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GeForce-Exclusive Anti-Aliasing Modes And Driver Settings

Anti-Aliasing Analysis, Part 1: Settings And Surprises
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Obsolete GeForce Anti-Aliasing Modes

Quincunx Anti-Aliasing

When the GeForce 3 was introduced, Nvidia included a new anti-aliasing option in the driver: Quincunx.

Quincunx anti-aliasing didn’t take additional samples within each pixel, but duplicated the frame buffer, shifted the duplicate diagonally by half a pixel, and made use of these duplicated pixels to average out the colour of the pixel in the centre and create an AA effect. While Nvidia said quincunx anti-aliasing offered 4xAA quality with a 2xAA performance load, in reality, the method often blurred both edges and textures alike. It’s been referred to as a blur filter, which also isn’t really correct (though it's not too far from what is actually happening).

We’re listing this mode for reference purposes, as it was removed from Nvidia's drivers a while ago due to its relatively poor quality. Quincunx was dropped once graphics hardware was fast enough to handle MSAA. You can learn more about Quincunx in our GeForce 3 review (written by good ol' Thomas Pabst).

Driver Settings: GeForce Anti-Aliasing Controls

The Nvidia control panel is relatively easy to use, although its settings often don’t work as simply or intuitively as you’d expect based on the labels. To access the anti-aliasing controls, click “Manage 3D Settings” under the 3D Settings right below the “Select a Task…” menu.

Here you see the three main anti-aliasing controls: “Antialiasing–Mode,” “Antialiasing–Setting,” and “Antialiasing–Transparency.” By default, the first two are set to “Application-controlled,” and the third is set to “Off.”

We’ll start with the “Antialiasing–Mode” setting. The options are as follows: “Application-controlled,” “Off,” “Enhance the application setting,” and “Override the application setting.”

Setting “Antialiasing-Mode” to “Application-controlled” surrenders anti-aliasing levels to the application. The “Off” option disables the feature entirely.

The next two settings are a little more complex. The “Enhance the application setting” option should change the anti-aliasing level in the game to the driver-set anti-aliasing level chosen in the “Antialiasing–Setting” option just below. For instance, if your game's menu options max out at 2xAA, you would set 2xAA for the game and force the 16x setting through the driver for improved anti-aliasing. Realistically, these controls might only work in DirectX 10 and 11 titles if the MSAA level you’ve set in-game corresponds to the number of samples in the anti-aliasing level you are trying to force in the driver. For example, if you set 4x MSAA in the game, you could force the 8x setting (four samples and four coverage samples) but not 8xQ (eight samples). We discuss this more in our testing.

The “Override any application setting” option should force the driver-set anti-aliasing level, regardless of the in-game settings. This mode sounds like an all-encompassing master switch, but in reality only works in a handful of scenarios, usually where anti-aliasing is not supported in the game options at all. We dig into this later, as well.

The “Antialiasing–Setting” option is closely tied to the previous “Antialiasing-Mode” setting. This is where you would choose the level of anti-aliasing that corresponds to the number of samples you’d like to use. You might have to do a little research to understand exactly how many multi- and coverage samples each setting corresponds to, as Nvidia has taken liberties with naming its anti-aliasing levels (mentioned on the previous page).

Finally, let’s look at the "Antialiasing–Transparency" setting, which turns on TAAA. This includes the options "Off," "Multisample," and "2x, 4x, and 8x Supersampling."

The “Off” setting is self-explanatory. The Multisampling setting will apply TAAA to transparent textures at the same number of samples that are currently being employed with standard MSAA—however, this mode only works in DirectX 9. The transparent supersampling settings function independently of MSAA, and tend to work in a much larger range of applications. In our testing, this feature often didn’t work in DirectX 9 titles, with much better success in DirectX 10 and 11.

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  • 0 Hide
    mi1ez , 13 April 2011 19:58
    Is that picture on P1 from the Half-Life 2 demo thing?
  • 1 Hide
    Gonemad , 13 April 2011 20:11
    "making it less desirable in games that have a lot of small type, like MMOs"

    Bingo! That was garbling the text in one certain MMO I was playing. I mean, really garbling to the point it was unreadable, even at 19 x 12 resolutions.

    However, even after disabling AA on the driver and in-game, it was still active. Now you call that "inconclusive". Fortunately, I make a full backup copy of the game folder before tweaking settings, and it took me a full folder backup restoration to disable the option. The catch is, I am trying to recreate the conditions of the malfunction, without success.

    Good Job on the article.

  • 0 Hide
    tranzz , 13 April 2011 21:49
    Great article - a similar one about anisotropic filtering would be interesting too
  • 1 Hide
    Jay_83 , 13 April 2011 22:29
    Yes tranzz, we hear you.
    Nvidia's naming scheme for AA modes made me lol. Bastards!
    Thanks for the article, cleared some stuff up for me.
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , 13 April 2011 23:18
    Quote:
    Is that picture on P1 from the Half-Life 2 demo thing?


    Yessir. Half Life Lost Coast.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , 13 April 2011 23:19
    Quote:

    However, even after disabling AA on the driver and in-game, it was still active. Now you call that "inconclusive". Fortunately, I make a full backup copy of the game folder before tweaking settings, and it took me a full folder backup restoration to disable the option. The catch is, I am trying to recreate the conditions of the malfunction, without success.


    Ouch, that sounds like a royal pain in the arse. Thankfully I never experienced that issue yet.
  • 0 Hide
    mi1ez , 14 April 2011 02:01
    Quote:
    Yessir. Half Life Lost Coast.

    Ah yes! That's the one!
  • 0 Hide
    Zingam , 14 April 2011 14:26
    We don't need AA at all. We just need 16000x10000 22" LCD panels :p 
  • 1 Hide
    Zingam , 14 April 2011 14:28
    The choice of a water background for these screenshots is a bad one. You should have chosen static backgrounds for the screenshots. Nothing should change between aliased and anti-aliased modes in the picture.
  • 0 Hide
    silverblue , 14 April 2011 14:46
    mi1ezIs that picture on P1 from the Half-Life 2 demo thing?

    Exactly my thoughts as well. :) 
  • 1 Hide
    Gonemad , 14 April 2011 19:28
    "We don't need AA at all. We just need 16000x10000 22" LCD panels"

    That is exactly what Supersampling does. But I distinctly remember some games that looked jagged in the good ol'days of 800x600 and looked better at 1024 x 768 with better FPS than enabling AA at 800x600. Or even going back to 640x480 and turn all the eye-candy (back then) on.

    I guess Supersampling is still valid when you hit the TOP resolution of whatever your setup is, but the graphics card( 3x SLI or 3xCF) is still not getting hit. Something like triple 30" monitors at full blast.
  • 0 Hide
    acer0169 , 15 April 2011 04:20
    With my old machine, Crysis always looked better at 1080p than 1440x900 with 4x AA. Now though - new machine.. 1080p with 4x AA sexy :D 
  • 0 Hide
    chechak , 17 April 2011 05:36
    Great job with this article i hope next one will mention anisotropic filtering !
  • 0 Hide
    AntiZig , 26 May 2011 23:31
    great article, for someone who studied anti-aliasing in school, it was a great read to see how the big boys do it in video games of today.

    would love to see similar article about anisotropic filtering and tessellation.