Feature Article

What Is Anisotropic Filtering? PC Graphics Settings Explained

Cleaning your texture filter.

With our GameTech video series, we breakdown the tech that drives the game's we love. And we've done a few quick PC graphics settings explainers, but here in text form, you can read about what we discuss and interact with screenshots to see the difference with these visual effects. Let's cover anisotropic filtering, and more broadly, what texture filtering does for your games.

Anisotropic filtering is commonly abbreviated as "AF" in game menus. It’s one of the settings we'd recommend you prioritize cranking up, but this one’s a little tricky to dissect, so here’s an example. Look at the following side-by-side comparison of the Prague hub-area in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and pay close attention to the ground.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

As you move the slider to the left, you see the game without any degree of AF enabled. Notice how farther down the cobbled street, the textures get blurrier and blurrier. Now swipe the the right, we have AF cranked up to 16x, the cobbled stones around you and in the distance look much clearer.

Now let’s switch over to a comparison between 8x AF and 16x AF in Half-Life 2. The two settings are quite similar and the difference is very subtle, but it's more pronounced the farther the distance of the texture or sharper your viewing angle. In many cases, the performance difference between 8x and 16x is negligible, so you won’t really lose anything by getting a little more detail in those far off textures.

Half-Life 2

The effect of texture filtering is more apparent when the character physically moves forward in the game world. Without AF, you can see distinct lines or zones move where surface details are essentially cut off. The transition in quality of surface textures as you're in motion can be jarring. Check out the video up top for an example of this phenomenon.

Generally, anisotropic filtering can noticeably affect framerate and it takes up video memory from your video card, though the impact will vary from one computer to another.

So, what’s happening here? When the in-game camera views textures from an oblique angle, they tend to become distorted without anisotropic filtering. And the farther the distance or sharper the viewing angle, the fuzzier the texture will look. This helps lighten the workload on the GPU since less detail needs to be drawn on a game’s surfaces, and it’s a sort of compromise for details that aren’t necessarily at the player’s focus.

Older PC games sometimes only offer either bilinear or trilinear filtering, which essentially aims to accomplish the same goal, just to a lesser degree. Here’s an example from the classic first-person shooter Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein

Bilinear filtering doesn’t look great, and the distance before surfaces start to look distorted is quite short. Trilinear filtering extends this distance, but surface blurriness is still apparent. The difference is more noticeable when the game is in motion. A quick tip for games that don’t have anisotropic filtering options in the menus: pull up your graphics card’s control panel, and enable it manually to force games to use the setting.

To summarize, anisotropic filtering gives clarity to distant surface textures that are seen at an angle. The best way to see the effect of anisotropic filtering is to turn off the settings, look at the ground a few meters ahead, then compare it to the clarity of the ground close to you. As you look farther away, the surfaces become blurrier. The effect is more pronounced when the in-game camera is in motion. Then turn anisotropic filtering on, the far-off surfaces become much more detailed.

We kept this one short and sweet, but like anything in computer graphics, texture filtering is complex. Feel free to get in the comments to continue the discussion. If you want more on PC graphics, watch our other videos on antialiasing or refresh rate, keep an eye out for the next in-depth written version of graphics settings explained, or flip through our gallery for abridged explanations.

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highammichael

Michael Higham

Associate Editor at GameSpot. Southeast San Diego to the Bay. Salamat sa iyong suporta!

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urbanman2004

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Oldie but goodie

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Myron117

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Im glad Gamespot are taking more interest in PC gaming.

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cejay0813

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Ha!! I noticed a difference. The gun was moved slightly further to the right!!

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KoRniTo

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Nice and simple video with a cool explanation. Thanks Michael.

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bfa1509

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Even with the really nice slidey pictures, the difference is very minimal in all cases. I don't think I would be able to tell the difference if I changed the setting in game myself.

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DonJuanCorleone

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@bfa1509: Yeah, on the latter two, I couldnt tell a difference at all.

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ecs33

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@sellingthings: Hl2 is old now but god it's still gorgeous.

I feel old now that it's considered an old game...it came out right before I graduated high school.

To this day the game still has the best physics engine I have ever seen.

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ecs33

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Edited By ecs33

@sellingthings: Hehe...well I suppose "old" is a relative term. Compared to your average spring chicken here I certainly am.

Super Mario Bros was my first game ever and I loved playing SMB3 as a little tot. Though I could only ever beat it as an adult.

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DonJuanCorleone

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@sellingthings: Awesome game though, had to pick it up after hearing so much hype about it a long time ago.

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DonJuanCorleone

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@sellingthings: Yeah, I feel like bringing HL3 back is like bringing Star Wars back, it just is never the same.

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friend_praful

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Wow, thanks for explaining this in simple language. Great video!

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deactivated-59e3719bee35c

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Thx for this gamespot.

It's not every day you guys do good work.

But you did it today.

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skipper847

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Isn't this an old article from years ago?.?

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karavanasam

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Console gamers cant understand this article.They shouldnt read it.Must add as a warning to the article. :D :D

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HardCore_PC_Gmr

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@karavanasam: i salute you :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCdje_TOg_M&feature=youtu.be&t=364

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karavanasam

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@HardCore_PC_Gmr: hahah nice video

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Dev-RAiD1

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@karavanasam: uhhh yea they do, why do you feel superior to someone who doesnt play on your favorite platform???? what an idiot, and i mean that with the most disrespect

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karavanasam

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@dev-raid1: Only an idiot plays fps with a gamepad.Of course I am superior to you.If they make an online fps crossplay console-pc,you guys will be chickens for me to shoot.What did you expect,auto aim on to save your ass?LOL

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HardCore_PC_Gmr

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@karavanasam: Well said :)

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devilmaycryyyy

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Finally, an article with multiple pics and video, without the hassle of pressing next!

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Dark_Matters

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TLDR It makes textures cleaner.

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gamer4sp

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Thanks for this info. I've been a console gamer all my life and decided to buy a pc gaming laptop back in March. I still have a lot to learn about pc gaming.

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deactivated-59e3719bee35c

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@gamer4sp: build a desktop next time.

You will get more bang for your buck..

And it's not that hard to be honest..

From one console guy to the other.

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jonsin1459

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Anisotropic filtering has almost 0 performance impact so for quite an improvement it's always a good idea to whack it up to 16x. I think most pc games today will by default do it anyway.

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ecs33

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Edited By ecs33

@jonsin1459: agreed. Very little impact these days. Anti aliasing is what you have to watch out for

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Heqteur

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@ecs33: yeah, especially for those using 4k displays. AA gives a huge hit on performance while not having a great impact on higher resolution.

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Smosh150

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@heqteur: You shouldn't even need much AA when using 4k anyway (Not that you don't need it, you just don't need the heavy stuff).

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ecs33

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Edited By ecs33

@Smosh150: Lol I turn off AA when I play in 4k. But that's also because I'm currently using just a gtx 970 and I have no choice if I want to play at atleast 30fps.

Just waiting on the next line of cards to come out before I upgrade...don't want to shell out for a 1080 TI

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PCsama

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Great info video .keep up the good work :)

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