Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Note on Texture Filtering

This is just a short note to highlight the visual impact that mip map generation and texture filtering methods can have on a final rendered result. It's not rocket science and will be common knowledge to many, but I felt this was a nice clear example of how significant the effects can be and worth sharing.

I've recently been playing around with procedural city and road generation which has of course led to rendering of road surfaces for which I am using a trivially simple programmer art texture:

Source Road Lines Texture
Even though I knew that find detail on textures viewed at extreme angles are always troublesome, feeding this through the normal mip map generation code with the existing trilinear texture filtering however produced a surprisingly disappointing result:

Uniform Weight Mip Maps, Trilinear Filtering
As you can see, the white lines in the road vanish very quickly with distance as their light coloured texels are swamped by the dark road surface around them during mip map down sampling - not at all realistic and bad enough for me to take a second look. The first thing was to look at the mip map generation code to see if it could be persuaded to keep more of the detail that I cared about. Current each mip map level was being generated using a naive 2x2 box filter with uniform weights:

lower_mip_texel = (higher_mip_texel1+higher_mip_texel2+higher_mip_texel3+higher_mip_texel4)/4;

very easy, very fast but also very bad at keeping detail. There are many better filters out there with varying quality/performance tradeoffs but I thought it worth trying a quick and simple change to weight the pixels by their approximate luminosity, calculated by simply averaging each source texel's red, green and blue channels clamped to a chosen range:

higher_mip_texel_weight = Clamp((higher_mip_texel_red+higher_mip_texel_green+higher_mip_texel_blue)/3, 50, 255)
lower_mip_texel = (

This then favours brighter texels which will be more visible in the final render. Using this code to generate the mip maps instead of the uniformly weighted filter produced immediately better results:

Luminosity Biased Mip Maps, Trilinear Filtering
While the white lines are now visible far more into the distance they become disproportionately fat as the lower mip level texels cover more and more screen space. There's not much that can be done about this as however we filter the texture when making the mip maps we are either going to end up with no white lines or bit fat ones.

The next step then is to stop using trilinear filtering at runtime and instead switch to anisotropic filtering where the filter kernel shape effectively changes with the aspect of the textured surface on screen so the GPU can for example filter a wider area of the texture in the 'u' axis than it does in the 'v' and has more information for choosing the mip level to read each filter sample from. Returning to the original uniformly weighted mip maps where the lines disappeared so early but switching to anisotropic filtering produces noticible better results than either attempt so far:

Uniform Weight Mip Maps, Anisotropic Filtering
and finally for good measure using the weighted mip maps with anisotropic filtering:

Luminosity Biased Mip Maps, Anisotropic Filtering
Not as dramatic effect as when switching to weighted mips with trilinear filtering but still an improvement and the best result of all.

So why not use anisotropic filtering all the time? well it comes down to compatibility and performance, not all legacy GPUs can support it although most modern cards can and even on cards that do there is a performance cost as the GPU is having to do significantly more work - the effects speak for themselves though and going forward I expect it will become the default setting for most games to avoid over-blurry textures as objects move away from the near plane.

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