One of the many perks of PC gaming is the ability to tweak the graphic options in our games to get the best performance for our systems. However, if you didn’t grow up on PC and never had to buy a Voodoo card for Quake, or getting the recommended RAM of 512mb for Doom 3, the video settings panel in a PC game can be intimidating. Here’s a guide to help you make the right choices and explain what all those acronyms and settings stand for and what they do.

Vsync (Vertical Sync)

Vsync limits your graphics card to render frame rates that your monitor can display. With this option turned off, your computer will render frames faster than your monitor can handle. This can result in screen tearing, which causes the top and bottom halves of the image on your screen to appear as if they are not aligned. Turning Vsync on will limit the frame rates rendered to the refresh rate of your monitor. In other words, if your monitor has a refresh rate of 60Hz, your game will look best at a constant 60fps.

Enabling Vsync will impact performance, especially during graphics-intense scenes, as it will prevent your frame rate from dropping slightly, for fear of rendering an uneven frame. Instead, it will drop the frame rate a considerable amount more, in order to ensure that there is no screen tearing. Vsync can massively impact input lag, so only turn Vsync on if you experience screen tearing.

Refresh Rate

The refresh rate indicates how many times the monitor updates (refreshes) per second. This is measured in hertz (Hz). 60Hz is the refresh rate limit of most modern monitors, so you should strive for as close to 60 frames per second as your computer can reasonably handle. Most consoles run games at 30 frames per second and so a bad PC port of a console game will do the same.

You shouldn’t have to change any refresh rate settings as this should be in your monitors’ properties, and not in most in-game settings menus. Make sure your monitor is set to 60Hz, for the best gaming experience.

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Resolution

Resolution is the measure of horizontal pixels by the vertical pixels being produced on your monitor (e.g.: 2560×1600). A higher resolution will display more detail regardless of other graphical settings, but it also means your PC needs to work hard at rendering extra pixels. You can lower this setting, if you are experiencing graphical lag; however, you will see a noticeable decrease in the quality of the image.

AA (Anti-Aliasing)

When looking closer at certain objects, they seem to have jagged edges, especially when looking at them from a diagonal perspective. This is due to the rendering of slanted lines or diagonals via a miniscule sequence of horizontal and vertical lines. The jagged edges (or “jaggies”) that you see are the right angles formed by those alternating lines. Anti-aliasing is a filter that works to get rid of those jagged edges, making the game look much smoother. It changes the colour of the pixels around the edges of lines, in order to blend them into the image. This has a high cost performance-wise, but can massively improve the graphics.

fidelity of your game. Most modern games offer multiple levels of anti-aliasing, which allows you to find the perfect balance of quality and performance.

MSAA (Multisampling Anti-Aliasing) is a type of AA that impacts performance less, by applying the anti-aliasing effect to only those parts of the frame that looks jagged, rather than across the entire frame. This can result in some jaggedness inside polygons, but will remove it from the edges.

FXAA (Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing) is the least process-heavy method of anti-aliasing. FXAA doesn’t use higher resolution frame data. It is only applied to the pixels on screen at the resolution at which you’re playing. This translates to an image that is slightly blurrier, but one that renders much faster and taxes your GPU less.

TXAA (Temporal Anti-aliasing) Is “MSAA plus”. TXAA considers the previous frames and averages the colors to produce what will be displayed next. While it reduces flickering, it can also result in a blurrier image. TXAA is Nvidia-exclusive but AMD has their own anti-aliasing technology called MLAA.

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You should always turn on FXAA – or even MSAA x2– until your PC starts to struggle, in order to have the best looking game.

PhysX

As you might’ve guessed from the name, this setting is all about rendering physics. This involves extra detail in the game world, as well as how you and other objects interact(e.g.: individual shards of shattered glass or detailed cloth objects flapping in a breeze). This is another Nvidia exclusive, but it is possible to run it without a Nvidia graphics card. This forces the CPU to work at it and will most likely in some cases, however, this will bring your frame rate to an unacceptably low number. Even using a Nvidia card, this has a very high-performance cost and can make your game unplayable.

If your system can handle it, you should absolutely have this on; but it should also be the first thing you turn off when performance takes a hit, as it is very taxing to the GPU. Only a few games have noticeable in-game support for PhysX.

Supersampling

This is a more resource-intensive “brute force” approach at removing jagged edges. With this enabled, your PC will render each frame at a higher resolution than your monitor can display, then shrink the image down to fit your monitor. After being shrunk, the larger image is used to work out what colours are needed to smooth out the jagged edges. This is a brilliant way to get rid of jagged edges in games, but itis more taxing on the system than any other anti-aliasing technique.

This setting should be kept off, unless you have invested in a high-end rig and have maxed out all your other settings. They don’t call it super-sampling for nothing.

SSAO (Screen Space Ambient Occlusion)

SSAO is a method of creating shadows around object edges or in corners. These shadows are not real in the sense that they aren’t created by dynamic lighting; rather they are rendered from your current perspective. While this ordinarily isn’t heavy on performance, the quality will differ from game to game. More advanced methods include horizon-based ambient occlusion (HBAO), which will render better-looking shadows (but require Direct X 10 or 11 to run).

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The matter of whether to use SSAO is up to you, try activating it, and if the shadows look off, deactivate it and use other shadow effects.

AF (Anisotropic Filtering)

One of the oldest tricks of smoothing a gaming experience, is by making the surface textures blurrier the further away they are. AF blends the transition from a blurry surface texture to a crisp surface texture. With this disabled, it will look like hard cuts between the different levels of blurry to clear, as you move closer to a texture. Not a good looking effect.

Anisotropic Filtering has an almost unnoticeable performance effect, keep this one at 16x and enjoy smooth texture transitions.

Depth of Field

You’ll see that objects further away are blurrier than those close to the camera. The depth of field setting controls the intensity of the blur, not the distance that the objects start to blur (that’s the draw distance) but rather how strongly they blur out.

This is another setting that has a low-performance cost as is more down to personal taste. If the objects further away look oddly obscure or unrealistically clear Depth of field is your answer.

Post-processing

This differs from game to game. It commonly refers to effects like bloom (allowing light to bleed softly around objects), motion blur (simulates the blur of fast head movements or camera movement. Other effects can include high dynamic range lighting, which simulates the overbrightness the human eye experiences when moving from a dark space to a light one.

Again, what effects are controlled in Post-processing is different from game to game but each of the effects listed above are performance heavy so this should be turned down if your PC starts to chug. Some of the effects come down to personal preference anyway, as I myself don’t like motion blur.

Hopefully, this guide has helped to clarify some of the terms that you will frequently encounter in the video settings for your games. If you have further questions let us know in the comments below.