What's Gamma Correct AA?

Gamma correction is a technique used to map linearly increasing brightness data to a display device in a way that conveys linearly increasing intensity. As displays are nonlinear devices, gamma correction requires a nonlinear adjustment to be made to brightness values before being sent to the display. Ideally, gamma corrected linear steps in the brightness of a pixel will result in linear steps in perceived intensity. The application in antialiasing is that high contrast edges can appear under aliased if the brightness of a pixel isn't adjusted high enough for humans to perceive an increase in intensity after being displayed by the monitor.

Unfortunately, gamma correcting AA isn't always desirable. Different CRT, LCD, and TVs have different gamma characteristics that make choosing one gamma correction scheme more or less effective per device. It can also result in brighter colored sub-samples having a heavier influence on the color of a pixel than darker sub-samples. This causes problems for thing like thin lines.

To illustrate the difference, we'll look at images of Half-Life taken on G80 with and without gamma correction enabled.

16XQ No Gamma 16XQ Gamma

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16XQ No Gamma 16XQ Gamma

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We can see the antenna decrease in clarity due to the fact that each of the brighter subsamples has a disproportionately higher weight than the darker subsamples. As far as the roof line is concerned, our options are to see the roof blurring out into the sky, or watching the sky cut into the roof.

Really, edge AA with and without gamma correction is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Combine this with the fact that the effect is different depending on the monitor being used and the degraded visibility of thin lines and we feel that gamma correct AA isn't a feature that improves image quality as much as it just changes it.

While we are happy that NVIDIA has given us the choice to enable or disable gamma correct AA as we see fit, with G80 the default state has changed to enabled. While this doesn't have an impact on performance, we prefer rendering without gamma correct AA enabled and will do so in our performance tests. We hope that ATI will add a feature to disable gamma correct AA in the future as well. For now, let's take a look at R580 and G80 compared with gamma correction enabled.

G80 4X Gamma ATI 4X Gamma

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G80 4X Gamma ATI 4X Gamma

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At 4xAA with gamma correction enabled, it looks like ATI is able to produce a better quality image. Some of the wires and antenna on NVIDIA hardware area a little more ragged looking while ATI's images are smoothed better.

CSAA Image Quality continued What's Transparency AA?


View All Comments

  • Nightmare225 - Sunday, November 26, 2006 - link

    Are the FPS posted in this article, Minimum FPS, Average FPS, or Maximum? Thanks! Reply
  • multiblitz - Monday, November 20, 2006 - link

    I enjoyed your reviews always a lot as they inclueded the video-capbilities for a HTPC on previous cards. Unfortunately this was this time not the case. Hopefully there will be a 2. Part covering this as well ? If so, it would be nice to make a compariosn on picture quality as well against the filters of ffdshow, as nvidia is now as well supporting postprocessing filters... Reply
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, November 21, 2006 - link

    What we know right now is that 8800 gets a 128 out of 130 on HQV tests.

    We haven't quite put together an HTPC look at 8800, but this is a possibility for the future.
  • epsil0n - Sunday, November 19, 2006 - link

    I am not agree with this:

    "It isn't surprising to see that NVIDIA's implementation of a unified shader is based on taking a pixel shader quad pipeline, and breaking up the vector units into 4 scalar units. Now, rather than 4 pixel quads, we see 16 SPs per "quad" or block of stream processors. Each block of 16 SPs shares 4 texture address units, 8 texture filter units, and an L1 cache."

    If i understood well this sentence tells that given 4 pixels the numbers of SPs involved in the computation are 16. Then, this assumes that each component of the pixel shader is computed horizontally over 16 SP (4pixel x 4rgba = 16SP). But, are you sure??

    I didn't found others articles over the web that speculate about this. Reading others articles the main idea that i realized is that a shader is computed by one and only one SP. Each vector instruction (inside the shader) is "mapped" as a sequence of scalar operations (a dot product beetwen two vectors is mapped as 4 MUD/ADD operations). As a consequence, in this scenario 4 pixels are computed only by 4 SPs.
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, November 21, 2006 - link

    Honestly, NVIDIA wouldn't give us this level of detail. We certainly pressed them about how vertices and pixels map to SPs, but the answer we got was always something about how dynamic the hardware is able to dynamically schedule the SPs optimally according to what needs to be done.

    They can get away with being obscure about how they actually process the data because it could happen either way and provide the same effect to the developer and gamer alike.

    Scheduling the simultaneous processing one vec4 MAD operation on 4 quads (16 pixels) over 4 groups of 4 SPs will take 4 clock cycles (in terms of throughput). Processing the same 16 pixels on 16 SPs will also take 4 clock cycles.

    But there are reasons to believe that things happen the way we described. Loading components of 16 different "threads" (verts, pixels or whatever) would likely be harder on the cache than loading all 4 components of 4 different threads. We could see them schedule multiple ops from 4 threads to fill up each block of shaders -- like computing 4 consecutive scalar operations for 4 threads on 16 SPs.

    At the same time, it might be easier to maximize SP utilization if 16 threads were processed on one block of SPs every clock.

    I think the answer to this question is that NVIDIA knows, they didn't tell us, and all we can do is give it our best guess.
  • xtknight - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    This has been AT's best article in awhile. Tons of great, concise info.

    I have a question about the gamma corrected AA. This would be detrimental if you've already calibrated your display, correct (assuming the game heeds to the calibration)? Do you know what gamma correction factor the cards use for 'gamma corrected AA'?
  • DerekWilson - Monday, November 20, 2006 - link

    I don't know if they dynamically adjust gamma correction based on monitor (that would be nice though) ...

    if they don't they likely adjusted for a gamma of either (or between) 2.2 or 2.5.

    Also, thanks :-) There was a lot more we wanted to pack in, but I'm glad to see that we did a good job with what we were able to include.

    Derek Wilson
  • bjacobson - Sunday, November 12, 2006 - link

    This comment is unrelated, but could you implement some system where after rating a comment, on reload the page goes back to the comment I was just at? Otherwise I rate something halfway down and then have to spend several seconds finding where I just was. Just a little nuissance.

    Thanks for the great article, fun read.
  • neo229 - Friday, November 10, 2006 - link


    Both cards are extremely quiet during operation...

    This is a very suspect quote. A card that requires two PCIe power connectors is going to dissipate a lot of heat. More heat means there must be a faster, louder fan or more substantial and costly heat sink. The extra costs associated with providing a truly quiet card mean that the bulk of manufacturers go with the loud fan option.
  • DerekWilson - Friday, November 10, 2006 - link

    If manufacturers go with the NVIDIA reference design, then we will see a nice large heatsink with a huge quiet fan.

    Really, it does move a lot of air without making a lot of noise ... Are there any devices we can get to measure the airflow of a cooling solution?

    We are also seeing some designs using water cooling and theres even one with a thermo-electric (peltier) cooler on it. Manufacturers are going to great lengths to keep this thing running cool without generating much noise.

    None of the 8 retail cards we are testing right now generate nearly the noise of the X1950 XTX ... We are working on a retail roundup right now, and we'll absolutely have noise numbers for all of these cards at load.

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