Supersampling - The Unknown SuperHero of VR

Aug 29, 2019 at 10:00 am by Warlord720


A funny thing happened on the way to reviewing VR flight simulators. I got sidetracked into the dark side of gaming and VR, looking… nay… praying for a way to actually be able to READ all the dials and switches in the cockpit without having to lean towards them like an old man with weak eyes ignoring the fact that I might actually fit that description.

No… when I say the dark side, I really mean the dull side. Supersampling just isn’t sexy but it is important if you play games, use VR or… wait for it… play games using VR.

You’ve seen it on menus most times in the SSAA label and its performance-driven cousin FXAA… or was that MSAA… no, wait… it’s Smaa?!

How many cousins are there??? This isn’t splintering… this is proliferation.

Before we start begetting more SSAA cousins in biblical proportions let’s take a step back and look at Supersampling in its basic form. Forget Wikipedia on this one… it’s got a very simplistic explanation that is more off-track than informational.

Supersampling in simple terms is running the application at a higher resolution than your monitor supports. Kind of like overclocking a CPU. You are pushing your monitor or VR HMD past its native resolution.

SteamVR Settings 1
SteamVR under Settings for Individual Application Resolution Adjustment

According to Techquickie over at YouTube, if your graphics card is rendering the game at 4K but your monitor is 1080 the output must be downsampled to fit the screen. The graphics adapter will sample various groups of pixels to get an average color that is used for each pixel in the downsampling. This reduces or eliminates artifacts that your monitor creates when trying to “bridge the gap” from what it is receiving to what it can display.

Imagine your best photo ever

Right about now some of you are thinking: “Yeah, yeah…. This is old news.” Well, not all of us are game developers, so we don’t keep up with such things until we have a need for them. Being able to read the dials in the cockpit triggered my need to investigate Supersampling.

Now transfer all this to the VR HMD and amplify it since visual is a HUGE part of VR. Trouble is VR text can be blurry. Especially if you are on a first-generation Vive or Rift. BUT and this is huge… if you haven’t looked into this already Supersampling is like getting an upgrade to your HMD!

That’s right! Just because you have an HMD with 2160 X 2160 doesn’t mean you are getting that resolution. Supersampling can increase the resolution but the trade-off is a very upset GPU that can’t handle the load at increased rates.

So this means finding the right setting for your system including the HMD. In SteamVR you can set the resolution for each application but be warned… the higher res.. the harder the hit to overall performance.

Framerate can drop to a crawl at 120% while other apps like SteamVR Home can be sampled up in the 150 to 180% range without killing your system. This allows you to more easily read the text in SteamVR Home which can improve the experience dramatically on some HMDs.

SteamVR 2
Setting ALL Applications - Be Careful as this affects ALL applications run through SteamVR

In SteamVr you can set each game or ALL apps but don’t do both. When I say ALL APPS I mean ALL APPS so use this slider carefully. I prefer the individual app approach but that might take a little trial and error until you get the hang of things.

So… if you are disappointed in your VR HMD because some of it, like text, just seems a little fuzzy… then do some research and up the resolution till you reach a point you can no longer tolerate the frame rate loss. Even in the higher native resolution Samsung Odyssey I could see a vast improvement as I toyed with the resolution settings.

As to SSAA and all it’s cousins? Well… don’t worry about them. The game devs take care of all that by deciding which method can deliver the best experience to the widest audience.

Take control of your HMD. Find its limits and could quite possibly feel like you got a new HMD. If you don’t have an HMD it still pays to experiment with Supersampling to improve graphics in general gameplay.


M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website




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