Image Quality

In our opinion, TXAA provides some of the best image quality because it address temporal aliasing.  It definitely introduces more blur although it fits in with the game’s “cinematic” look.  2xTXAA provides very good anti-aliasing approximating 4xMSAA, while the performance hit is less.

The TXAA blur is more noticeable than with FXAA, but unlike with FXAA and MSAA, the texture crawling and shimmering are nearly gone when the camera is in motion.  If one desires an even sharper image, SweetFX can usually be used together with TXAA.  4xMSAA is cleaner than 2xMSAA which in turn is an improvement over FXAA, but MSAA takes the biggest performance hit.  MFAA will be discussed separately, and it has turned out to became our favorite form of AA.  FXAA can be turned off or on with any combination of AA, so there are a lot of options affecting performance.

Let’s look at some of the settings individually.

MFAA

MFAA is available exclusively for Maxwell based GPUs – GeForce TITAN X, GTX 980, GTX 970 and GTX 960 graphics cards.  Jagged edges, and especially shimmering in motion, are quite noticeable in GTA V with no AA enabled.  MSAA reduces the prominence of jagged edges, but it does so at a substantial performance cost.

MFAA-1Nvidia’s engineers developed MFAA to reduce this performance cost while delivering comparable image quality to MSAA by varying the sample patterns used per pixel both spatially in a single frame and interleaved across multiple frames in time. For example, each successive pixel uses one of four different 2x AA sample patterns.  The final result is that MFAA can deliver image quality approaching that of 4x MSAA at roughly the cost of 2x MSAA, or 8x MSAA quality at roughly the cost of 4x MSAA.

By alternating AA sample patterns both temporally and spatially, 4x MFAA has the performance cost of 2x MSAA, with image quality equivalent to 4x MSAA.
By alternating AA sample patterns both temporally and spatially, 4x MFAA has the performance cost of 2x MSAA, with image quality equivalent to 4x MSAA.

MFAA has been progressively enabled with each new WHQL GeForce driver since 344.75.  From a few games originally, now most games are supported both in global and in Program settings in Nvidia’s Control Panel.  Nvidia has been releasing WHQL drivers to coincide with AAA major game title releases.

MFAA w980
To enable MFAA just go to Nvidia’s control panel.

 

MFAA is a new AA mode which is supposed to give the same quality as 4x MSAA but with only the performance costs of 2x MSAA, or the same image quality as 8xMSAA with the performance costs of 4xMSAA. MFAA is based on a Temporal Synthesis Filter with coverage samples per frame and per pixel.

Nvidia recommends that MFAA not be combined with other forms of post processing AA such as FXAA or TXAA although MFAA works rather well with FXAA in GTA V.  MFAA requires at least 2xMSAA to function just as TXAA does.

TXAA

TXAA is a cinematic-style anti-aliasing technique designed specifically to reduce temporal aliasing (crawling and flickering in motion). TXAA is a mix of hardware AA, custom CG film style AA resolve, and a temporal filter. To filter any given pixel on the screen, TXAA uses a contribution of samples both inside and outside of the pixel in conjunction with samples from prior frames. The trade-off is blur, which for some is intolerable and for others, cinematic. This editor much prefers the mild blur of TXAA to the texture crawling and flickering while in motion without.

TXAA has improved spatial filtering over standard 2x MSAA and 4x MSAA, particularly on fences or foliage. TXAA is also capable of intelligently managing per-pixel effects without introducing lighting artifacts on object edges. The filtering used by TXAA results in a softer image compared to traditional MSAA – the blur.

TXAA uses hardware MSAA in conjunction with a temporal filter. The performance hit of TXAA will vary from game to game and is directly correlated to the performance hit of MSAA. In this game, 2xTXAA takes less of a performance hit than 4xMSAA. Screen shots look better with MSAA, but playing the game with the camera in motion or our ShadowPlay video capture can easily show the advantages of TXAA.

