The Bankslab Stimulus AntiAliasing Guide for OpenGL

As a general rule, all of our stimuli here in the Lab needs to be antialiased.  There are a few different ways of doing this in OpenGL depending on what your stimulus is and how much antialiasing you need.  As a general rule, the higher the quality, the longer it takes to render the image.  The complexity of most of our scenes is low enough that we can usually use the highest quality settings without any noticable delay ( < 30ms ).  How too obtain the optimal Antialiasing depends on what you are drawing.

Basic summary:

  1. Drawing points or lines, Random Dot Stereograms or Voronoi Patches:
  2. Drawing 3D objects or surfaces, you should
* Never use OpenGL's Polygon Smoothing feature!  To do this properly you must depth sort the polygons yourself, draw them in front-to-back order with the correct blending settings.  See the Red Book for more information.

If the topic of Antialiasing is new to you, Wikipedia has an introduction:

The Details:

Drawing points or lines:

Whan drawing points or lines, you'll get the best antialiasing by using the smoothing provided by OpenGL.  This is what is done on the Haploscope in the bvlEnableAntialiasing function.  You enable smoothing, set the glHint to be the nicest possible (as opposed to the fastest) and then enable blending.

The OpenGL code enable smoothing:


NOTE:  If antialiasing is enabled in the display settings (see Drawing 3D shapes or surfaces below), it will actually reduce quality of the antialiasing achieved through the smoothing.  There's two options for solving this:
  1. Turn off antialiasing in the display settings by setting it to "Application controlled" (in the NVidia drivers)
  2. Disable it in your code by turning off Multisampling:
Example Code, based on the Antialiased Lines code from the RedBook (aargb.c):

Example Screenshots of OpenGL Lines (click on images for larger version):

Lines with No Antialiasing, No Multisampling:


Lines with Antialiasing, No Multisampling (what you want):

Lines with No Antialiasing but with Multisampling:

Lines with Antialiasing and Multisampling.  Notice the Multisampling reduces the quality of the Antialiasing.

Drawing 3D shapes or surfaces:

Unfortunately, the same OpenGL Smoothing technique does not work as easily with polygons (3D shapes).  To do this properly you must depth sort the polygons yourself, draw them in front-to-back order with the correct blending settings.  (See the Red Book for details).  However, modern graphics cards have antialiasing built into their driver's by default.  We can use this for polygons and achieve good Antialiasing.  The technique is known as Multisample Antialiasing (MSAA), or  Full Scene Antialiasing (FSAA).

You enable this through the Advanced section in the Display Settings.  Look under the Performance & Quality Settings, there's an Antialiasing Setting.  Enable antialiasing and set it to the maximum value, for example 8xS.

Application Controlled basically means it's turned off.  In theory, one can turn this on, and control it, from their OpenGL code, which would ideal for us.  However, there is a bug in the Windows version of Glut (v3.7) that prevents this from working.  (You cannot actually create the necessary pixel format.  The window creation fails and aborts immediately.  From looking online, this bug is not in the OSX version of glut.)  One could use WGL for creating their window instead of Glut, and then Application-Controlled works.  But then you also have to use all of the Windows functions for callback handling, mouse, keyboard, display, etc...  Since Glut is well documented in the Red Book, we'll stick with that.

For this to work, you must have Antialiasing enabled in the Display Settings before creating your OpenGL window with the command:

The Steps:
  1. Enable Antialiasing and set to maximum level in the OpenGL driver (Display Settings).
  2. Create an OpenGL window with Multisample support:
  3. Enable multisampling and set glHint to nicest:
  4. Optionally, test to see if multisampling is working by querying the driver for the number of samples used.  If multisampling is enabled, you should have a value greater than 0 for the GL_SAMPLE_BUFFERS and a number corresponding to the driver settings for the GL_SAMPLES (ex. 8):

Example Code, based on the Scene Antialiasing code in the Accumulation Buffer section in the Red Book (accpersp.c):

Example Screenshots of OpenGL Polygons (click on images for larger version):

Shapes with No Antialiasing, No Multisampling:

Shapes with Polygon Smoothing.  Notice how all edges are more aliased than without smoothing:

Shapes with 2x Multisample Antialiasing:

Shapes with 8xS Multisample Antialiasing (what you want):

Antialiasing with the Accumulation Buffer:

Prior to the inclusion of Multisample Antialiasing in the video drivers, one would acheive Full Scene Antialiasing by using the Accumulation Buffer.  This is well documented in the Red Book and works well.  However, it is much slower than using the functionality in the video driver.  Looking at the screenshots, I believe the Accumulation Buffer technique gives you a better image, however, only slightly and at a significant speed it and with greater complexity to your code.  So I do not believe the tradeoff is worth it, use the OpenGL Driver Antialiasing.

Shapes with Full Scene Antialiasing through the Accumulation Buffer:

Some Scene Antialiasing timing tests, using the accpersp.c example from the Accumulation Buffer in the Red Book:

Render one frame at fullscreen resolution of 1280 x 1024 @ 75Hz.

With Multisample Antialiasing turned off (Application-controlled) in the display settings:
With Multisample Antialiasing Enabled in the NVidia Display Settings - set to 8xS AntiAliasing:

Hardware used in all of these tests: 

Chris Burns - August 2006
cburns at berkeley dot edu