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17.3. Increasing Resolution

The effects of aliasing can be reduced through a brute force method called SUPERSAMPLING that performs sampling at several locations within a pixel and averages the result of those samples. This is exactly the approach supported in today's graphics hardware with the multisample buffer. This method of antialiasing replaces a single point sampling operation with several, so it doesn't actually eliminate aliasing, but it can reduce aliasing to the point that it is no longer objectionable. You may be able to ignore the issue of aliasing if your shaders will always be used in conjunction with a multisample buffer.

But this approach does use up hardware resources (graphics board memory for storing the multisample buffer), and even with hardware acceleration, it still may be slower than performing the antialiasing as part of the procedural texture-generation algorithm. And, because this approach doesn't eliminate aliasing, your texture is still apt to exhibit signs of aliasing, albeit at a higher frequency than before.

Supersampling is illustrated in Figure 17.2. Each of the pixels is rendered by sampling at four locations rather than at one. The average of the four samples is used as the value for the pixel. This averaging provides a better result, but it is not sufficient to eliminate aliasing because high-frequency components can still be misrepresented.

Figure 17.2. Supersampling with four samples per pixel yields a better result, but aliasing artifacts are still present. The shape of the object to be rendered is shown in (A). Sampling occurs at four locations within each pixel as shown in (B). The results are averaged to produce the final pixel value as shown in (C). Some samples that are almost half covered were sampled with just one supersample point instead of two, and one pixel contains image data that was missed entirely, even with supersampling.

Supersampling can also be implemented within a fragment shader. The code that is used to produce the fragment color can be constructed as a function, and this function can be called several times from within the main function of the fragment shader to sample the function at several discrete locations. The returned values can be averaged to create the final value for the fragment. Results are improved if the sample positions are varied stochastically rather than spaced on a regular grid. Supersampling within a fragment shader has the obvious downside of requiring N times as much processing per fragment, where N is the number of samples computed at each fragment.

There will be times when aliasing is unavoidable and supersampling is infeasible. If you want to perform procedural texturing and you want a single shader that is useful at a variety of scales, there's little choice but to address the aliasing issue and take steps to counteract aliasing in your shaders.

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