What's Transparency AA?

Transparency AA is NVIDIA's method of applying AA to transparent textures. Because MSAA only looks at one texture sample per pixel per polygon where more than one polygon slices a pixel area, it is not able to smooth jagged edges in transparent textures. In order to combat this, NVIDIA applies supersample AA to transparent textures. Their multisample transparency AA really doesn't do much for visual quality, so we will be ignoring it today. It only allows multisample through transparent texture areas and not of the texture itself.

Supersample AA performs a texture lookup at each sub-pixel to determine how much of the pixel falls on a transparent area of the texture and how much falls on an opaque area. The analog in ATI hardware is called Adaptive AA, which does basically the same thing. This generally has a very large performance impact for 3D scenes with many transparent textures (fence, bushes, leaves, and the like).

All screenshots on this page are 400% zooms of the highlighted portion of the following Half Life 2 screenshot:

Here's a look at Half-Life 2 with and without Transparency AA. We can clearly see how the leaves of the trees get smoothed out and look much better.



G80 No Transparency G80 Transparency AA

Hold mouse over links to see Image Quality

When comparing G70, G80, and R580, we have to remember that for NVIDIA hardware we've disabled gamma correct AA. It isn't possible to do this on ATI hardware, and thus we have a comparison of gamma correct AA on transparent textures as well.



G70 4X No Gamma G80 4X No Gamma ATI 4X Gamma

Hold mouse over links to see Image Quality

G70 and G80 don't look that different, but the R580 creates a kind of mushy look around the trees. This is another side effect of gamma correct AA and its potential negative impact on image quality. Worse examples include wire mesh or fences built with transparent textures: gamma correct AA can end up making parts of a fence disappear. Ideally, if we could apply gamma correct AA to high contrast edges and disable it for everything else, we'd see an image quality improvement. But the downsides just keep piling up with thin lines and transparent textures causing problems for gamma correction.

While transparency AA does enhance image quality a good deal, we do need to consider the performance impact. We'll revisit our antialiasing scaling graph from our CSAA page with Transparency and Adaptive AA enabled.

With G80, we see great performance at high resolution with high levels of AA while Transparency AA is enabled. With this level of performance, as long as R600 is able to keep up, we would love to check the Transparency AA check box every time we test with AA. For now, the performance degradation in R580 is just too high to justify at resolutions over 1600x1200 in most cases. An increase in resolution to a comparable performance level will net a higher gain in image quality.

What's Gamma Correct AA? Texture Filtering Image Quality
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  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - link

    No DX10 for winxp -- but you've got OGL with extensions.

    We will certainly take a look at DX10 performance once we have DX10 apps.

    Have fun glimpsing :-)
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