Playing on PC offers us the best quality and the best performance. But it requires investing some time when launching the game. Unlike consoles, when we are going to play on Windows we must enter the game’s graphics settings to choose the quality we want our game to have, and adjust the performance depending on whether we want more FPS and less quality, or maximum quality and less. FPS. However, if we have ever gone into the options of a game, we will have seen a lot of different parameters. What do each of them mean? And how do they affect the quality or performance of the game?
Although most PC games usually have several default quality settings (low, medium, high, ultra) for those who do not want to complicate things, if we are one of those who want to take advantage of every last FPS and eliminate every last sawtooth We are sure to be one of those who personalize game settings by hand. And the different settings that we can configure can have a little strange names, so, at times, it can be difficult to understand what each one does.
Take down saw teeth in games
The graphics in games have more and more polygons, which gives them a higher quality appearance. However, depending on the configuration we have in the game it is possible that these graphics are not processed completely well, to save resources and make the game go as smooth as possible. That’s when the familiar (and annoying) ” saw teeth ” appear.
And, to put an end to them, graphics cards carry out different techniques known as antialiasing, or AA.
What is antialiasing
The Anti-Aliasing, AA, is a technology consisting of a set of techniques that are processed directly on the graphics card in order to improve the final quality of the image we see in games. What these techniques seek, as we have explained, is to eliminate the “saw teeth” that appear in the different textures of the games when the pixels of the images that are being processed are too large.
These techniques are designed to improve the quality of the graphics that are closer to us, so they are generally not applied to more distant backgrounds. For the more remote textures it is necessary to make use of what we know as “filters”.
Types of antialiasing
There are several types of AA to remove saw teeth from games, but not all work the same or give us the same end result. Therefore, below we will see which are the best known, how they work and how they influence the performance and quality of the final product.
The old AA techniques acted directly on the original images, but that did not give good quality (especially when resizing) or a good performance in games. FXAA came precisely to change this. This technique works directly on the final image rather than the original images. What it does is blur, or smudge, the edges of the images so that these saw teeth disappear. But the result, in the end, can leave a lot to be desired.
It is a recommended technique for older graphics, since its poor quality is compensated by the good performance it offers. Using this antialiasing system means losing only a couple of frames per second. In high-end graphics we will hardly notice any loss of performance, although it is advisable to opt for other systems to achieve higher quality.
SSAA / FSAA
These two types of AA use brute force to improve the quality of images in games. What it does is load and render the image at a quality much higher than what we have configured in the game, it applies the corresponding anti-aliases, and then resizes it to adapt it to the resolution of the game. Thanks to them we can obtain much higher quality images, but we sacrifice a large amount of resources, which translates into a considerable loss of FPS.
Both SSAA and FSAA are generally accompanied by a number (2x, 4x, 8x), which implies the largest number of times the image is processed. And, the bigger this image, the consumption of resources will grow exponentially.
This type of post-processing is based on SSAA, but it is much more limited than it. The main problem that we find when using this system is that it is not capable of working with alpha textures, which implies a much greater loss in the performance of the games. Activating a 4x MSAA implies losing up to 20 FPS in our game.
It is true that with it we can generate sharper images with fewer serrated edges, since the quality we obtain is infinitely superior to that of FXAA. But we must make sure that we are using a very powerful graph and, also, consider if the use of resources is really worth it, since it may not be much different from SSAA.
Enhanced Subpixel Morphological Antialiasing, or SMAA, is an improved version of FXAA to eliminate jagged edges in game graphics. This technique was developed at the University of Zaragoza together with the Crytek company (known for the CryEngine engine and Crysis games), but it is not very common to find it to choose from in games.
The end result is better than what we can get with FXAA, but it also consumes more resources than this.
EQAA / CSAA
EQAA (for AMD graphics) and CSAA (for NVIDIA graphics) are antialiasing techniques based on MSAA (that is, enhanced versions of SSAA) but optimized to work on these graphics cards. Thanks to them it is possible to achieve a much higher quality than what we obtain with FXAA with much less loss of FPS than we have with the MSAA technique.
We need a powerful graphics card to be able to process the information, and that is prepared to use these techniques. Of course, it is rare to find these options also in games, they are not the most common.
Another very rare antialiasing technique. It is based on the same concept as MSAA, but it is capable of removing the saw teeth from games, and improving the quality of graphics, with much lower demands than other similar techniques. The problem is that this technique is not widely used, so it is rare to find it in games.
Game filters to enhance distant textures
Just as antialiasing aims to improve the quality of the graphics that are closer to us, the filtering of distant textures aims to improve the quality of the farthest textures in games. It is rare to find pixels on the horizon or at the most oblique viewing angles, but they cannot be left unprocessed either. And, to improve its quality, there are several types of filters that we can apply depending on the power of our graph.
This filter seeks to improve the farthest textures by applying a series of interpolations between them. In this way, a sharper effect on textures is achieved. But it can also give us problems. For example, this type of filtering causes certain textures to be missing from the game, or it can also cause some textures to load incorrectly when rendered. It is the one that consumes the least resources of the GPU, but it can give us many problems. Therefore, unless we have no choice, it is better to avoid using it.