Percentage-Closer Soft Shadows (PCSS) 

Percentage-Closer Soft Shadows (PCSS) is a technique designed to simulate the natural softening of shadows that occurs over increasing distance from the occluding object. PCSS provides three notable improvements over hard shadow projections: shadow edges become progressively softer the further they are from the shadow caster, high-quality filtering reduces the prominence of aliasing, and the use of a shadow buffer allows PCSS to handle overlapping character shadows without creating “double-darkened” portions.

AMD uses Contact Hardening Shadows (CMS) which does a similar thing but the shadow is harder, less progressively softer than PCSS; and to this editor’s eyes, less natural (or less photorealistic).  Both of these shadowing techniques are visually better than the Softest Shadows option the game offers.

In addition, GTA V offers 4K textures – something probably best experienced by SLI’d GTX 980s or even a single GTX TITAN X if a few settings are lowered.  We preferred TXAA, but when the performance hit was too great, 4xMFAA+FXAA worked well and even dropping to only using FXAA at 4K was acceptable.  Playing GTA V without any AA is ill-advised and even raising the resolution to 4K without some AA is not a good solution.

DRM

GTA V uses Rockstar’s proprietary Social Club to launch the game and the gamer must connect to the Internet for validation each time.  We received a Steam key which adds an extra layer of DRM.

Test Configuration – Hardware

  • Intel Core i7-4790K (reference 4.0GHz; HyperThreading and Turbo boost for all 4 cores to 4.4GHz is on; DX11 CPU graphics), supplied by Intel.
  • ASUS Z97e motherboard (Intel Z97 chipset, latest BIOS, PCIe 3.0 specification, CrossFire/SLI 8x+8x)
  • 16 GB DDR3 HyperX Kingston “Beast” RAM (2×8 GB, dual-channel at 2133MHz; supplied by Kingston)
  • Kingston 240GB SSD used for caching the HDD, supplied by Kingston
  • GeForce GTX TITAN X, 12GB, reference clocks, supplied by Nvidia
  • Two GeForce GTX 980s, 4GB, reference clocks, supplied by Nvidia
  • GALAX GeForce GTX 970, 4GB, GALAX design and clocks, supplied by GALAX
  • GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB (reference clocks), supplied by Nvidia
  • GeForce GTX 780 3GB (reference clocks), supplied by Nvidia
  • GeForce GTX TITAN, 6GB (reference clocks), supplied by Nvidia
  • Onboard Realtek Audio
  • Genius SP-D150 speakers, supplied by Genius.
  • Two 2TB GB Toshiba 7200.10 hard drive identically configured; 1 for Nvidia and 1 for AMD
  • EVGA 1000G 1000W power supply unit
  • Seidon240 watercooler, supplied by Cooler Master
  • Thermaltake Overseer RX-I full tower case, supplied by Thermaltake
  • ASUS BW-12B1ST 12X Blu-Ray writer
  • Monoprice
  • HP LP3065 2560×1600 thirty inch LCD.
  • ASUS 1920×1080, 27″ LCD, 120Hz
  • HyperX Cloud gaming headset, supplied by Kingston

Test Configuration – Software

  • Nvidia GeForce WHQL 350.12. High Quality; Single-display Performance mode; Prefer Maximum Performance. Shader Cache on, Vsync off.
  • Windows 8.1 64-bit; very latest updates.  All DX9 titles were run under DX9 render paths, DX10 titles were run under DX10 render paths and DX11 titles under DX11 render paths.
  • EVGA PrecisionX 16 overclocking and monitoring software; temperature and power targets set to maximum; updated by Steam.
  • Latest DirectX
  • Varying AA enabled including MFAA for the GTX 980
  • All results show average frame rates
  • Highest quality sound (stereo) used in all games.
  • Windows 7 64-bit, DX11
  • Latest version of Fraps
  • Latest version of ShadowPlay and the GeForce Experience

The Game

  • GTA V, digital reviewer’s copy Steam Key; Supplied by Rockstar/Nvidia

Let’s check the performance, settings and the Image Quality (IQ) on the next page.

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