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FSX Blurry Texture Fix with Anisotropic Filtering

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Anyone that has worked with the Microsoft Flight Simulator developers, read their blogs, forum posts, or other sources of "insider" information on the FSX product knows that they have provided very little tangible information regarding some of the more complex problems and behaviors we see in the Flight Simulator X product.

One of those problems known by so many users is the dreaded "blurry" textures. Now to be fair, some of the Microsoft representatives have devoted a large number of posts and messages to this topic, in an attempt to educate the users and get them some relief. In most cases, this advice can be boiled down to "try decreasing your settings". The idea being that the user's hardware is not capable of handling such large amounts of texture data and therefore is starved of resources and has no choice but to display "blurry" textures.

Many people know that this is not true.

There are many users of FSX that have excellent hardware that is more than capable of handling some of the most demanding entertainment titles available. And yet they are plagued by partially loaded ground textures in Flight Simulator X. They have the CPU horsepower, they have the Video Card Muscle, and they have the Video Card memory to handle the textures fine. For some reason...Flight Simulator X continues to give them partially loaded ground textures within close proxemity to their viewpoint. The net result...."Blurries".

This problem can keep a person from enjoying the software. Especially if they are coming from a high performing Flight Simulator 9 (FS2004) installation that is running at 60 to 100 fps with every texture being crystal clear and fully loaded. Everything else in Flight Simulator X can be working great, but if the land around you looks like a blurry water color painting, then it is going to be difficult to enjoy the simulation. This story is played out over and over in the flight simulation websites around the internet.

When I first began in earnest to make the switch from FS9 to FSX, I was fairly confident I had the hardware and the experience to both tweak the Flight Simulator X product and have it run well on my system. I had participated in the development/testing of the product and understood some of its shortcomings but had also seen plenty of advice on how to make it run at its best. After nearly 3-4 months of tweaking, and generally not being excited about Flight Simulator X, I realized that I had everything basically working and performing well but that it was the Blurry ground textures that were killing it for me.

They were a show-stopper because I was used to getting a locked 60fps with everything tweaked and max-out to the hilt in Flight Simulator 9. Crystal clear hi-res ground and aircraft textures. It was gorgeous and it ran like a top - while being stable for many...many...many hours at a time of hard use.

So I went back to Flight Simulator 9 for several months.

I was not going to let Flight Simulator X ruin my hobby, and I was a lot more interested in flying than I was in proving that I could get FSX to work. I chalked the product up as a loser. A lemon-scented crap sandwich. When people bragged about it, or tried to incite conflict between the FS9 and FSX users I brushed it off and focused on the fact that I enjoyed FS9 very much and that was all I needed to know.

Then one day that all changed.

For whatever reason I decided to play around with Flight Simulator X one more time. Perhaps even though I wasn't using it for flying regularly - I was learning a little more about it from a developer's point of view. The various tools needed to develop models and animations for it - and how to create native FSX models. That is when I decided to play around with the Blurry problem one more time.

If you have ever searched Google for "Blurry FSX" then you know there are about 1 Trillion articles on this subject and very little helpful information. So when it came to fixing it - I was pretty much on my own. Many of the tweaking guides have such bad advice in them that I rarely use them to fix problems. Also, it is rare that somebody gives advice that directly affects the Blurry problem. They are typically talking about stutters and performance issues. Neither of which did I have.

I decided this day to try Anisotropic filtering using the in-game display settings.

Under Flight Simulator 9 I had avoided anisotropic filtering because it produced a harsh look. I preferred Trilinear filtering in Flight Simulator 9.

Typically these filtering options simply alter the type of filtering being used when looking at textured polygons from oblique angles. Think the angle you look down the runway at. Without Bi/Tri/Anis filtering textures on things like runways in front of you would be very blurry and nearly all detail on them would be lost. Normally this is just a visual affect, and does have some affect on performance depending on the viewing angle of the user and the number of textures being viewed from oblique angles.

But in FSX - Anisotropic Filtering seems to have a more important effect.

I noticed RIGHT AWAY that something was different within the simulator. I noticed that for the most part all of the blurry ground textures had been replaced with fully loaded - clear textures - for quite some distance around me. By selecting the in-game Anisotropic Filtering option...FSX was actually doing something differently on the ground texture loading side of the house.

In short - I believe FSX has different texture handling behaviors depending on what type of in-game texture filtering option has been selected. I have never seen this mentioned in the Microsoft discussions about blurry textures. But it might be very helpful to those still struggling with the blurry texture issue.

Especially as many high-end users are encouraged to enable Anisotropic filtering outside of the Flight Simulator X software using a 3rd-part tool such as Nhancer or Rivatuner to manipulate their graphics card behaviors. By setting the anisotropic filtering externally - and leaving it disabled in the "in-game" - some users may continue to get blurry textures around them for some distance.

Here are some screenshots from the same location using the 3 types of in-game filter settings. Bilinear/TriLinear/Anisotropic.

FSX at KMSO with in-game Bilinear Filtering enabled.

Using Bilinear texture filtering. You can see in this screenshot image that any ground texture further away than about a half a mile is not fully loaded and instead is displaying a partially loaded (MIP) variant of the texture. Producing a fairly strong "blurry" affect both near and far from the view point of the pilot/user.

FSX at KMSO with in-game Trilinear Filtering enabled.

Using Trilinear texture filtering. There is almost no visual difference at this point between the Bi and Tri filtering on ground textures. This is most likely due to the fact that the ground textures are not needing much filtering because they are being viewed from a not-so-oblique angle. But what we DO see is that the ground textures are still being partially loaded, are still using MIP variants both near and far, and generally look blurry.

I have drawn a red-line in the screenshot to help visualize where the sharp ground textures end and the blurry ground textures begin.

FSX at KMSO with In-game Anisotropic Filtering enabled.

The ONLY difference in this final shot is that the in-game Anisotropic texture filtering is enabled. As you can see the textures are loaded in their complete form (not using MIP variants) both near to the user/pilot viewpoint as well as far. The ground textures do have a slightly harsher look to them because they are fairly high resolution. But having them be fully loaded (not MIP variants) both near and far - is the most notable difference.

As you can see the frame rate performance between the shots is nominally different. They all produced about the same performance. Where you would see the highest difference in performance is when looking out of the cockpit or from a low spot view while on the ground and looking at many textures from a low or "oblique" angle. This will kick in a lot of filtering and you will see framerates go down during this phase as a result. This would be true for any type of filtering Bi/Tri/Ani. And each video card has varying performance qualities for those filtering implementations.

Give IN-GAME ANISOTROPIC FILTERING a try. If it has a positive affect for you. Please spread the word to others that it might help them.

You can find this setting in Flight Simulator X by using the Options->Settings->Display Menu under the Graphics Tab.

Shown here:

FSX Graphics Settings Tab