This type of image filtering is an improved version of bilinear filtering . It works practically the same as it, but it solves the problems with the textures and the effects that we can obtain when using bilinear filters. The overall quality of this filter is higher, but it also consumes slightly more resources than the previous filter. In any case, they have been around for a long time, so surely we will not notice hardly any loss of performance, and quality improvement, when using it.
This is the most popular type of filter. It’s the most advanced of the three without having a huge impact on overall gaming performance. Thanks to it, it is possible to eliminate the aliasing effect of textures that are further out of our field of vision. Its main advantage is that, unlike the previous ones, the blur effect is much lower, which translates into having much more detail both in the distance and, especially, in the oblique angles of the images.
Normally we can choose between several levels of filtering: 2x, 4x, 8x and 16x. The higher this multiplier, the higher the quality of the images that we see further away, but the consumption of resources from the graphics card will also be higher.
Anti-aliasing, anisotropic filter… Which configuration is better?
Although all the elements have the same purpose, to improve the quality of the graphics, each option is specialized in a specific type of graphics. And they include, to a greater or lesser extent, in the performance of games.
If we have a high-end computer, with a good graphics card, we can use the SSAA or MSAA as antialiasing. These are the most widespread and the ones that will give us the best quality in the graphics that we have closer to the screen. If the graphics is powerful, surely you can also with the anisotropic filter without having too much impact on the performance of the game or on the FPS.
If we have a mid-range computer, then we must lower our expectations. We can try using an SSAA x2 to see if there is a lot of FPS loss, since even this gives us better results than the FXAA. In case we lose a lot of performance in the game, then we will have to settle for the normal FXAA, at least not to see the saw teeth in the closest textures. And for the farthest textures, the trilinear filter will give us the best result.
Finally, if what we have is a very old computer, the fewer of these effects we apply in the configuration, the better performance we will obtain. If the GPU is low-end, even the last FPS we can win is appreciated, even if that means achieving a somewhat lower quality.
Other settings to optimize games
In addition to antialiasing to optimize near textures, and filters for distant ones, games usually have other options that can help us improve (or worsen) the gaming experience.
V-Sync: prevent screen tearing
Although there are many people in favor, and many against, of this option, the truth is that vertical synchronization is an essential option if we want to be able to enjoy our games to the fullest. The problem of the screen tearing occurs when the graph works at a different speed than the one we have established in our monitor. To avoid this, what the V-SYNC does is match the frames generated by the graphics card with the refresh rate of the monitor. To do this, what this feature usually does is freeze the game engine or buffer the frames already generated until the monitor asks for the next frame.
When the FPS exceed the refresh rate of the monitor this option does not usually give problems. But when the frames drop is when you may experience a delay in the keystrokes or the mouse. If this happens to us, it is better to lower the quality of the graphics to overcome the refresh rate of the monitor and activate the V-Sync for a more fluid experience.
FPS limit: a solution against stuttering
When we run games with very high refresh rates (200 FPS, 300, 400, etc), we can see that the game apparently runs very smoothly. But from time to time there are small jerks, or stutters, which can be very annoying. This is what is known as stuttering. These issues are highly dependent on game optimization, but they tend to appear mostly when the game’s FPS speed doesn’t match the monitor’s refresh rate.
If we activate a FPS limit (either from the NVIDIA or AMD panel or from the game itself) we will be forcing the game not to exceed the number of frames indicated. If we have a 60 Hz screen, and we limit the games to 60 FPS, we will end these problems.
G-Sync or FreeSync: ending V-Sync input lag
V-Sync has serious problems when the FPS drops below the monitor’s refresh rate. To fix this, there are two technologies known as G-Sync (from NVIDIA) or FreeSync (from AMD). What these technologies do is synchronize the speed of generation of graphics frames with the refresh rate of the monitor. In this way, if we have a 75 Hz screen, if it is going to generate more than these 75 FPS, the rest are automatically skipped (avoiding tearing and stuttering). And if you lower the FPS rate, it automatically adjusts the monitor’s refresh rate to match it (eliminating input-lag).
Although there are many theories as to how this function should be configured, we should not eat our heads. All we have to do is activate the G-Sync in the Nvidia panel (or FreeSync in the case of AMD) and, within the game, activate the V-Sync. Nothing else, neither limit FPS, nor activate or deactivate buffers … nothing. Let the graphics and the monitor work their magic.
DLSS – Graphics Enhancements with Machine Learning
The Deep Learning Super Sampling, or DLSS, is a technology included in the RTX NVIDIA graphics cards with which the manufacturer wants to help users improve the quality of the games and get more FPS by Artificial Intelligence. This technology is based on DNN (Deep Neural Networks), and what it seeks is to improve the quality of the graphics without relying on AntiAliasing technologies or other filtering, which significantly improves performance and final quality.
What NVIDIA graphics do thanks to the Tensor cores (those in charge of the DLSS) is to collect and process 50% of the pixels in the images and, through an AI that is in constant training, deduce what the remaining pixels are. This allows you to process larger graphics in less time, and return higher quality images to the user with a higher FPS rate.