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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Michael Higham

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

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yukushi

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What a pain in the butt to be a pc gamer, you are going to play a game you have to waste a lot of time messing around with the settings to get the best visuals possible, we console gamers have all the setting done for us, just put in the game and play no time wasted with settings.

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Heqteur

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@yukushi: most of today's games will detect your hardware and adjust graphics according to what your GPU can take. so changing settings is more a thing of personal preference if someone prefers cranking up one option while lowering down another one. You don't have to make a scientific thesis of testing all option combinations. Just boot the game and as you play, just check those options to get what looks best to you. opening the pause menu and adjusting video options is a matter of a few clicks so it shouldn't take you more than a total of a few seconds. How painful is losing a few seconds?

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@sellingthings: Don't be a fanboy, that's what he's trolling for.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@sellingthings: Getting somebody mad on the internet is what trollers want. Don't be that sensitive to dumb bull****.

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Dark_Matters

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@yukushi: It's an unbelievably miniscule amount of adjusting. I spend at most 2 minutes adjusting settings before I'm good to go.

I spend waaaaay more than that on consoles just waiting for things to fire up or download.

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ecs33

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@yukushi: there are typically presets (low, medium, high, ultra), so one doesnt typically have to waste much time digging in of that person doesnt want to or is unfamiliar.

Console games typically run equivalent of low to medium settings. It's plug and play sure but far from the ideal.

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Smosh150

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Edited By Smosh150

@yukushi: What? It takes me a few seconds to setup my graphics settings. The only times where I really have to go back into them and spend a bit more time is if I am messing with some major settings like Supersampling (Which aren't really as common, mainly only been seeing it in VR games lately).

Also I think you forget about presets, you click the one you want and go (Or auto like many have already said).

It isn't time consuming unless you are running a low-end PC (Even then, shouldn't take long).

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jonsin1459

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Edited By jonsin1459

@yukushi: Pc Gamers often enjoy the challenge of fine tuning a game for their system. To get the most out of it.

Besides if you love great quality visuals then PC is the only way to go. You can often get far better fidelity than you can with Consoles on the same game.

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BDRTFM

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Edited By BDRTFM

@yukushi: Most card software will automatically pick the best settings for your card. It will detect a newly installed game and ask if you want to auto-configure its settings. And once you've been doing it for a while, manual tweaking becomes second nature. Like driving a car, you are doing complex things without having to be thinking about each action you are doing. You just do it.

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poe13

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Edited By poe13

@yukushi: I mean your pc will auto-detect the optimal settings for you when you first start your games and if you don't want to mess with the specifics you can set the graphics to medium, low, high, ultra and it sets everything for you with one click so nope, not a pain. Consoles having a slower frame rate and poorer graphics on the other hand...

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Ragnarocking

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Edited By Ragnarocking  Online

@yukushi: Yea, having choices is such a pain in the butt.

Are you still insecure about your PS4 purchase? from every single one of your comments it seems that way.

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Ragnarocking

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Edited By Ragnarocking  Online

I always force it on 16X high quality from control panel, the performance impact is non-existent to very negligible in all games i play.

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