One thing I've looked at a lot over the last few days is anisotropic filtering. Basically anisotropic filtering is when the graphics card looks at more of a texture to make it look better when it is sloping away from the viewer.
X-Plane provides the graphics card with several versions of each texture in different sizes; depending on how far away the polygon is, the graphics card picks the right size for the best look. This is called mipmapping. It allows the graphics card to draw a very small version of a texture without having to do the work of scaling it down. Essentially the textures are pre-scaled to every possible size we could need. (But never bigger than the original size, modified by your texture resolution settings.)
The problem comes when a texture is sloping away from us. Consider when we are sitting on the runway at KSBD. The close part of the runway is just huge and requires the biggest version of the texture we have. The far end requires the smallest version. Anisotropic filtering allows the graphics card to look at extra data to preserve the details as the size it needs gets smaller. (I realize that that is probably the worst explanation of anisotropic filtering ever written, but I don't want to get into the math...Google or Wikipedia to the rescue.)
Basically there are three things a user must know about anisotropic filtering:
- Anisotropic filtering makes a texture that is sloping away from us less blurry.
- The graphics card uses more texels (pixels from a texture) to render when it is on - 8x anisotropic filtering means the card can use 8x as many texels. That can really hurt framerate.
- What the card actually does is up to the hardware maker and driver writers. X-Plane just says "give me 4x" and hopes for the best.
Austin is working on complete anisotropic filtering control - that is, you can select the level of filtering from 1x to 16x, but with all the intermediate levels. The sim will default to 4x, which I've found is a good compromise of speed and image quality. So hopefully this will allow some users who had to leave anisotropic filtering off to get a little bit of filtering without a big frame-rate hit. I suggest you try changing the level on your computer and see what looks good and what is fast.
One thing I must admit: we've always had anisotropic filtering on the runways, and we will continue to always leave this on. It simply makes a huge visual difference in this one situation where we know that you will see our textures at a horrible viewing angle. X-Plane 850 RC2 is a little bit more polite than RC1 was; whereas RC1 and all previous versions maxed out anisotropic filtering on runways, RC2 will not increase it beyond 4x unless you set the rendering settings to do so.
One last mostly unrelated note: the high resolution earth orbit textures make the sim look nicer but hurt framerate. But they hurt framerate more if anisotropic filtering is higher. So this is a reason to carefully pick the amount of anisotropic filtering you want.