if the output device you can afford does not have what it takes to portray a smooth line to the perfect finish. If you are in this category, you would certainly want to know how to get a better experience using anti-aliasing.

For the serious gamer, anti-aliasing is one of the most common graphics tweaks. The presence of jaggies can be quite maddening and sometimes occur despite the fact that your output device has a high resolution, thereby making your gaming look bad. But if you are new to gaming and you are not exactly sure what Jaggies are, read on and find out.

What Are Jaggies?

Jaggies which are also called the staircase effect is the term for an anomaly that occurs when uneven lines show up where there is supposed to be a straight line on a gaming screen. It occurs mostly where smooth lines or curves should be. There are three major reasons why Jaggies occur and some of those include;

1. When multiple sample signals are confused and create an effect called aliasing.

2. When the resolution of a display device is not high enough to show a smooth line.

3. It can also happen when an image that is bit-mapped is converted to a different resolution.

What Exactly Does Anti-aliasing Do

The screen of the output device is made up of pixels, each possessing a rectangular shape which does not fit well into a circular object and as such, it produces jagged edges where there is supposed to be a smooth finish. This is also called aliasing. Therefore, anti-aliasing is simply a way of reducing aliasing. But it is important to note that performance may be affected depending on the particular technique of anti-aliasing used.

Different Types of Anti Aliasing

There are quite a number of anti-aliasing techniques one can use depending on the level of smooth edge you want to achieve and the level of performance you want to hit.

1. Super-sampling Anti-Aliasing (SSAA also known as FSAA): Although this technique is no longer very common especially because it was the first known kind of anti-aliasing available but has been said to be the best bet out of the lot. SSAA consumes a lot of processing power which it uses to give images a higher resolution than they are displayed in. This is achieved by first taking random color samples in pixels and calculating an average color value.

For a better understanding, look at it this way – the super-sampling anti-aliasing technique makes your Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) display your game at a higher resolution but then downsamples it which in turn gives sharper images since the overall pixel density of your display would have been increased.

2. Multi-Sampling Anti-Aliasing (MSAA): This is a special kind of super-sampling most commonly found in modern games and has the ability to balance quality and performance. MSAA smoothens out the edges of polygons through color manipulation which may not consume much performance power especially for programs that are CPU/TLC bound but can heavily tax texture and bandwidth.

3. Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA): This technique does not consume a lot of computing power and it works especially on jaggies that can withstand the effect of the Multi-sampling technique. FXAA smoothens jagged edges according to how they appear as pixels instead of going the conventional way of analyzing the 3D model which is a complex analysis of colors and geometry on display.

This technique finds all the jagged edges and simply creates a blurry effect which in turn renders the edges less prominent. This also means that if you want really sharp images, then this is not the anti-aliasing technique for you.

4. Temporal anti-aliasing (TXAA): This is perhaps the most complex method of anti-aliasing and it is only available on some newer graphics card. Because it is a new improved method, it combines some of the techniques above and works at diminishing the effects of temporal aliasing.

Temporal aliasing is what happens when the sampling rate of a display is lower than the speed of transformation. It makes objects in motion seem like they just appear and does not show the motion process by which they actually came to be.

This technique reduces jaggies by slowing down the speed motion so that objects go through the motions and not just appear. It has also been termed better than FXAA, but still retains a little of the blurry effect and consumes some processing power.

5. Coverage Sampling Anti-Aliasing (CSAA and EQAA): This works in almost the same manner as multi-sampling anti-aliasing but does not reduce performance as much as the latter does.

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Which Type of Anti-Aliasing Should You Use?

Determining the kind of anti-aliasing technique to use depends entirely on the kind of PC you are using, your output system and of course, the kind of graphics card you have. In the opinion of many experts, the need for anti-aliasing is getting lower as graphics are becoming better and resolution is hitting a higher notch every day.

To help you decide what anti-aliasing technique to use based on the kind of PC you have and the processing power of its GPU, here’s a little tip: Use FXAA for low-budget PCs, MSAA and CSAA for mid-range budget PCs and SSAA and TXAA for high-end PCs.

Moreover, there’s not really much to choose from because the most number of anti-aliasing techniques that come up when you click on the button in settings are 2. So in the end, you’ll work with what you have unless you decide to download more.

Is Anti-Aliasing Really Necessary?

For a big majority of gamers these days, anti-aliasing is not so important especially because it is very demanding in the rate at which it slows down gaming performance. The first call is to turn it off from settings to boost performance. However, for some other people who are not comfortable with the appearance of jaggies no matter how little, it becomes absolutely necessary, slow performance or not.

In the end, only the gamer can tell what works best for him. If jaggies stick out like a sore thumb to you, you might as well tweak it to achieve the level of clarity you want and have fun. Otherwise, just turn it off completely.


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